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Main Street Martinsburg contributing to revitalization efforts

May 28, 2002|BY SARAH MULLIN

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Vacant storefronts and numerous "For Rent" signs in downtown Martinsburg are in part driving Martinsburg Main Street, a nonprofit organization formed to help revive the downtown area.

The organization's motto is "Revitalizing the Heart & Soul of Martinsburg."

Main Street Martinsburg, under the guidance of Tracie Ford since 1998, has been involved in efforts to attract more businesses and visitors downtown through fund-raisers, social events and beautification projects.

"Downtown was the hub of Berkeley County at one time," said Martinsburg Mayor George Karos, who owns Patterson's Drug Store. Patterson's has been a fixture in downtown for 73 years.

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The arrival of the Blue Ridge Outlets - which closed in April 2000 after 16 years in business - and the Martinsburg Mall contributed to an exodus of business from downtown, he said. Some have returned.

"I would venture to say at one time 40 to 50 percent of the storefronts were empty," Karos said. Now, he said, only 10 percent are vacant.

Main Street Martinsburg and the Martinsburg City Council have been working hand-in-hand to revitalize downtown, Karos said.

The City Council recently appointed a 10-member Shade Tree Committee to work on downtown beautification. The council also has approved spending about $32,000 on a study of the city's traffic flow and marketability, Karos said.

Main Street Martinsburg used $3,000 received last year at the West Virginia Main Street Awards banquet sponsored by the West Virginia Council for Community and Economic Development to purchase two kiosks that will carry locator maps for visitors. Maps will also be placed in the Martinsburg Train Station and in City Hall, Ford said.

She said some of the money was used to create a Web site at www.mainstreetmartinsburg.com with information about events, shopping and dining opportunities.

In addition to developing an improved climate for businesses, Main Street Martinsburg has created numerous events to attract visitors to the downtown area and increase business involvement.

One new event, Chess in the Square Tournament, will be held throughout September. Downtown businesses will be encouraged to sponsor employees who will compete.

The chess games will occur during the noon hour. Winners' names will appear on a large banner hung from the Martinsburg/Berkeley County Public Library's portico.

A retired Martinsburg family physician, Frank Hamilton, is creating large wooden chess pieces for the games. The chess pieces appear on the backs of chairs that stand up to three feet high.

Blue and gray stones that form a checkered pattern in the small square in front of the library will be used as the board.

The tournament is the brainchild of Lisa Dall'olio, a Main Street promotion committee member. She said while visiting Europe she saw similar chess games in town plazas.

Once the tournament is over, the chess pieces will be used as chairs in the children's library.

Businesses or individuals will be able to sponsor a chess piece, and their names will appear on a plaque on the piece.

Other events coming up this summer and fall include the first Green Market featuring local produce from June through October, a West Virginia Birthday celebration on June 20 and Music in the Square on June 21, July 19 and Aug. 23.

"We're on the move and going in the right direction," Karos said.

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