Becky Linton remembers when the owner of Brody’s, a women’s store in downtown Martinsburg, went on buying trips to New York.
“He would bring back something he knew that I’d like, even if I didn’t always buy it,” said Linton, one of the founders of Main Street Martinsburg in 1992. Such stores and the personal service they offered are mostly gone from downtown.
On Sept. 9, Main Street Martinsburg celebrates its 20th anniversary on Town Square by handing out homemade cupcakes to the community in thanks for its support over the past 20 years.
Linton, president of City National Bank in Martinsburg, said the idea of a Main Street Martinsburg program began with a small group of citizens, “who had a passion for Martinsburg and its downtown. Nan Stevens, who was the city planner, wrote the proposal in 1991.”
Then-Gov. Gaston Caperton presented the local activists with their official Main Street West Virginia charter in August 1992.
One of the biggest obstacles facing Main Street Martinsburg today is empty storefronts, Linton said.
“When people put stores in downtown, nobody goes to them,” she said.
Martinsburg Mayor George Karos said the city needs more restaurants and destination-type stores like his own Patterson’s Drug Store, Defluri’s Fine Chocolate, Flowers Unlimited, and antique and gift shops.
Downtown has its share of law and professional offices, said Randy Lewis, executive director of Main Street Martinsburg.
“They’re all good, but we need more stores,” he said.
Roger Lewis, a member of Martinsburg City Council, said it’s been a struggle trying to grow the downtown area with the current economic conditions.
“Still, Main Street has brought in several new businesses and two new law firms,” Lewis said.
His wife, Mary Lewis, is a longtime member of Main Street Martinsburg’s board of directors. She also is chairman of its economic restructuring committee, one of four missions in its charter. The other three are organization, promotions and design.
“This is a volunteer-driven organization made up of people with a love and passion for their community,” Mary Lewis said.
Efforts to improve the downtown, she said, “are more challenging today. We have to do our homework.”
Randy Lewis is the organization’s only paid staffer. Its annual budget runs around $100,000, including $35,000 from the Martinsburg City Council and whatever money comes from fundraisers.
Randy Lewis is in his sixth year as director. Main Street Martinsburg has more than 200 members. It covers 55 blocks in the city from the railroad underpass on North Queen Street south to Stephen Street, east from the railroad underpass on East Burke Street, and west to the railroad tracks on West King Street.
“We are not an economic development agency, but we try to partner with those that are and with the city and county governments,” he said.
Lewis said Main Street Martinsburg has, in the public’s eye, gained in recognition, stability and credibility, mostly due to its annual events and promotions that are aimed at improving downtown revitalization and raising funds.
Among them is the Festival of Banners, a showcase of the talents of local artists who create the banners currently hanging on 35 downtown streetlight poles. They will be auctioned at 2 p.m. on Sept. 9 after the cupcake celebration.
Among other promotional events throughout the years that can be seen hanging on or wrapped around light poles are Scarecrow Time, artist palettes, snowmen, annual Chocolate Festival, Chili Cook-off and Bike Night. All the events are the products of citizen, community business and public school student artists.