Elkins residents Mark and Marsha Doak are making an impact in the revitalization of historic downtown Elkins. Having purchased a building on Third Street, across from the downtown train depot and tourist welcome center, the Doaks took on the task of remodeling their purchase themselves.
The result is two new businesses in newly refurbished shops, in a building that maintains its historic roots and charm while providing up-to-date and convenient space for business.
The overall impact, however, should be increased business activity and a more vibrant downtown Elkins, according to Ellen Spears, Elkins ON TRAC liaison
ADDING COLOR — Marsha Doak paints the ceiling of the future Joey’s Bike Shop at the building she and her husband own on Third Street in downtown Elkins.
The two new businesses, Joey's Bike Shop and Highland Outfitters, are the latest examples of what volunteers and community leaders have promoted for several years - bringing new businesses to downtowns without demolishing existing structures. Vibrant business with historic charm is the highly successful formula towns are using across the United States, according to Spears. This is the methodology being used locally by ON TRAC, a state-supported all volunteer program whose goal is the revitalization of downtown Elkins.
In January of 2009, Elkins was named by Gov. Joe Manchin, as a West Virginia ON TRAC Community. The ON TRAC program is unique to West Virginia and was created by the West Virginia Community Development Office in 2008 as an entry level program that would lead communities to the application for Main Street, a nationally recognized economic development approach using trademarked guidelines set by the U.S. National Trust. Four volunteer committees make up the ON TRAC / Main Street approach: organization, design, promotion and economic restructuring.
"Downtown is a reflection of how your community sees itself - a critical factor in business retention and recruitment," Spears said of the Main Street approach. "If our downtown looks alive, creative and well cared for, it will attract the kinds of people and businesses that we need to keep our community viable. Much of Elkins downtown is within the historic district and many of its buildings have historic designations. More tourists than ever are coming to Elkins to ride the historic trains and be entertained at the American Mountain Theater."
In the renovation of their historic building, Mark and Marsha Doak incorporated many of the ON TRAC precepts. Spears points out that the building is highly visible from the train depot and the care that the Doaks put into its restoration supports the ON TRAC goal of helping to create a visual draw which entices tourists across Railroad Avenue and into downtown Elkins.
Spears said the Doaks have done a renovation that fully encompasses ON TRAC's principles in the reuse and retrofit of old historic buildings.
"They started by first upgrading the basics - wiring, plumbing and heating. Next, they took on the physical elements of the building and as Mark told me, 'I like old buildings; their character creates a unique atmosphere for someone to have something special.'"
Over the last two years, it was not unusual to walk downtown after all the shops were closed and see Mark and Marsha on ladders outside their building restoring windows, painting the cornice and faux brick facade, attaching attractive lighting and signage and planting flowers in the sidewalk planters. On the interior of the building, they completely cleaned and restored a beautiful tin ceiling, restored the pine board walls using local woodwork, and Marsha, on hands and knees, painted the faux tile floor.
Finding renters was easy, Spears said.
Highland Outfitters opened its retail shop as soon as the renovation was complete and Joey's Bike Shop will open as soon as the Doaks finish the second phase of their project.
While painting the ceiling, Marsha Doak said, "What we did in this building created excitement."
Marsha Doak, who is a volunteer on the design committee, is particularly interested in creating an atmosphere that encourages the expansion of unique offerings making downtown shopping an experience.
Only West Virginia communities participating in the ON TRAC program for two years are eligible to apply for full Main Street designation. Spears said Elkins has reached the two- year mark and can apply for full Main Street status or can choose to remain as an ON TRAC community as long as it continues to work toward downtown revitalization.
When the ON TRAC Assessment team came to Elkins two years ago, they concluded that, "The buildings and shops are probably where the most work is needed to meet visitor expectations." Additionally, the team stated that, "There seems to be a division between the railyard and the functioning downtown area. To connect downtown to the railyard, two points of focus need to be addressed: 1) programs and promotions and 2) code and design."
Spears said that although the city of Elkins still needs to address "code and design," there are "recent additions to our downtown signifying that ON TRAC has initiated some success."
Spears said she and the ON TRAC volunteers are grateful for the contribution made by the Doaks to Historic Downtown Elkins and hope that it will be a catalyst for further revitalization in the downtown area.