Last spring I wrote in this column that some of the merchants located on the periphery of the city of Elkins questioned the implications of the name "Downtown Merchants' Association." The subject came up again at Tuesday's meeting. While I have, at the request of Defacto President Ed Griesel, repeatedly reported that the organization's mission is to promote every business in the Elkins area and he continuously extends invitations to all merchants to attend the meetings, some apparently still feel that the organization promotes only those businesses located in the central downtown area ostensibly by its name.
In that spring column, I also noted that the official name of the organization is the Downtown Elkins Promotional Committee and swore that I would forevermore refer to it by that name. A couple weeks later I reneged on that promise explaining that I did so because of the awkwardness of the name, and because everyone else continued to refer to it as the Downtown Merchants' Association.
Perhaps changing the name of the organization might entice more merchants to participate in the meetings. It would, after all, be simple enough to do - simply call it the Elkins Merchants Association. No one apparently cares what its "official" title is anyway - it has been called something else for the past several years I've been reporting on it. If that makes people happy, then why not do it. That's one way of seeing if those that are unhappy with what it's now called will be more inclined to attend and participate in the idea sharing that takes place every other Tuesday morning.
Another area of concern discussed at Tuesday's meeting was the organization's structure. The organization from its inception (as I understand it) has been made up of a loosely cohesive group of merchants, business executives/owners, professionals, elected officials from the city and county, hotel managers and an occasional bank representative.
There have never been a membership criteria or a fee to meet or pay for membership. Most of the expenses incurred for "group" advertising or other activities have been meet through voluntary contributions - many of which have not been in equal shares. In some cases, an individual or two have been left "holding the bag" for sizeable obligations. Tuesday's attendees agreed that this is not the best way of conducting the organization's financial affairs; a better way of meeting the group's obligations must be found.
Attendees agree that the organization has grown into a dynamic organization and it is time to seek ways of making it appealing to a wider audience and give it more structure. They also agreed that no matter how hard members work to get everyone involved, some people will not become involved no matter what is done to reach out to them.
A case in point is the advertising brochures that were, with the blessing of all involved, printed at the beginning of the tourist season promoting the entire Elkins business community. Had it not been for subsidies from the Randolph County Commission and the city of Elkins, a sizeable obligation would have rested on the shoulders of a very few - a couple in fact. Another incident that has given rise to these concerns is the still outstanding obligation for an advertisement that was placed in the fall issue of "WV Living Magazine." Everyone agreed that having an ad in that issue was a good idea because the city of Elkins was the featured location. Merchants agreed to share the cost of the ad, but apparently, no one knows what that obligation is. Some are hesitant to pay what might be a disproportionate share. Understandable. Some indicated that they are willing to pay their "fair share" but they don't know what it is.
Some voiced the opinion that writing publicly about the challenges faced by the group might cause doubts in the minds of some who might otherwise be interested causing them to stay away - I doubt it. No organization, large, or small like this one, is set on cruise control and goes sailing merrily along without hitting a bump now and then. The challenges the group faces are no big secret nor are they insurmountable. All that's needed is workable ideas put into effect.
So, what's the answer? You might have it. Why not join the meetings and share your ideas.
Rebecca Poe, director of the Randolph County Senior Center, was at Tuesday's merchants' meeting and presented a great update on her Country Roads Transit system.
According to Poe, the system recently passed its three-year demonstration grant. "It's here to stay," she said. "Last year we had 9,426 passengers, drove a total of 133,693 miles, and are looking to expand the service.
"Our plans for the future are for us to have a maintenance shop with a mechanic on the staff," Poe said. "We currently contract the maintenance of the vehicles to various shops."
Poe also stated, "The faces of our riders are changing. We are seeing more and more people under 60 years of age riding the busses. As this indicates, our service is for everyone, not just seniors."
When asked about other services the company might provide, Poe stated that they cannot do charter, but are considering arranging shuttle services from parking lots to special activities and events in and around town as part of the marketing plan.
According to Poe, all a person needs to do to ride the bus is stand by the route and flag the bus as it comes by. Route schedules are available at the senior center. Service is provided to all of Randolph County. She also said that if someone needed transportation from a point that is not on the regular route, all they have to do is call 304-636-6472 and arrangements can be made to pick them up. The pamphlet that she passed out at Tuesday's meeting stipulated, however, that the service is by appointment and requires 24-hours advance notice. The cost of the Demand Response is $2 per trip.
Poe said that she is seeking input regarding obtaining shelters and their placement along the routes.
"There are at least eight of the company's 13 buses on the road at any given time," Poe said.
Fares are $1.25 per trip for anyone 6 years of age and older (children younger than 6 ride for free), and a monthly pass for unlimited rides is available at $30 per month.
For additional information, contact Country Roads Transit at 304-636-6472, or toll free at 877-636-6472. The TDD number is 304-636-7373. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
Spinner O'Flaherty, president of C-HOPE, announced Tuesday that First Ward School and Riverside School have been passed through the Archives and History Commission to the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places. He said the two historic landmarks have been cleared through the state and national level for approval to the National Register of Historic Places.
Halloween trick-or-treat for the merchants in downtown Elkins is Oct. 30 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., not Oct. 29 as I stated in last week's column.
Here's a word of caution regarding the newest virus circulating throughout the Internet. It involves a message supposedly from UPS, FedEx and DHL involving a delivery failure. This fraudulent and virus-spreading plague has been verified by Snopes.com.
You will receive an e-mail from one of the service/delivery companies along with a packet number saying that they were unable to deliver a package sent to you on such-and-such a date because of an address error.
It then asks you to print out the invoice copy attached. Do not print this. When you do, it launches the virus.
Pass this warning on to all your PC operators at work and at home. This virus has caused millions of dollars in damage in the past few days.
For more information, check out the Snopes.com Web site.