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Merchants, residents vent their frustrations

July 11, 2009
By Wayne Sheets, Contributing Business Writer

Some of the issues facing the Downtown Merchants continue to register beyond the measurable limits on the aggravation scale. First, and probably highest on the scale, are the comments Welcome Center volunteers received from out-of-town visitors regarding the lack of courtesy extended them by employees at public places. These were especially prominent at service stations and convenience stores - the places where a majority of the first impressions of the city and its residents are formed.

Second is the esthetics and cleanliness of the city. Third is the removal of the traffic lights and installation of two-way stop signs at Third Street and Kerens Avenue, and at Fourth Street and Davis Avenue. Rating high on the aggravation scale, also, is the "yield to pedestrians" signs poised in the middle of the streets at those intersections.

A few weeks ago, the Welcome Center hosted a workshop by Melanie "Chef Mel" Campbell from Davis & Elkins College on how to greet and handle customers with emphasis on out-of-town visitors. This was the second of these workshops conducted within the past three years. The comment was made by one of those at the merchant's meeting on June 30 that "we saw the same faces both times and none of them were those of the young people who are the first to greet the majority of our visitors upon their arrival in Elkins. Those that attended the meetings are the ones interested in enhancing the town's image with proper education and training and they keep coming back. Those who need the training are never there."

It was reported that one couple stopped at Go-Mart, inquired as to the location of the Holiday Inn, and was told by the clerk that, as far as he knew, Elkins did not have a Holiday Inn. Now that might not constitute blatant discourtesy, but, reportedly, the couple was so astonished at the clerk's uncaring attitude after they discovered that the hotel was located right next door that they said they'd never come back. Maybe the clerk didn't know, but would it have been so difficult to extend the courtesy of trying to find the answer to a simple question? Need more be said?

It takes time and resources to change some of the things that detract from the city's esthetics such as the tasteful restoration of empty storefronts, remodeling or restoring those in use (if needed), and removal of "air trash," as power and communications lines are referred to. Trash on the other hand could and should be stopped over night. There is absolutely no reason for common litter such as empty bottles, fast-food wrappers, Styrofoam cups and other forms of litter to be seen on the streets of Elkins - or any other city for that matter.

The question was asked by a member of the group, "Where is our civic pride?" Does it really need to be said that Elkins is the epicenter of Randolph County and the crossroads to two major resorts, and that it is the responsibility of everyone - citizens, merchants, city officials, the old, the young and visitors alike - to keep the city clean and attractive. At a time when the two major entertainment venues in Elkins, the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad and the American Mountain Theater, as well as every merchant in town, are working so hard and spending so much money to make Elkins a destination, why can't people be responsible enough to keep the streets litter?

A good example of the difference in attitude toward litter was the amount of trash left in Elkins City Park by car owners and visitors who came to the car show, and that left on the Davis & Elkins College Amphitheater grounds after the Colgate Country Showdown and fireworks on Saturday evening. Little effort was needed to police the park grounds, but it was quite a different story for the amphitheater grounds. Why is it that people can't carry empty food wrappers and bottles to a trash can as easily as they carried them to where the contents were consumed?

The removal of the traffic signals and the installation of two-way stop signs at the intersections mentioned above is not sitting well with residents or merchants either. Mixed in the discussions of this fiasco is the wonderment of why the West Virginia Division of Highways is allowed to be so dictatorial in the methods by which the traffic is controlled within the city of Elkins. At a time when city merchants are trying to get people, especially our visitors, slowed down so they will have more time to notice the city's uniqueness, its charm and amenities, the state says "herd 'em up and move 'em out. Get 'em on down the street as fast as possible."

Barbershops (and I suspect beauty shops as well) provide the most fertile ground for opinions on earth. The one where I get my hair cut, what there is of it, is no different. When I asked my barber what people were saying about the new "traffic patterns," he told me that 90 percent of those he talks to are against it.

Everyone is wondering why the two-way stops were not made four-way stops. From what he said, it also seems that insult was added to injury by the "Yield to Pedestrian" signs stuck in the middle of the street. They are ugly, distasteful, distracting and make it more difficult than necessary to make left-hand turns. Doesn't everyone who has a driver's license know that the state law requires drivers to stop for people in the crosswalk? A few citations issued by the city police department would accentuate this law. It usually takes only one such reminder to put a permanent "memory crease" in the offender's brain.

One person even ventured out on the limb far enough to ask, "To whom does the city belong - the resident and merchants, or a group of traffic engineers?"


According to Ed Griesel, president of the Downtown Elkins Promotional Committee (Downtown Merchants Association), West Virginia Living - Celebrating Life in the Mountain State magazine will headline Elkins as its main attraction in the fall issue, which will be on the newsstands on Oct. 1. Some of those attending the merchants' meeting on June 30 agreed to "join forces" and share the expense of placing an advertisement in the magazine bringing even more attention to downtown and surrounding area merchants. Anyone interested in being a part of this promotion should call Griesel at 304-636-2903.

The next merchants meeting will be at 8:30 a.m. on July 14 at Ceramics with Class. Griesel said that a representative from the magazine will be in town that day and that he would do everything possible to have her at that meeting to explain the details, cost of placing an ad and the design of an ad for the magazine.


On a sad note, I learned last week from Dennis and Jane Howell that they are closing their Sunday newsstand at the corner of Davis Avenue and Third Street. Their last day of operation will be July 26. According to the Howells, the business, which has been in operation for more than a century, has fallen victim to a slow economy, rising prices and the Internet.

What a shame this is. Not only will we no longer be able to get our Washington Post, New York Times, Pittsburgh Press and the many other popular newspapers we've been so accustomed to for so many years, we will no longer be blessed with Dennis' quick and ever-present Sunday morning humor.



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