A few letters have appeared in our papers recently about West Jefferson becoming a “ghost town.”
They are indeed correct that there is a trend going in that direction. However, this trend began years ago with the first attempt at “revitalization.”
I put “revitalization” in quotation marks because the former attempt wasn’t exactly a revitalization effort. The first attempt did not involve the entire community including village administrators, council people, property owners, business owners, school officials, local youth and residents.
The current effort to revitalize downtown will involve each of these groups and also the county Chamber of Commerce. If residents and business owners are not involved in the process, how would we know that they need to succeed?
The first attempt also failed to follow an entire tried-and-true process of downtown revitalization. It basically followed a very dated notion of downtown beautification. Merely creating nice sidewalks and curbs, planting flowers and erecting light posts does not mean that a community is revitalizing itself.
The current effort will involve a full market study to determine what residents want in terms of shopping and dining experiences, and also what types of business will succeed given the current market and proposed marketing and promotion efforts. The current effort also will include a study to determine what problems the village has with parking and traffic flow and how we can work to correct those situations.
The current effort will involve the creation of design guidelines for the downtown area and create financial incentives or assistance to encourage property owners to renovate their buildings to match the village’s design guidelines.
The current effort will include a marketing and promotions plan that will create a desire for local people and people from outside of the village to come to West Jefferson to spend money. The final portion of the current revitalization effort will involve the creation of a development plan, or a plan for recruiting businesses into open storefronts.
The current effort is basically following the national Main Street program formula, which has been used successfully across the nation and in Ohio in such towns as Wilmington and Grove City.
In response to comments about acquiring new leadership to help West Jefferson keep its hometown stores, the current leadership is working very hard to do just that. I invite those who write these letters to reapply their energies to not just writing letters, but to becoming involved in the process of saving West Jefferson. Attend the next West Jefferson Business Council meeting on Aug. 4 at 9 a.m. at Hurt-Battelle Memorial Library to find out what is being done and how you can be involved.
Just for some initial case examples, members of the West Jefferson Business Council have:
1. worked to attract a new grocery store to West Jefferson;
2. worked to find a new location for the laundromat;
3. assisted in the new opening of Brenda’s Cake Creations;
4. worked to start a farmers market downtown to bring new foot traffic; and
5. worked to plan a large car show event in downtown to bring visitors and money to West Jefferson.
These meetings involve 40-plus of your businesses, neighbors and leaders who are working very hard to improve West Jefferson. We are going beyond creating a beautiful downtown and working to build a downtown that thrives for the sake of residents, businesses and property owners.
Sean K. Hughes, Madison County
Development Director and Executive
Director of Madison County Chamber