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Merchants Continue Shopping Debate

September 27, 2008
By Wayne Sheets, Contributing Business Writer

When the right person speaks, others listen. Last week, I mentioned that Ed Griesel, defacto president of the Downtown Merchants Group, put into words what a lot of people have been thinking for the past few years: It's time that the downtown merchants start working together to establish a shopping environment, including shopping hours, that will be beneficial to everyone instead of sitting on their hands and/or criticizing those that spend countless hours trying to do it for them. Perhaps what he said had nothing to do with prompting the three new faces of downtown business that were at Tuesday's meeting. For whatever possessed them to drop in and join the debate, the regular attendees are grateful.

I have heard on many occasions the comment that the only ones reaping benefits from the entertainment venues at the railyard are the American Mountain Theater and the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad. Those registering these complaints seem hard-pressed to understand why so few of them visit their stores or restaurants. Folks, why shouldn't the railroad and theater be the ones who are reaping the immediate benefits of the hundreds of visitors that come to our town - they are the one's who stuck their necks out and invested millions of dollars with no guarantee that they would ever recoup their investments. Personally, I think they should be commended for taking the risks and deserve to be complimented for their efforts. Consider two other examples: They invested in the new restaurant - albeit way behind schedule for opening - and the new Holiday Inn Express.

Everyone knew that problems existed at the end of last year's tourist season, but sat on their hands hoping, I suppose, that some providential act would take care of the problem for them. That hasn't, and isn't, going to happen. Fortunately, those 16 or 17 that were at Tuesday's meeting seemed to be getting a grasp on the situation and are "in the mood" to do something about it.

One of those problems is the time frame built into the schedules of our visitors by the bus companies that transport them here. Perhaps the companies don't realize that there are a number of other attractions here to see and enjoy. I think it's fair to say that they aren't aware of the unique mom-and-pop shops that are within a five- or 10-minute walk around town. How many of the bus companies are aware that we have the largest and oldest continuously running festival in the state at this time of year, every year? I am referring, of course, to the Mountain State Forest Festival. In the past, how many bus loads of people in their "golden" years from out of state have you seen come into Elkins, specifically for the festival? Not many. Someone has to get this information to the transportation companies, and perhaps if they had it, they could work more time into their clients' schedules, adding another day to visit.

Griesel has suggested that merchants consider collectively financing a delegation of two or three people to attend tourist conventions as a means of getting the word out. We've all heard the time worn cliche, "It takes money to make money." It seems that no matter how trite the phrase is, this is what it's going to take to get people in the downtown shops. Those that attend the merchants meeting readily admit that swarms of people are not going to flood the downtown shops overnight, but there has to be a beginning.

If action is not taken now, everyone will be sitting around this time next year crying the same song. In my rounds visiting and talking with our entrepreneurs and restaurateurs, I suggest that they join the merchants meetings and hear what others are saying and doing for the benefit of everyone. All too many times their response is: "They don't want to hear what I have to say. They are only interested in helping those that attend regularly."

How ridiculous. Ed and Elaine Griesel would not voluntarily spend hours of their time if they did not have the betterment of everyone at heart. They open their store and suspend business for two hours or more every other week as a means of giving to the community and providing an idea-sharing venue.

It seems to me that everyone expects their place of business to immediately experience the same influx of traffic they see at the AMT and on the excursion trains. Granted, that would be a dream come true, but for that to happen, promotional efforts beyond those already tried are going to have to be put in place. The other mind-set that must be changed is the hours stores are open for business. The only way this "crisis" can be overcome is with the cooperation of everyone. I use the word crisis because if something isn't done and done now for next year's season, there will indeed be a crisis - an ever increasing shortage of tourists.

Griesel said he thought the attendees enjoyed Tuesday's meeting because they shared information that will be beneficial to everyone. He said the debate on adjusting shopping hours will continue at the next meeting at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 7 at Ceramics with Class.

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Here is some great news about the promotion of the Mountain State. According to the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce publication "ChamberLinks," West Virginia will be featured in the November issue of US Airways Magazine. The in-flight magazine reaches about 6.8 million affluent business and leisure travelers.

"We selected West Virginia as a result of common misconceptions associated with the state," explained Carsten Morgan, northeast regional sales director for Pace Airline Media. "The reality of economic development initiatives and the diversity of the current key industrial/commercial sector are far more interesting than the perception. This is an untold story that truly is enlightening to our affluent and influential audience.

"Plus, featuring the state in our business series makes sense. US Airways is the leading airline in West Virginia, with a 37.4 percent market share of airline traffic," Morgan added.

The publisher, Pace Airline Media, said that the feature will be devoted entirely to highlighting the state's emerging technologies, energy solutions, key industries, academic institutions and healthcare advances. This special section will promote the outstanding opportunities and quality of life that West Virginia offers to businesses and individuals who relocate here.

Morgan informed me via e-mail that the article will be available on Nov. 1, but only in the magazine, which is placed in US Airways seatback pockets, or on the Internet. The Web address is www.usairwaysmag.com.

Some dates to remember: Downtown Elkins Trick or Treat will be Oct. 31 from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. At 11 a.m. Nov. 11, a veterans' memorial service will be conducted at the All Veterans' Memorial.

 
 

 

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