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Long to Live in a Southern Small Town? This Alabama Gem Awaits

Meet Athens, located in the heart of Limestone County. Here, you'll find incredible culture, wide-open spaces, affordable living, bountiful fun activities, and a charming downtown.

By Rebecca Treon on February 24, 2023

Downtown Athens, Alabama, hosts events year-round.
Athens Main Street

Alabama is home to a “hidden gem” community, and it’s calling your name. Not only does Athens-Limestone County offer residents the best of small-town living in Alabama – think wide-open spaces, privacy, friendly neighbors, affordable housing and a work-life balance – but it is close enough to major cities like Huntsville for when you are looking for big-city amenities. Ready to see what all this community has up its sleeve?

“Athens is quaint, small-town America, focused around the courthouse and historic buildings, which have undergone a complete renovation in the last 10 years,” says Tere Richardson, executive director of Athens Main Street. “Our tagline is ‘Athens – classic Southern style.’ It’s the heart of our county, and the downtown area is walkable, with restaurants, outdoor dining, shops and an entertainment district.”

Downtown Athens, AL
Peter Pauley/Athens Main Street

Have Fun Downtown

Downtown Athens is the core of the region, and its iconic town square is a community landmark. Home to shopping and dining options you’ll love, this area is also the backdrop for some of the festivals and events you are sure to attend, such as Singing on the Square, the Athens Storytelling Festival and the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention.

A revitalization effort is underway to make Merchants Alley, which is central to downtown, a gathering space adorned with murals that provides space for outdoor dining, impromptu music performances – you name it.

Downtown Athens, AL, hosts events year-round.
Athens Main Street

Enjoy Plenty of Entertainment (and Shopping!)

No matter whether it’s day or night, residents can always find a fun way to fill their time. Shops of different varieties can be found across Athens-Limestone County, meeting the needs of jewelry lovers, outdoor enthusiasts and everyone in between.

For example, Hobbs Jewelers and Osborne’s Jewelers offer classic and custom designs, while Winter Timber Outdoors has a wide selection of apparel and equipment for hunting and other outdoor activities. As for indoor items, MEWS sells lighting, furniture and accent pieces to make every house feel like a home.

Other favorites include BeansBeans Boutique, a women’s clothing store; Epiphany Athens, a women’s lifestyle boutique; and Driftwood Dragonfly, a shop that specializes in hand-blended, small-batch tea.

Plus, a few stores in the area are stocked with a little bit of everything, like Crawford’s Gifts, which sells clothing and home and office items; UG White Mercantile, which offers provisions, dry goods and gear; and The Rustic Willow, which sells jewelry, furniture, home decor, clothing and crafts from 58 vendors.

“With it being over 50 different people, they all have their own unique style and tastes, so it’s almost something for everyone, like you’re going to be able to find something you like out of all the stuff we have,” says JoBeth Smith, owner of The Rustic Willow.

Get Your Fill of Restaurants in Athens

When it comes to satisfying hunger, the collection of restaurants in Athens-Limestone County doesn’t disappoint. Terranova’s Italian Restaurant serves up delicious plates of ravioli, fettuccini Alfredo, spaghetti and other Italian classics, while Catfish Cabin offers delicious seafood dishes that are married with sides of coleslaw, potatoes and hush puppies.

Ramona J’s has two locations, and its menu is full of juicy burgers, fried catfish and flavorful wings.

“We are using fresh and homemade products. All of our products, including our sauces, are made from scratch, so it’s a different taste. You just can’t get the taste of Ramona J’s anywhere,” says owner Orlandous Johnson.

306 BBQ prepares some mean pulled pork, ribs, chicken, wings and much more. And for times when you are feeling something a little lighter, Tanner Nutrition sells delicious shakes and tea, while Revive Café offers coffee and specialty drinks along with a few breakfast and lunch options.

Limestone Legends Billiards in Athens, AL

Sip and Play Your Way Through Athens

The region delivers in the drink department, as well. Athens Alehouse and Cellar is the perfect spot to both grab drinks with co-workers after a long day at the office or with friends on the weekends. Customers can choose from 100 international wines and 180 craft beers. Plus, the Alehouse often has live music and stand-up comedy on its calendar of events.

Another frequented place is Limestone Legends Billiards, a downtown bar complete with seven pool tables, a lounge area and bar/low-table seating. The space is a popular meetup spot for playing pool and enjoying live music and karaoke.

“My pool hall is an experience more than anything. You don’t have to be a pool player to come enjoy it,” says Jarred Miller, owner of Limestone Legends Billiards. “When I opened my place, I wanted to do something a lot different so that we could have the pool players come in, but it also would appeal to just your everyday person who wanted to come out and have fun.”

Come Here for a Career

While downtown Athens is easily one of the best things about this community, the career options in and near the region are great, especially since Huntsville is nearby.

Whether just starting out or looking to level up in your career, you are sure to excel here, thanks to the area’s robust manufacturing, logistics, health care and education sectors. Major companies like Steelcase, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, Tenneco, Polaris and GE Aviation have operations in the region.

Spending time outdoors is a must in Athens-Limestone County.
Peter Pauley/Athens Main Street

Make Yourself at Home

One other thing you’ll love about living in Athens-Limestone County? Being able to find your perfect home. The first thing to note is how affordable it will be, as the typical home value in the county is roughly $276,000. This has allowed nearly 80% of area residents to own their own homes.

If you choose to follow their lead, you are sure to find your perfect style – perhaps a historic home, a two-story with farmland, or maybe even a waterfront property. Plus, several new subdivisions are in the works and will feature top-notch amenities.

“We’re seeing a ton of people that move in and are just astounded by the hospitality they receive here. We welcome a diverse community – we are a diverse community – and we’re
really proud of that.”

Hedy Lou Cannon | Real Estate Broker

“A lot of people are coming from out of the area, or they’re younger and just starting out,” says Hedy Lou Cannon, a former elementary school teacher who is now a real estate broker. “We’re pretty affordable, and our property taxes are better here. We’re not as fast-paced, and it still has that small-town feeling, but there are a lot of new subdivisions being built.”

And you’ll soon come to find that, like the other individuals and families who live here, you will favor the area’s safety, high-rated schools, from primary to college level, well-supported sports leagues, an inclusive, diverse community – the list goes on and on.

Be a Part of a Booming Region

Limestone County is in little danger of losing its title as fastest-growing county in Alabama anytime soon. The county continues to welcome business and residential developers at a brisk clip, all benefiting the area’s outstanding quality of life.

For those looking for retail therapy, plenty of new storefronts beckon. Three major retail projects were approved in June 2022 and are bringing such well-known names as Old Navy and TJ Maxx to the area. And for those who’ve gotten hungry while out shopping, there are some new faces on the dining scene as well.

Buc-ee’s, the Texas-based travel store chain “where everything is bigger,” has opened in Athens, and a Chicken Salad Chick will be opening soon.

There’s also plenty of activity on the home front, too. Athens has welcomed Creekside Athens and Gateway Village at Swan Creek – both featuring several floor plans and high-end amenities. All told, Athens has just over 5,000 commercial and housing units in development, according to city officials. That’s needed as the city has grown by more than 12,000 people in the last 12 years, with more arriving all the time.

– Writers Lindsey Hyde and Joe Morris contributed to this article.

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