FINALIST: Ellijay, GA

"We love Ellijay"

The infectious kindness of Ellijay makes it impossible not to be drawn in. The Cortes family stopped into town for a day. Then for a vacation season. Then for a lifetime.

Named a Finalist Because: Newcomers to Ellijay have been welcomed with all the love that this tiny town of 1,600 can muster — and that’s a lot.

From the Editors: There’s nothing warmer than a hearty breakfast on a cold morning, unless it happens to come with a generous helping of small-town hospitality. Just ask Steve and Marie Cortes, who stopped at the Cornerstone Cafe in Ellijay, Georgia, one chilly January morning nine years ago. All the tables were taken, but they didn’t leave hungry. Much to their surprise, the other diners “scooched” over until there was enough room for the couple to join.

“After an hour, we had made too many friends to count,” Steve wrote.

That’s why he nominated Ellijay as the Nicest Place in America and judges made it a finalist. In the tiny town of 1,600 nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the friendly residents are happy to make room for newcomers. And that’s a good thing, as lots of new folks are coming through.

It started with the many apple orchards in Ellijay (the apple capital of Georgia!). Migrant farmworkers help pick the Granny Smiths and Fujis and Honeycrisps during the harvest season. Each year the residents of Ellijay hold a fashion show and charity auction, with the proceeds going to the workers and their families. As more and more workers were needed to keep up with the crops, the farm crews and their families began to put down roots.

So the people of Ellijay did what they do—they scooched over and made room. The Gilmer Learning Center now offers English-as-a-second language classes catering to the new neighbors, most of whom speak Spanish. The Catholic Church now offers Mass in Spanish. “They’re part of our community now,” says Mark Millican, the managing editor of the Ellijay Times Courier.

Ellijay and the surrounding area have also become known as a place for Atlanta residents to escape the city heat for mountain biking, whitewater rafting, and lake sports. And if you want to do some shopping, try the WhimZ children’s clothing boutique, owned by Steve and Marie Cortes, who felt so welcomed at breakfast that day they wound up moving to town and opening their shop—right next door to the Cornerstone Cafe.

— The Editors

The Light up Ellijay Celebration draws a tremendous crowd each year. (Credit: Steve Cortes)

My wife and I stopped by for our first visit on a cold January morning nine years ago. We saw lights in a small restaurant, and upon entering found the tables were full. Much to our surprise, all the diners shifted around and made room for us to have breakfast, and after an hour we had made too many friends to count. We decided to buy a vacation home there, moving permanently two years ago and opening a children’s boutique. You cannot walk down the street without having at least 20 people stopping to say hi, and we tell everyone that shops in our store that this is the friendliest place in America.

Stories About Ellijay

The Merchant’s Association donates proceeds from all events to different charities, such as the Friends of Gilmer Animal Shelter and Toys for Tots.