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Martinsburg residents want more variety downtown

August 21, 2000

Martinsburg residents want more variety downtown



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Downtown should have more specialty shops, more activities, perhaps a pedestrian-only area and a personal business atmosphere that would distinguish it from the large shopping malls.

That's what preliminary information from surveys of area residents indicates, said Brenda Casabona, who is coordinating the surveys. She is a board member of Main Street Martinsburg, which is asking residents, city and county employees and businesses what they want downtown to be. She hasn't added up all the numbers yet, but has looked at enough responses to form some ideas.

"People are more interested in wine shops, gourmet shops, cheese shops, coffee shops like Starbucks," said Casabona, co-owner of DeFluri's Fine Chocolates on Queen Street. "The other thing people said is they would like to see is more events, parades, concerts at the Apollo, more events downtown related to Apple Harvest Festival. They are not interested in seeing the buildings removed from downtown. They would like to see them renovated. They like the feel of downtown."

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The group has received about 75 responses. More are expected as city and county employees respond to the survey included in their pay envelopes and as the group goes door-to-door to downtown businesses.

She said the population of the area will support some of what people say they want - to a degree.

"I don't think we'll ever attract national chains" like Starbucks, she said. "But there are a lot of smaller companies that are interested in the communities they are in. I think people want to shop downtown because they want to find something different. The reasons people shop at stores other than the malls is the personal services they feel they get."

Mayor George Karos agreed. He owns Pattersons Drug Store on Queen Street.

"The days of the big anchor store downtown are gone,' Karos said. "The specialty shop is what we're looking for. We need businesses that will stay open longer than 9-5 because everyone knows that mom and pop both work. We need to encourage activities that get people downtown."

He said downtown may be suffering from a negative image - some people think it has too many vacant stores and too much crime. More business space is filled than people realize, certainly more than in recent years, and downtown is safe at night, he said.

"I look at Hagerstown, Cumberland, other cities - they have come back," he said. "I'm sure we can be at the same level."

All the survey work should be done next month, Casabona said.

"The next step is to go after businesses that people have expressed an interest in," she said. "We can tell them 'these are the demographics, these are the places available, are you interested?'"

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