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Merchants Again Discuss Downtown Shopping Hours

May 3, 2008
By Wayne Sheets, Contributing Business Writer
    Once again the dominate subject at the bi-monthly Downtown Merchant’s meeting on Tuesday was how to get our visitors to the downtown stores and the hours those stores are open. Participating in the discussion were the same group of merchants who are regulars at these meetings — those who have the interests of all at heart, yet when things do not meet the expectations of the majority (those who are never in attendance to help with suggestions and ideas) they “take the heat.” 


Those who attend these meetings could be working in their places of business just like those who are apparently too busy to attend and might be better rewarded for their efforts. Having attended the majority of these meetings over the past several years, I can assure everyone that they accomplish a lot of things that otherwise would be left undone were it not for their efforts. They labor — voluntarily, in one of the most thankless undertakings I’ve ever witnessed.


    This week’s discussion centered on three things. First, how to let our visitors know where the “mom and pop” shops are located; secondly, how to change the “store hours” mindset of shop owners; and last but certainly not the least important, getting shop owners to cooperate with one another instead of being envious of one another over their business.


    Let’s look at each concern separately. If I heard correctly, the operators of the trains and the American Mountain Theater (currently, our two main tourist attractions in town) held discussions with our city leaders last week and examined ways of getting information into the hands of our visitors regarding downtown shops and restaurants, what they have to offer and where they are located. Folks coming to visit on buses usually have a structured schedule and having this kind of information is very critical to their being able to visit downtown merchants. More than 350 — as of this writing, with an average of about 45 people per bus — are scheduled so far.


    Numbers at the depot Welcome Center are beginning to show that there’s also another category of people appearing on the tourist radar — those who come in small groups (usually 12 or less), and families on weekend or short two- or three-day vacations. They, too, are looking for quick and easy access to this same kind of information.


Fortunately, this area of concern has been addressed by the merchants. On Tuesday The Inter-Mountain printed an eight-page guide that has a four-page pullout section listing all the participating merchants, restaurants and other points of interest. It includes the location along with a brief description of what the business or restaurant has to offer. Members of the association are also studying ways of condensing this information to a format that might be printed on a smaller and sturdier medium for easier handling.


    Operating hours of local merchants has been a concern since Elkins became a tourist destination. Those who work to accommodate our visitors continuously hear comments such as, “Why are all the stores closed?” or “The store hours are posted on the door or in the window, but it was closed.”


    Merchants at the meeting readily admitted that this can and usually does have very damaging effects on business. They suggest that those who experience this disappointment take the word back to their friends on their bus, or buses, and before one realizes it, the word has spread that the hours of such-and-such store are unreliable. Negative comments travel as rapidly through any given community as quickly as positive ones.   


    We’ve all heard the trite cliche, “You gotta’ make hay while the sun shines.”  Long hours at work are never a pleasant experience, and I’m certainly not dictating what hours anyone should keep, but opening a gift shop at 8 a.m. when all that tourists are looking for is coffee and a doughut or two doesn’t make much sense. Why not delay the opening until later in the day and stay open later in the evening when the tourists are looking for some place to go (and spend money) between the time they arrive back in Elkins after their train ride and before show time at the AMT. Maybe a “split-shift” would be worth considering.


    Some of those present on Tuesday said they’ve heard merchants complain that they don’t know, or can’t find out, the schedule of the train’s departures and arrivals. Folks, all you have to do is drop by the Welcome Center and pick up a copy of the schedule.


    The other topic of concern at Tuesday’s meeting was the lack of cooperation between businesses. Instead of being envious or jealous of one another, all businesses should work in unison to make shopping a pleasure for our visitors. If one shop doesn’t have what a customer is looking for, would it not be better to recommend a shop that might have it? If this kind of cooperative atmosphere was created, it seems quite likely that a favor from one would more than likely generate a reciprocative gesture sooner or later.


    I’ve heard comments from merchants that the operators of the trains and AMT are only concerned about themselves and could not care less about what happens to the entrepreneurs and restaurateurs in town. Well folks, I can tell you that this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s obvious that anyone making this kind of comment hasn’t been to one of the merchant’s meetings. Getting people to visit the local merchants and restaurants is a major concern for everyone who works with or for either of these attractions. Those who attend the meetings admit that customer traffic might not be what an owner would want it to be at the outset, but if the store is always closed when there are people in town looking for a place to shop, it will never have customers. If a merchant wants to open his or her store at 8 a.m. and close at 4 p.m., that’s certainly their prerogative, but that may not be the time frame in which our visitors want to shop.


•••


    Ed Griesel, president of the Downtown Merchants Association, mentioned at Tuesday’s meeting that a feasibility study for creating a corps of “step-on bus tour guides” is under way. Guides will accompany buses on scenic tours and provide historical and other information for tours in Randolph and surrounding counties. If enough response is generated, a one-day class of instruction will be scheduled. Interested parties should call Griesel at 636-2903 or 636-4013 after 6 p.m.


•••


    The Rotary Club of Elkins celebrated its 90th anniversary Monday evening at the American Mountain Theater. After dinner in the theater’s lobby, catered by Fine Foods Catering, the crowd of 92 Rotarians and guests moved into the theater. There they heard a three-part program consisting of a historical overview of the Rotary Club presented by Program Director Pat Schumann and Karen Wilmoth, and a presentation by West Virginia Tourism Commissioner Betty Carver and Domestic Travel Specialist Kathy Johnson. At the conclusion of these programs, the cast and crew of the theater gave a 40-minute mini-performance showcasing some of the highlights of the two-hour flagship program.


    The Rotary Club of Elkins was established on May 1, 1918, the 338th club to be formed in Rotary’s family of clubs.


The Randolph County Development Authority, Davis Health System, Davis Trust Co. and the American Mountain Theater sponsored the evening event.
 
 

 

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