Elkins is at the crossroads of time in determining its future. Most believe this lies in the packaging and promotion of its heritage from a time when it was the hub of Northcentral West Virginia's railroading industry and combined with the modern-day flavor of a progressive and growing community. The challenges of creating a successful mix of the two are monumental. Those involved in ushering Elkins into the 21st century are struggling to find the formula that will bring a measure of success in the short term and, more importantly, generate wide range interest and long-term success.
The formula has several ingredients: the history and culture of a bygone era, modern-day entertainment venues, esthetics, cooperation, compromise and impatience. All have a relative bearing on which is the best way to accomplish the goal.
The selling of our railroading history and its culture and our modern-day entertainment venue are becoming the lynchpins of our local tourism economy. Looking to the future, the construction of the combined West Virginia Railroad Museum and Mountain State Forest Festival offices and museum complex will be a huge boost to the local economy. These facets of the economy are exciting and bring visitors to the area from all across the country. The local entrepreneurs and restaurateurs think they are not reaping economic benefits from this traffic as they could - and should. They are starting to do something about that.
Let's start with one of their major concerns - esthetics, that one element that creates the first and, in all probability, the most lasting impression in our visitors' minds. It is one of the most dominating physical challenges facing those trying to move Elkins into the tourism arena of the 21st century.
Back when the economy of Elkins was dependent on the railroad and the spin-off trades that supported it, few, if any, merchants, residents and passers-by thought much about the city's eye appeal. The esthetics of that which formed the whole was not important to sustaining the economy. Things have changed.
Like all economies based on natural resources and the modes of moving them to refineries or markets, the supply was eventually depleted and the mode of transportation became obsolete. Workers moved on to locations where employment of the same kind was available or they learned new skills particular to the industrial world of the day. Gradually, the economy became what it is today, one of service and tourism - ones in which beauty and eye appeal are two of the most important ingredients for success.
Beautifying the town will take the combined efforts of every business, building owner and homeowner in town. Some of the sights one sees around the old railyard, over on Randolph Avenue and elsewhere do create lasting impressions - one that are not desired. Some of the eyesores are easily fixed; others are not. Some will take large sums of money; others won't. For some, a few gallons of paint, the removal of junked vehicles, trash, disposing of dangling, unused telephone or electrical wires and replacement of broken windows would do the job.
Others, such as landscaping around the railyard will take money, which is not available right now and may not be for some time. These kinds of challenges are understandable and action-deferrable. They will be cured when funds become available. Permitting streets to become littered with junked vehicles and trash is not.
Cooperation and compromise, while always in evidence, is gaining momentum. In the past, many things that were mentioned at the Downtown Merchants meetings that would have benefited the whole met stiff resistance because some felt they would not benefit from the suggestion. At the merchants' meeting on Tuesday, both became the overriding principal when those in attendance agreed to prepare a leaflet that will promote the entire downtown area yet might not feature one's own business. The leaflet will become part of the promotion packets of other venues in town that attend tourism trade shows. This coming Tuesday, representatives of printing companies will make their presentation of sample leaflets to the merchants. They will then decide on who will do the printing and devise an equitable payment plan for them.
Impatience, the emotion that drives action, has always been in evidence - it, too, is gaining strength and becoming part of the merchants' lexicon. These are success-driven people who realize that tomorrow is too far into the future for action. They want action now and are willing to make sacrifices of individuality for the benefit of the whole. Tourism trade shows are already in progress making arrangements for next year's season and they want Elkins represented at them as soon as possible - "like now already" as "cool" teenagers would say.
There is, of course, that one vital lubricant that is needed to make changes and get things done - money. It, as always, is in short supply. There are ways that too might be changed. One is by getting the population of the city past the 10,000 mark, which would qualify the city for more grant money. That is a lightning-rod issue because it would necessitate expanding the city's boundaries. Most of those affected by this measure are against it because they feel they would be paying higher taxes for services they already have. Would it not be better for all to share a little extra cost for the benefit of being eligible for considerably larger sums of grant money that would make Elkins a better place to live, a more attractive place for expansion of current businesses and for the startup of new businesses that would provide more and better job opportunities for our youth?
Another idea advanced by some for the continued restoration and beautification of the downtown area is acceptance and participation in the ON TRAC Program. Acceptance into this program would hopefully lead to becoming a Main Street participant, which, according to the proponents, would also make the city eligible for additional grant money. More information on these two programs is available through the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce and on the Internet.
- Those concerned with the economic future of "The City Where Mountain Memories Are Made" are anxious to do something. Everyone has realized for as long as I've been privileged to cover the merchant's meetings that much wider and aggressive promotional efforts must be made to bring tourists to Elkins, not just for the first time, but time after time. They are making the moves to do just that.
- The Inter-Mountain has prepared a Local Consumer Survey to help merchants and restaurateurs determine which operating times and days of the week would be the most beneficial to each one. The survey will be advertised all next week, Nov. 10-15, and printed each day the following week, Nov. 17-22. The importance of completing this survey by everyone who resides in the readership area cannot be over emphasized.
The results of these surveys can be used by local businesses to adjust and improve their customer service and business plans. Additional instructions are included with the survey.
The Inter-Mountain is asking those who complete the survey to include their name, address and telephone number. Individual information will not be shared or included in the results of the survey, but because The Inter-Mountain services nine counties, the information will help qualify the answers and make the survey more useful as a planning tool. Those who furnish the requested personal information will also be eligible to win a laptop computer or iPod.
The American Mountain Theater begins it Christmas show on Nov. 28 - that's the day after Thanksgiving. The business is experiencing a rush for tickets and they are going fast. For schedule and ticket information, call the ticket office at 630-3040.