The Downtown Merchants' Meeting on Feb. 9 was one of, if not the most, animated and enthusiastic I've seen for a while. The threat of the impending snow storm bringing with it more bad roads, cold temperatures and inconveniences did not dampen the mood of the merchants and business leaders in attendance.
Scott Goddard, dean of students at Davis & Elkins College, and Carol Schuler, D&E's director of communications and marketing, got the meeting underway by informing everyone that the college's "Chocolate Factory" is going extremely well. For those who aren't aware of the "Chocolate Factory," sometime back the college became the beneficiary of a company that went out of business and received all the equipment required for making chocolate on a large-scale basis.
"The students involved in the venture have made 1,800 pieces of the confectionery, but it came at the expense of long hours of standing and tired feet," Goddard said. "They are well on the way to bringing the program to where the public may purchase the tasty treat at Graceland."
He said that they weren't quite ready yet to go "commercial," but are getting close. Showcases will soon be installed at Graceland to display the "candy of many chocolate varieties" and will be available for purchase by the public. It sounds like a chocolate connoisseur's dream come true. In fact, the downtown merchants are planning a "Chocolate Day" on April 10. Details of the event will be published as they become available.
It was evident at Tuesday's meeting that more of those whose businesses are situated on the periphery of the downtown area are becoming involved in the organization's activities. It's encouraging to see that people are starting to realize that the organization's mission is to promote their businesses too - not just those in the immediate downtown area. While the wheel of progress is slow, it is turning and things are moving forward.
Judy Guye, chairperson of the ON TRAC Economic Restructuring Committee, presented a copy of the Business Survey Questionnaire that members of the Students in Free Enterprise Program at D&E will be distributing to area businesses. The purpose of the survey is to collect information that will help ON TRAC officials identify potential challenges and opportunities confronting downtown businesses. According to Guye, the survey is a composite of several surveys used in other cities for the same purpose. It consists of 19 questions and should take about five to 10 minutes to complete. Completion of the survey is vitally important to the ON TRAC mission. Every merchant and business that receives the survey is encouraged to complete and return it as soon as possible after receipt. To whom and where to return the survey form will be supplied at the time of receipt.
You'll be seeing more on this in other sources, but in an effort to help Mayor Duke Talbott get the word out, he is conducting a meeting at 2 p.m. on Feb. 25 at the Elkins Fire Hall in his continuing efforts to keep merchants, citizens and visitors abreast of the many construction projects in progress in the downtown area. He said he hopes the meeting, and probably more to come, will help keep traffic delays and inconveniences to merchants and shoppers at a minimum.
"Elkins is bursting at the seams with construction projects. We know that these projects will create confusion and inconveniences, but that is unavoidable. We're trying to keep everyone in the information loop as well as seeking input and suggestions," the mayor said. "Unfortunately, we do not have a Web site in operation right now that would have all this information, but we are striving to have one in operation by late spring or early summer."
In response to questions regarding owners of unsightly businesses in town, Mayor Talbott said, "We are working on the situation but there is little we can do. We can only act within the dictates handed down by state authorities in Charleston and nothing more. We are studying the enforcement codes, but it's a very complex situation trying to define where private/individual rights end and public responsibility begins."
Another very interesting subject at the merchants' meeting, in my opinion at least, was that regarding a "central clearing house" for entertainment events. The idea of the clearinghouse (I'll use that term for lack of a better one) would be that it would be a central agency or source where those planning an event in the city or county could go to see what other events, if any, are already scheduled for that particular day. Merchants said that every time they as individuals or as a group plan an event, they have no way of knowing what else has already been scheduled on that day or at that time. The general thinking would be the establishment of a Web site, but that creates the challenge of who would build and maintain it. Sounds like a great idea, but there are complications with it like there is with everything else we try to do. Ideas? Join the next meeting on Feb. 23 and share it with others.
Joe and Alice Sabatino have opened their antique shop called The Victorian Emporium at 405 Kerens Avenue. They buy and sell antiques. For more information, give them a call at 304-591-4494.
Denise Heckel closed her gift shop at the American Mountain Theater on Feb 12. Denise said that working at the AMT and running the gift shop took too much time from her family. It was hoped that her gift shop would continue to be open during show times, but unfortunately that's not the case.
Mark and Bonnie Branciaroli will soon, if not already, be contacting merchants about placing an ad in the new issue of Destinations. They print about 40,000 copies of the publication providing an excellent opportunity to advertise throughout the Mountain Highlands Region. For rate information and member benefits, contact West Virginia Mountain Highlands, P. O. Box 1456, Elkins, W.Va. 26241. They may also be contacted by telephone, toll free at 1-877-WVA-MTNS (982-6867), 304-636-8400 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gov. Joe Manchin on Feb. 2 released the latest "Open for Business" report documenting the state's economic progress. The February 2010 report highlights projects and related announcements from businesses both large and small that will assist with the creations of new jobs and preservation of existing one.
In his press release, he announced that West Virginia will receive $6 million in federal economic stimulus funds to train 1,853 people for "green" jobs. WorkForce West Virginia will use the funds to work with educational and training providers for professional development. The program is expected to help 1,672 West Virginias find employment in "green" enterprises including wind energy, bio-power industries and water and sewer plants.
His report also included some good news in the education department. According to the report, West Virginia's educational system received a B- in Education Week's Quality County 2010 report.
The national average score was a C. West Virginia was the first in the nation to receive an A in "Standards, Assessments and Accountability."
The state ranks seventh in the nation with a B- in "Teaching Profession."
The state also scored a C- in "Chances for Success," a category based on 13 factors including family income, parents' level of education and high school graduation rates.