Local businesses in Helen, Georgia. Editorial credit: Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock.com.

7 Towns In Georgia With Thriving Local Businesses

The state of Georgia is not only rich in history, culture, and natural beauty, but it’s also home to countless charming communities that offer unique experiences for tourists and residents alike. Known for diverse landscapes that range from the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains to glorious stretches of sandy coastline adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, the best of the Peach State’s small towns encapsulate everything that’s great about the place.

Tourism is a significant contributor to Georgia's economy, with over 16 million visitors drawn annually to its historic sites, scenic byways, and welcoming communities. Best of all, these travelers, most from the United States, inject an estimated $73 billion into the state’s economy. Not only does this massive influx of cash support more than 442,600 jobs, but it’s also good for the state’s many local small businesses. Check out these seven towns in Georgia with thriving local businesses to find out why the Peach State is booming.


Aerial view of Ellijay, Georgia.
Aerial view of Ellijay, Georgia.

Located in North Georgia 75 miles due north of Atlanta, the delightful little Appalachian town of Ellijay is known as the "Apple Capital of Georgia" for good reason. Boasting fertile soil that’s perfect for fruit growing, the town is particularly busy with tourists during the annual Georgia Apple Festival. Spread over two weekends in October, this popular event celebrates the town's rich apple-growing heritage with arts and crafts, live entertainment, and plenty of apple-themed treats. Much of the fun takes place at thriving orchard operations like the family-owned and operated R & A Orchards, famous for its delicious fried pies.

Numerous other businesses have also benefitted from the tourist traffic drawn by Ellijay attractions like the Chattahoochee National Forest, including several unique accommodation options. Flourishing favorites include Gingershack Farms, popular for its mountainside cabins and working farm atmosphere, and the luxe Ellijay River House Bed & Breakfast. Both businesses are family-run by some of the friendliest hosts you’re likely to meet. Ready to dine? Check out the River Street Tavern, known for its welcoming atmosphere and excellent pub fare (go for the handmade burger!), and the first-rate Mountain Town Coffee café with its laidback bohemian vibe and used vinyl records and books to browse.

Blue Ridge

Downtown Blue Ridge, Georgia
Downtown Blue Ridge, Georgia. Image credit: Lee Coursey via Flickr.com.

Named for its location in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Georgia, Blue Ridge is another small town that’s done well as a tourist spot. The big draw, in addition to its lovely scenery, is the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway (BRSR), which offers scenic rail tours through the region’s stunning countryside. While part of a larger group called Patriot Rail out of Jacksonville, Florida, this top attraction’s location in the downtown area has benefitted local businesses tremendously.

Examples of businesses thriving thanks to the presence of the BRSR, which divides the town’s Main Street down the middle, is the top-notch Blue Ridge Inn Bed & Breakfast, a locally owned B&B that’s set in the 19th-century home of one of the country’s original railroad tycoons. This charming B&B is an ideal spot from which to explore other thriving local businesses, including the Black Sheep Restaurant (reservations required, it’s that busy); Harvest on Main with its farm-to-table dining experiences using local ingredients; and High Country Art, a great spot to pick up art and crafts made by local artisans.


Atlanta Botanical Garden in Gainesville, Georgia
Atlanta Botanical Garden in Gainesville, Georgia. Editorial credit: Marcus E Jones / Shutterstock.com.

Gainesville’s setting on the shores of Lake Lanier has certainly helped the town become economically viable for local businesses. The big draw here is the lake, with businesses such as the family-owned Gainesville Marina and Boat Sales assisting locals and visitors with everything needed to have fun on this large body of water.

Numerous downtown Gainesville businesses are also thriving, especially in the town’s food and drink sector. Pay a visit to Avocados Restaurant, a popular eatery known for its eclectic menu and lively atmosphere, or Sweet Magnolias Cafe & Bakery for their homemade pastries, and you’ll end up contributing to the local economy yourself. And to wash it all down, head over to Liquid Nation Brewing for a creative craft brew or two.


Capers, an eatery in Dahlonega, Georgia
Capers, an eatery in Dahlonega, Georgia. Editorial credit: Jen Wolf / Shutterstock.com.

Located mid-way between Blue Ridge and Gainesville, Dahlonega was the site of the first major U.S. gold rush in 1828 and continues to prosper. Much can be learned about this period at the Dahlonega Gold Museum located in the Old Lumpkin County Courthouse, built on the lovely town square in 1836. From here, it’s an easy walk to the historic Holly Theatre, which opened in 1948 and still entertaining audiences with first-rate live shows.

Other thriving businesses in Dahlonega include local favorite Paul Thomas Chocolates, loved for its handcrafted confections and desserts; and for wine enthusiasts, the world-class Montaluce Winery and Restaurant where you can sample wines made on the premises. Allow time to explore nearby Chattahoochee National Forest, a popular spot for mountain biking and camping, as well as hiking along the Appalachian Trail.


A cosy eatery in Helen Georgia.
A cosy eatery in Helen Georgia. Image credit: Kristina Blokhin - stock.adobe.com.

The story of Helen is definitely one of rags-to-riches. Down on its luck after the local timber industry dried up, savvy townsfolk reinvented the town by turning it into a Bavarian village, adding alpine-themed facades to buildings and luring tourists with a promise of a little slice of Europe in the heart of Georgia. That radical strategy worked, and Helen today is one of the busiest tourist destinations in the state, attracting visitors year-round with fun events, including one of the longest-running Oktoberfest celebrations in the United States.

Visitors who make the trip for a weekend or longer will also explore places like Unicoi State Park as well as Anna Ruby Falls, a stunning double waterfall that’s close to town. Local businesses certainly benefit from this influx of tourists, with locations like the privately owned Castle Inn on the Main requiring advance bookings. Set overlooking the Chattahoochee River, the Troll Tavern boasts a great patio that’s always busy, while the family-owned Hofer’s Bakery and Cafe is a great spot to pick up traditional German sweet treats and delicacies.

St. Marys

 Bank of Camden County, 1911. Saint Marys, Georgia.
Bank of Camden County, Saint Marys, Georgia. Image credit: Allen Forrest via Flickr.com.

Located on Georgia’s southern coast a stone’s throw from Florida, St. Marys’ businesses have benefitted greatly from the town’s proximity to Cumberland Island National Seashore. Boasting long stretches of sandy beaches, wild horses, and historic ruins, this nearly 18-mile-long island is only accessible by water, ensuring a steady flow of customers for services such as Cumberland Island Ferry. Charters are also available here, with locally owned businesses like Captain Ken's Fishing Expeditions being popular options for anglers seeking adventure.

The town itself is extremely picturesque and features charming streets lined with historic buildings and moss-draped oaks. Top in-town attractions include the St. Marys Submarine Museum, with its fascinating look into the town’s naval history, and the St. Marys Railroad, which offers scenic train rides through the surrounding countryside. A good time to experience local hospitality is during October’s St. Marys Rock Shrimp Festival with its seafood and local craft vendors, along with live music.


Aerial view of Madison, Georgia.
Aerial view of Madison, Georgia.

Our last stop, Madison, is credited as one of Georgia’s most picturesque small towns. Located halfway between Atlanta and Augusta, Madison's historic district offers a glimpse into the past with its beautifully restored antebellum architecture, all of it saved from destruction during General Sherman’s March to the Sea during the Civil War. Visitors can get their bearings at the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center, housed in a restored 1895 Romanesque Revival building in the downtown area and now a showcase of local history and art.

Thriving Local businesses certainly enhance Madison’s charm, including eateries such as Ricardo’s Kouzzina, popular for its Mediterranean cuisine and warm hospitality, and Amici Brewing, a brew pub with a dedicated local following. Here for the Weekend? The Cotton Depot provides a variety of antiques and unique finds, while a good place to stay is The James Madison Inn, a photogenic old inn popular for weddings.

The Final Word

Georgia’s small towns are not only treasure troves of history, culture, and natural beauty, they’re also hotbeds of thriving small businesses. This is especially true in destinations like Helen, St. Marys, and Blue Ridge, all of them popular tourist destinations with a. steady flow of visitors eager to splurge. Together, these seven thriving towns in Georgia are must-visits when exploring the Peach State.

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