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Businesses, government sprucing up Martinsburg

September 18, 1998

Glass RepairBy KERRY LYNN FRALEY / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Joe Biggs planned on renovating the historical brick building at the corner of King Street and Maple Avenue when he bought it in 1986.

But the plans got pushed aside as he poured his resources into small shopping centers in Front Royal, Va., said Biggs, who ended up selling the building in 1994.

When he got it back in a foreclosure in January, the Virginia developer decided to go ahead with his original plans and renovate the 1872 building inside and out.

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Now the fresh-faced building is filled with a mix of businesses, including a new restaurant, The Grapevine Cafe, a new shop for horse owners called The Tack Shop, and a florist set to open in October, Biggs said.

Before the building was redone, it was difficult finding commercial tenants, he said.

"Sprucing up does help. All of the characteristics were there. They just needed to be dusted off and brought back to life," said Biggs, who said beautiful old buildings like his are crying out to be restored throughout the city.

Boosting downtown Martinsburg's image has to be a cooperative effort by property owners and city government, say downtown property owners, shopkeepers and city officials.

Downtown storefront occupancy is a healthy 85 to 90 percent, said Martinsburg City Manager Mark S. Baldwin.

But the shift away from retail business since the advent of shopping malls created the misperception that downtown is dying, Baldwin said.

Because image is key to economic development, the city has tried to do its part to make downtown as attractive as possible to draw and retain retail business, he said.

Projects in recent years have included installing Victorian-style lighting along Queen and King streets, posting street signs highlighting local attractions, and annual street paving, Baldwin said.

City employees have been sprucing up downtown with several projects this summer, he said.

While fresh lines were being painted on state roads under a West Virginia Division of Highways project, employees of the Martinsburg Public Works Department were repainting walkways, turning lanes and curbs throughout the city, he said.

Meanwhile, Martinsburg Water Department workers started the massive undertaking of repainting the nearly 500 fire hydrants in the city, Baldwin said.

Upcoming projects include the rehabilitation of the city parking lots at West Burke and East Martin streets and extending the Victorian lighting, he said.

The city can only do so much to improve the image of downtown, said Baldwin, who said it's up to property owners to keep up their end by improving and maintaining their buildings.

At this point, the city is trying to help them through its sidewalk loan program, which provides interest-free loans to residents and businesses, he said.

Sprucing up seems contagious, said Janie Henry, who noticed neighbors following suit after she and husband Greg Henry finished refacing their North Queen Street building last year.

The couple, who own the Queen Street Gallery, put about as much into the renovations as it cost to buy the building, Janie Henry said.

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