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Cruise-In shows off downtown changes

June 21, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Sunday's Martinsburg Cruise-In was many things.

It was a big car show, with 152 classic automobiles parked up and down Queen and King streets.

It coincided with Father's Day, and also was held in honor of West Virginia Day.

But perhaps the most important part of the event was promotion.

The daylong event, which also included a rock 'n' roll band in the city's public square, was designed to get people downtown and, hopefully, get them to notice the beginnings of change.

Local officials and a downtown revitalization group have worked to re-energize the shopping area. Signs of growth include specialty shops and big projects such as the restoration of the B&O Roundhouse and planned improvements to the Caperton Train Station.

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It was hoped that the roughly 1,000 people who came to the Martinsburg Cruise-In would like what they saw downtown and perhaps return, said Jeff Curtis, director of Main Street Martinsburg.

"We're just doing everything we can to make Martinsburg a healthier business climate," Curtis said.

Portions of King and Queen streets were closed through the downtown business district for the cruise-in.

Owners of the vintage cars at the event met at The Bon-Ton at Martinsburg Mall at noon, then joined for a parade to the former Blue Ridge Outlets on West Stephen Street.

Once downtown, the cars were parked at an angle along the edge of King and Queen streets. Spectators could walk up the sidewalks of the two streets to observe the four-wheeled marvels.

Among the collection of cars was Leonard Witalski's 1958 Corvette.

With its wide, whitewall tires, red rims and gleaming red body, it looked like a piece of candy as much as it did a car.

Witalski said he bought the Corvette about 20 years ago from a man who owned a lumber yard in town.

It had been painted "OD green," which often was used on military equipment, and the interior was spray-painted black, said Witalski, of Martinsburg.

"It was a mess," Witalski said.

Witalski restored the car, and he estimates his $4,500 investment is worth up to $40,000 today.

"I always loved old cars," Witalski said.

"You like cars, period," said his wife, Margaret.

Curtis and other event organizers said they hoped people would notice other offerings in town, such as the new Red Wolf Grill, the new location of the Peking Restaurant, the R. Lewis Clothier men's clothing store and several other specialty shops that have opened in town over the years.

A new addition to the mix was open Sunday just in time for the event.

Greg Henry and his wife, Janie, who operate Queen Street Gallery at 213 N. Queen St., opened West Virginia Glass a short distance from their shop.

Stepping inside the shop, patrons are met with a rainbow of colors in its selection of West Virginia-made Blenko and Fenton glass.

The Henrys gutted the shop, which used to be House of Frames. They installed a new hardwood floor, and track lighting to show off the collection of glass displayed on wood shelving in the bright, clean shop.

Dana Aldis, who was in town for the cruise-in, was impressed.

Aldis said she is tired of seeing abandoned storefronts in downtown Martinsburg that just seem to keep changing owners with nothing being done to them.

"It's nice to see he has been able to expand," Aldis said.

Organizers hope to make the cruise-in an annual event.

At Sunday's event, The ML Band played on a tractor-trailer bed at the public square. The event had a street fair feel, with food vendors set up on King Street in front of the Berkeley County Courthouse and hawkers moved through the crowd offering pizza.

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