It's been nearly four weeks now since Ed Griesel, president of the Downtown Merchants' Association, gave notice that he would no longer chair the organization's meetings after Dec. 31. What a blow to the economic progress leadership this will be.
I have had some long and serious talks with Mr. Griesel since he made his intentions known and have learned a great deal about why he is stepping down. During those conversations I did not try to dissuade him from carrying out his intentions. I did, however, try to get him to see that, as far as most can tell, there is no one waiting in the wings to take his place.
Tammy Anderson, owner of Good News Christian Books and Gift Store, said that she, like so many others, doesn't know what will happen to the organization. "I'm like other business owners in town," she said. "I'm busy and always appreciated being able to spend an hour or an hour and a half getting all the information that Mr. Griesel had available at each meeting. I just don't have the time to run down all this information on my own. I deeply appreciate all the he has done for so many years. My greatest worry is that no one will step forward to provide the leadership that we've grown so accustomed to."
There are many who have the same desire to see the efforts of the association continue but either don't have or can't take the time to take over the group's leadership. Personally, I fear that it will be the end of the organization as we know it. The town will continue to move along but it will be lacking the sharing of ideas for so much of the collective advertising that's been initiated at the group's meetings.
The organization, under Griesel's leadership, was also instrumental in planning or assisting in so many of the community events such as the Veteran's Day Memorial Services, the Christmas Parade, working with The Inter-Mountain to organize "Shop Locally" campaigns, and beautification projects such as the flowers we see along the streets. Also, while the Tree Board is responsible for that program's success, the first I heard about replacing the aged and dying trees along the city streets was at one of the merchants' meetings. Probably the most important thing that will be lost will be the sharing of ideas that usually provided the catalyst for the many of these projects.
Griesel has proven over the years that he is not one to give up easily. If he is not dedicated, driven and determined, he is nothing. After a while of seeing sporadic interest in the town's future - mostly when it affects the one(s) who attend only when they want to discuss a matter that pertains especially to them - frustration begins to take a toll. I believe, after reading his letter of intention to leave the organization, this is what has happened. Too many people are interested only in the progression of those things that help them, understandable of course, but they have no interest in taking part in what needs to be done to benefit the town as a whole.
For the entire six years that I have covered the meetings, he has espoused the notion that "if everyone works together as a group, the organization would become a force to be reckoned with."
"That," he says, "has not happened and I don't see it happening. Too many see (progress) as a one way street; they want to be on the receiving end and not give anything in return."
If he leaves his post with the group, he will not have left without one final plea to everyone. In his letter of intent, Griesel wrote, "Last year ... was a time for change, fresh ideas, new tactics, a new standard bearer for the cause. There are now more opportunities on the horizon for downtown Elkins than have been available in many years. Each year more people are now discovering this area because of attractions and recreational (opportunities.) Beautification projects are under way as well as infrastructure improvements. We have been designated a Certified Arts Community (by the West Virginia Culture and History and the West Virginia Commission of the Arts) and are trying to become a certified retirement community. The OnTrac program is an ongoing effort to improve and promote downtown.
"Friends," Griesel continued, "everyone needs to come together and get involved for the future success of the group and the continued progress of downtown. I urge you to get involved in OnTrac; committees need (volunteer) members. People lined up when the team (from Charleston) was here to share their thoughts and then disappeared to wonder why no one was doing anything. A self-proclaimed rose in the middle of a field of briars is really not worth getting stuck for."
Aren't his thoughts reminiscent of what happened with Vision 2010? Every time a town hall-type meeting was held for that venture, and the intent of Vision 2010 was a good one, there was always a standing-room only crowd. Everyone present was eager to voice his or her notions about what needed to be done to make the community a better place to live, work and enjoy a better standard of living. What happened? When it came time to join a committee and share those ideas and spend the time to put them to work, interests melted away as the night melted with the rising of the next day's sun.
Next weekend we'll see all those beautifully restored antique vehicles and street rods along the streets of downtown Elkins. The cruise-in will commence around 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. Friday and then, of course, the car show will be in the park on Saturday and Sunday. There have been some major changes in the time and days of the events this year. The cruise-in, poker walk, fireworks and the Colgate Country Showdown will all be on Friday evening this year. The country showdown will be in the old railyard behind the Elkins Depot this year instead of at the amphitheater on the Davis & Elkins College Campus. The fireworks will take place immediately after the conclusion of the showdown or as soon as it gets dark enough. They will be launched from the railyard as well. The car show will be held as usual in Elkins City Park. The really good news here is that the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce will be planning and executing the car shows in the future keeping a 26-year tradition alive. It was close going there for a while; it seemed as though we would lose the event on the retirement of Jim and Suzanne Knicely, who have been in charge of the event since 1984. Both have promised to come back for the next few years to lend technical support.
The poker walk on Friday evening is intended to get people who come to the cruise-in into the downtown stores. As far as I know, participating merchants are still needed for this. If you would like to participate, call Elaine or Ed Griesel at Ceramics with Class or call them at 304-636-2903. They'll be glad to give you any information you need and sign you up.