Article By: Samantha Cronk
Photos By: Josh Triggs
If you’ve listened to live bands in the town square on Friday nights, met a local author for a book signing or watched the Easter Bunny parade down the street, then you’ve seen Main Street Martinsburg at work.
Main Street Martinsburg is an organization dedicated to the revitalization of downtown Martinsburg and enhance its community identity through supporting businesses, partnering with local entities, hosting and sponsoring events and maintaining a core group of volunteers.
Enhancing Main Street Martinsburg’s mission has been Executive Director Randy Lewis’ mission for the past 12 years, a job, he said, that has been challenging, rewarding and one that has had him wearing many hats.One of the most visible ways Main Street Martinsburg gets the community engaged in the downtown culture is through events. Each year, the organization hosts multiple events that showcase the businesses, community and culture of downtown Martinsburg, such as the Chili Cook-Off, Fridays @ Five summer concert series, Chocolate Fest and Book Fair, Bike Night, an Easter parade, Christmas events and more.
“We will be doing a new event this year, an Apple Drop on New Year’s Eve. It’s going to be a family event. We’ll have apple cider and apple doughnuts, and we’ll have a big apple that we’ll drop from a fire truck. It’s going to be in from maybe 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.,” Lewis said.
In order to successfully execute each event, Lewis relies on local volunteers to help in all stages of an event, from planning to promoting to staffing. Main Street Martinsburg maintains a core group of volunteers that will participate in every event, but totals more than 100 volunteers that assist throughout the year.
“It takes people who are passionate about volunteering, and we do have those people who want to see our downtown rejuvenated and be a viable downtown,” he said.
In addition to volunteers, Main Street Martinsburg utilizes partnerships to continue favorite events and foster new ideas. According to Lewis, the New Year’s Eve Apple Drop event was fostered out of a partnership initiated by Eagle School Intermediate School’s PTA, who will be making the apple for the apple drop, as well as the help of Shepherd University.
Lewis called the need for partnership essential as a way to bring programs and events into the downtown and achieve investment in residents, businesses and organizations.
“These partnerships mean investment in the community, and that show me that we’re doing something right because they care about their community. They want to see these events, and they want to see how the downtown can grow into something viable. It’s a good feeling as the director to see that excitement through them,” he said.While hosting events downtown might be the most visible way Main Street Martinsburg works toward enhancing community engagement and the downtown culture, it is not the only way the organization supports local businesses.
Through programs and incentives, Main Street Martinsburg actively works to recruit and retain businesses. The organization offers a design assistance program that allows a professional to visit a business for free and draw plans for anything from new signage to a different window display. Another program is Univercity, a website that lists practical, everyday information for businesses like the day for garbage pickup.
“We have these events every year, and they’re pretty successful, but those are just a small part on how we work to revitalize the town. We’re really more like a vehicle bringing traffi c into downtown and then it’s for the businesses to pull that traffic in,” he said.
While holding events, building partnerships and recruiting volunteers are positive aspects of his job, Lewis said the organization faces several challenges. One aspect of Lewis’ job is to combat public perception of Martinsburg that includes an excess of drugs and the homeless and believing the downtown is unsafe.
“Perception is a big word for us, because it’s reality. We’re up against all that. We are having meetings with different organizations who are enabling the homeless on how we can be on the same page. They don’t realize it hurts businesses’ livelihood because of perception. It hurts the businesses,” he said.
Main Street Martinsburg is also working toward establishing Martinsburg’s identity and get the community invested in what the city has to offer residents and businesses.
“Everyone says ‘Why can’t you be like Winchester or Hagerstown or Frederick?’ Those cities were once something like us as well, starting out small. I want to focus on what we have now and what assets we have to offer,” he said.
Lewis said he has seen an influx of interest and dedication within the past several years to supporting local downtown businesses, restaurants and events and hopes it is a trend that will continue.
“I think many years ago, people weren’t loyal to Martinsburg. They wanted to go to Winchester or Hagerstown or Frederick or out of state to do their shopping or go to an event. That’s changed now. Now that we’re having events, I see more people giving that loyalty to Martinsburg, which is exciting that they’re seeing that progress here,” he said.
And good things are on the horizon for downtown Martinsburg. In addition to new events, several new restaurants will be opening their doors within the upcoming months, including The Peppermill, Bricks 27, a wine bar and the recently opened Mrs. Dott’s Family Buffet.
“You need more restaurants to get that downtown living atmosphere. We do need more retail and specialty type things in downtown, but I think we have a wide range of businesses. You can really buy almost anything in the downtown. We have a good variety,” Lewis said.
In addition to getting new businesses in downtown, Main Street Martinsburg is also trying to work with businesses and the City of Martinsburg to foster second-floor living above main street’s shop, that will bring more traffic to businesses and encourage nightlife to become more active, Lewis said.
While Main Street Martinsburg’s mission is to ensure the success of the downtown business and residential life, the organization has its own personal achievement to celebrate.
This year is the organization’s 25th anniversary, having received its designation in 1992.
Main Street Martinsburg is located in the Hub Suites at 142 N. Queen Street in Martinsburg and can be reached at 304-262-4200. Main Street Martinsburg can also be reach on Facebook or at its website, mainstreetmartinsburg.com.