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New businesses open their doors in the 'heart and soul' of Martinsburg

September 18, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD
  • Inspirations Fashion owners Chris and Jeanette Allen, holding scissors, are joined Friday by Martinsburg (W.Va.) City Council members Rodney Woods and Richard Yauger and Main Street Martinsburg officials for a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of their business at 116 W. Martin St. in Martinsburg.
By Matthew Umstead,

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Randy Lewis was not in danger of running out of gold ribbon Friday morning.

A few new businesses in Martinsburg's downtown took their snips at the large colorful roll that Main Street Martinsburg's executive director carried from Regina's Restaurant to The Shoppes at 1902 and then to Inspirations Fashion, but it was just too big.

Considering there are more ribbon-cutting ceremonies on the horizon, Lewis might need to stock up soon.

"Since January, I can tell you we've had nine ribbon cuttings," Lewis said Friday after back-to-back-to-back ribbon snipping at 109 N. Queen St. (Regina's), 201 N. Queen St. (The Shoppes) and 116 W. Martin St. (Inspirations).

While four businesses have left in about the same time frame, Lewis said only five vacant store fronts remain and residential development of upper floors of historic business district buildings continues to move ahead.

"It's encouraging to see new business sprouting up in downtown Martinsburg (given) the way the economy has been," Lewis said.

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The opening of The Shoppes at 1902, which is a group of several small businesses that are sharing open space in an incubator-like arrangement, and Inspirations Fashion are in buildings that were extensively renovated by Ben Fogle.

"He's truly been an asset to downtown," Lewis said of Fogle's investment in several properties on Queen and Martin streets. "He is willing to (wait to) find that perfect tenant or that perfect lease ... some of these business owners are money-hungry and they will lower the rent just to get anybody in there."

At least three ribbon-cutting ceremonies this summer -- Sound Quest Records at 119 E. Martin St., Shelbeads at 206 N. Queen St. and Mel's Smells at 208 N. Queen St. -- occurred at properties that Fogle has invested in, Lewis said.

At 109 N. Queen St., building owner Laura Gassler had a street-level facade renovation done earlier this summer, and Regina and Mark Graber, owners of Regina's, have done extensive interior improvements.

Set to open this week, Regina's replaces the Spring House Restaurant, which closed in June after more than 20 years in business. Before that, it was Julias restaurant for many years.

Earlier this year, Main Street Martinsburg celebrated the opening of Quenzel's Karate & Self Defense Club at 124 N. Queen St. and Dana's Tuxedo sales and rentals across the street at 123 N. Queen St.

Just down the street from Regina's, Main Street officials in March cut the ribbon on the restoration of upper floors of the Cohen building at 131-135 N. Queen St. for eight upscale apartments.

"I just talked to the property manager the other day and they're all rented except for two," Lewis said. "They are being very selective, too, (for) which I thank them and commend them."

As the standard of "second-floor living" increases, downtown businesses and events should benefit more, Lewis said.

In addition to private investment, Lewis said the state and federally funded town square project will be a "wow factor" for downtown once it is completed.

"That is going to be truly a wonderful way to really project that we have a community here and that (downtown) is our heart and soul," Lewis said.

After witnessing a period of neglect by absentee owners in the 1980s, Lewis said he has noticed an increasing number of investors taking ownership in downtown buildings. He believes Main Street, which now has more than 200 members, has helped unify redevelopment efforts.

"Our mission is to promote and enhance the downtown," Lewis said. "I always call ourselves that little economic engine because we try to attract people with our events and I think new businesses are seeing that and want to be part of it."

As for Main Street's downtown events, Bike Night has become the organization's biggest fundraiser.

"It was the biggest yet this year," Lewis said.

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