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Harpers Ferry seeks Main Street status

January 05, 2001

Harpers Ferry seeks Main Street status



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer


HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - Tourism in richly historic Harpers Ferry is as strong as ever, and Bryan Kelley's business is a good example.

Kelley and his wife moved to Harpers Ferry in 1996 to fulfill their dream of opening a bed and breakfast. The inn has been successful, as has Kelley's fishing guide business.

Kelley, who takes fishing enthusiasts on trips on the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, said business increased 50 percent last summer.

"There's great potential for new businesses to come to town," Kelley said at a meeting Friday at Harpers Ferry Town Hall.

But the town has many challenges to overcome before it can capitalize on tourism, town business owners and resident say.

Those problems include empty commercial buildings, traffic and parking problems, poor trash service, no public rest rooms, unimproved streets, lack of a retail outlet for West Virginia products and other shortcomings, according to a group of local business leaders and residents studying the problem.

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To turn Harpers Ferry into a thriving tourist destination, business owners, residents and others are hoping to have the town designated as a Main Street community. The designation would afford Harpers Ferry many services to help improve its business district.

The Main Street program, administered by the West Virginia Development Office, provides planning expertise, market analysis, retail consulting assistance and promotional help, said Main Street officials.

Monica D. Miller, coordinator of the program, and several other Main Street officials met with Harpers Ferry representatives Friday about having Harpers Ferry become one of up to three new towns included in the program.

With 500,000 people a year coming to the town to visit Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, located adjacent to the business area, town officials believe the town could be a booming tourist attraction that would serve as the eastern "gateway" to West Virginia, said Mayor Walton "Kip" Stowell.

Harpers Ferry, located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, combines stunning landscape with rich history. The deep river valley that makes up the town is popular for hiking, fishing and whitewater rafting. In the national park, throngs of visitors come to see the restored town where abolitionist John Brown made his failed attempt to take over a federal armory in 1859.

When visitors cross into the business district, they are not always satisfied with what they get, officials said. A survey conducted by the park showed only 56 percent of the park's visitors were happy with the commercial district.

If Harpers Ferry is designated as a Main Street participant, it must raise money to hire a program manager to coordinate the effort, Miller said.

Harpers Ferry officials have already raised $20,000 to pay the program manager's salary, said Charlotte Thompson, a resident and member of the town's Business Area Advisory Team.

Miller said Main Street will probably decide by early next month whether Harpers Ferry will be included.

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