The Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce will conduct its annual Legislative Breakfast at the Randolph County Community Arts Center at 7:30 a.m. Feb. 4.
According to ERCCC Executive Director Ellen Spears, the Government Affairs Committee has been meeting with a group of local businesses to get their input on issues that most concern them in the upcoming legislative session.
"The chamber committee will use this input to form our own Randolph County legislative agenda and then share it with our legislators," Spears said. "Consider this as your opportunity to let your elected representatives know how you wish to be represented in the 2009 legislative session."
Spears said that last year's breakfast was well attended and she is looking forward to the community's continued enthusiasm and support of the event.
Downtown merchants at Tuesday's meeting voiced their optimism on the Elkins economy, and with good reason. The brochure they worked so hard to design and print is now being distributed to travel companies at tourism shows.
The first were given to the American Mountain Theater for distribution to bus operators, which they are attending right now. Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad representatives will be taking them to their trade show in February.
Merchants feel certain the brochures will help draw visitors to the downtown area during the coming tourist season. Ed Griesel, president of the Merchants Association, and Dennis Lively, operator of the ElkinsLive.com Web site, are writing a grant application in hopes of obtaining funding for mass-producing the brochure.
Griesel noted that the brochure is a beginning, and that merchants should seriously consider having rack cards made that detail their business to supplement the brochure.
"This," he said, "would help not only tourists visiting our town to know what is available, but local folks as well."
During the Christmas season, several merchants reported shoppers from the local area coming into their stores and saying, "We didn't know you were here." Many feel that this problem would be eliminated if merchants had a rack card advertising their business on display throughout the city.
Lively said that his Web site is receiving more than 500 hits per day from people looking for information on the Elkins area, and another 150 from people out of state seeking information on Elkins and the surrounding area.
There was also optimism among the attendees that the Elkins economy will not experience the severe downturn that other parts of the country are experiencing.
"I believe the community has been successful in making the transition from one of manufacturing and production to that of a tourism and service-based economy," Heather Biola said.
All agreed, saying that they feel merchants are making progress in marketing themselves for the near term with an eye to the future.
A great deal of satisfaction was expressed over the success of the "I Shop Locally" program initiated by The Inter-Mountain in December. Merchants feel that the program is increasing traffic in downtown stores.
As of the newspaper's publication on Jan. 13, there were 156 merchants in five counties participating in the program. Randolph County has 74 participants; Upshur has 12; Barbour has five; Tucker County has 41; and Pocahontas County has 24 participants.
Business has slowed for some, though. Anne Beardslee, owner of Tunnel Mountain Bed & Breakfast, said that the B&B business has slowed appreciably.
"People are not taking the mini-vacations like they were this time a year or so ago." She is optimistic that people will be getting back in the mood for short vacations come spring.
A major concern of the merchants is the increasing number of empty stores in the heart of the downtown area. They contend that attempts must be made to attract businesses into those "empty spaces." Some suggestions on how to attract new businesses were made by those at the meeting.
C.J. Rylands, owner of C.J. Maggie's American Grill restaurant, advanced some suggestions via e-mail including a list of downtown properties for rent or sale and sent to businesses within a 100-mile radius of Elkins "that would fit a niche in our downtown." Rylands wrote in his e-mail, "Elkins has a big advantage when it comes to the 'cost of doing business.' ... We have not found a city in the state of West Virginia that has a lower 'cost of doing vusiness' than Elkins."
Two potential new businesses that might succeed and fill a couple of those empty spaces were mentioned: a shoe repair shop and watch repair shop. Merchants believe that people are beginning to rethink their consumerism.
They expressed a belief that while present-day conservatism may be a product of our current depressed economy, they feel that people are beginning to take stock in what has lasting value and will turn away from the "throw-away society" that has prevailed for generations.
Davis & Elkins College Economics Professor Harry Henderson is working with the Downtown Merchants exploring ways in which members of his spring term economics class might be able to help construct a marketing plan for the downtown area.
Dennis Lively, Mike Cardinal and Sue Pifer make up the committee that will be working with Henderson and his students on the project.
Heather Biola, director of the city's Friends of Trees program will present the organization's plans for the replacement of downtown trees at the merchant's meeting Feb. 10. She is asking for input for the program.
According to Biola, the program will begin with only those trees needing replaced on Third Street and Davis Avenue.
The Amur Maple (Acer ginnala) has been selected for those trees needing replaced. It is a tall shrub or small tree native to northern Asia with outstanding bright reddish fall colors, which are influenced by soil conditions and the cultivar grown. According to Biola, it is a flowering specimen but does not produce a fruit.
Biola asked that those who would like more information regarding the program or may have suggestions, to contact her through city hall.
The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad is planning special winter runs. The Depot Welcoming Center has brochures containing the schedules. Merchants are encouraged to stop by and pick up copies for their stores.
Randolph County Community Arts Center Executive Director Beth King and her staff are busy preparing grant applications for the 2009-2010 Concert Series, Arts in Education Programs, exhibits and outreach programs.
An important part of the grant packets is letters of support from community organizations and individuals. She said that she would greatly appreciate help in the grant process if those interested in the continuation of the programs would write a letter of support.
The first set of applications go out on Feb. 10, and she is asking that letters by in her hands by Feb. 5. She also said, however, that if you want to send a letter of support and cannot make the Feb. 5 deadline, letters would be used in additional grant applications throughout the year.
"The sooner we receive the letters, the more impact they have," King said. "If you have written a letter in the past, you can just update it. If you would like to e-mail the letter to us, please include a digital signature."
King also suggested that letters be addressed "To Whom It May Concern" since they will be sent to several different granting agencies.
The letter should also include a bit of information about the writer and the writer's relationship to the RCCAC.
For more information, call the RCCAC at 304-637-2355.