Martinsburg area 'booming' again

July 26, 2000

Martinsburg area 'booming' again

By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Five years ago, when Kimber White's West King Street restaurant opened, Boomtown was more like a bust town, he said.

In the neighborhood at the foot of Winchester Avenue, there were many drug deals and arrests, he said.

White, 41, and his business partner, Mark Dawson, 27, would camp on the front porch of their restaurant - where White also lives - with a pizza and a cell phone. Every time they saw what looked like a drug transaction, they called the police - once about 15 times in one night.

"A lot of the neighbors were concerned," White said. "We all knew this neighborhood could be turned around, but it took someone to take the lead."

The Boomtown Restaurant just turned five years old. White said he is celebrating not only its success, but the gradual re-emergence of a neighborhood that once thrived. The traditional nickname "Boomtown" is said to refer to the one-time hub of industry and manufacturing nearby.


Tracie Ford, the executive director of Main Street Martinsburg, Inc., a nonprofit support organization for businesses, doesn't look at the city's downtown in segments. Main Street treats the 55-block region around Winchester Avenue, King Street and Queen Street as a whole - and as a whole, it's continuing to improve, she said.

The Boomtown Restaurant has been one of numerous businesses that have opened or been renovated downtown in the last several years, Ford said.

Earlier this month, City Manager Mark Baldwin walked through the downtown and found that 115 of 141 commercial buildings were occupied. Ford said that only a few of the empty properties are being marketed; the rest are being left vacant for now.

White believes his King Street neighborhood has bloomed against greater odds than Queen Street has faced.

He and Dawson helped get pay phones removed from the 7-Eleven across the street, eliminating a magnet for drug dealers. A nearby house that attracted drugs was closed down and remodeled, White said.

Capt. Barbara Bartley of the Martinsburg Police Department said there were a "couple of houses" on lower Winchester Avenue that were attracting a bad element, but they have improved over the last three years.

She said that community policing, in which officers spend more time in neighborhoods, and bicycle patrols have helped turn around several parts of the city.

Bartley explained that crime pockets make their way around the city. Currently, Race and Centre streets probably keep police the busiest, she said.

When Dawson suggested buying the Boomtown building as an investment, White questioned his sanity. The seedy neighborhood aside, White said, he wondered about the house.

"It was aluminum-framed. It was ugly, disgusting, bland, nondescript," he said.

White, Dawson and Niall Coulter bought the house for about $50,000 in 1995. They were told it was about 50 years old, but they soon learned that it was built in 1852 and had been a safe house during the Civil War.

Coulter dropped out as a partner. White, 41, and Dawson, 27, abandoned the idea of fixing up the house and reselling it. With no experience in the hospitality field, they opened a bed and breakfast and a caf.

After a short time, they stopped renting rooms and focused on serving meals. They've upgraded the building three times, adding a kitchen, a storage area and additional dining spaces. A 60-seat room for catered parties was recently built.

The restaurant has gone from three employees and seating for 30 to 14 employees and a capacity for 135.

White points to law offices, a print shop and a flower shop, as well as a few offices that are on the way, as evidence that King Street is doing well.

An open house in honor of the five-year anniversary will be held at the restaurant on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. There will be free samples of the new fall menu.

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