Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

March 20, 2013

Hoping for books, big boxes and buildable bears as spring finally arrives

— — I couldn’t help but smile as I slowly meandered through the much larger than expected book section. Like so many other curiosity seekers across the region, I visited the new Ollie’s Bargain Outlet last week. Having previously shopped at the store in Beckley, I knew there would be books. But I didn’t realize the book section in the new Bluefield, Va., store would be so large.

As a community that is home to numerous colleges — Bluefield State College, Bluefield College, Concord University, New River Community and Technical College, National College and Southwest Virginia Community College — you would expect our area to be home to quite a few book stores, or at least a big box Barnes and Noble or Books-A-Million. But that isn’t really the case. We are, of course, very blessed to have Hearthside Bookstore in Bluefield. But it would also be nice to have a big box store dedicated just to books, magazines, e-Readers, DVDs and other related items in our region.

Ollie’s is a great addition to our area. I hope they do well. But we could still use a Barnes and Noble or a Books-A-Million. And I might as well go ahead and add a few other stores to that wish list — Target, Kohl’s, Best Buy, Home Depot and even a Toys R Us. That’s why every now and then the temptation to travel out of town will get even the best of us. After all Huntington has a Macy’s and Charleston has a Cabela’s and even a Build a Bear Workshop. And there is something strangely compelling about the Build a Bear Workshop — I guess it taps into our inner childhood memories. Who doesn’t love a giant stuffed bear after all? Christiansburg, Va., by comparison has a Barnes and Noble and Five Guys. Beckley has a Kohl’s. So the temptation is certainly there to visit our neighboring cities and towns — even if it means occasionally paying the unfair tolls in order to reach Beckley or Charleston. The drive to Christiansburg and Roanoke is toll-free by the way.

So the question begs to be asked: What do we need to do to attract additional big boxes, and retail growth, to our region? A couple of ideas come to mind. When it comes to traffic counts, and population in general, sell the region as a whole — and not just as an individual town or city — to prospective businesses. Remember, the state line is just an imaginary line to those residents who cross it on a daily basis to spend their hard-earned dollars on food, goods, gas and other items. For example, when you combine the population of Bluefield and Bluefield, Va., it is a lot larger and more attractive to prospective businesses than just the population of the city or town by itself.

When I go out to shop, I don’t restrict my drive just to West Virginia or Virginia. And I don’t have a map or a detailed plan indicating which town or city I will visit. If I feel like going to Bluewell, I go to Bluewell. Then I may often find myself crossing Airport Road to shop at the Mercer Mall. From there I may head on down to Princeton, and the Interstate 77 growth corridor. The drive back home takes me through Bluefield, Va. — so I’m almost sure to visit the Virginia-side shops as well. It’s basically a regional shopping experience, as it should be when you live so close to the state line. And don’t forget the Claypool Hill area, which is bustling with business and is just a short drive up the road on U.S. Route 19-460. In fact, the last out-of-town trips Mom and I took together were to the Claypool Hill area, including the Claypool Hill Mall.

And don’t forget there are plenty of recreational opportunities in our own backyard — especially with spring now officially here and summer just around the corner. So that’s why it is important to have plenty of shopping and dining attractions as well.

Lots of visitors are coming into the region to ride the new Pocahontas segment of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails. And Minor League Baseball will be returning to both Bluefield and Princeton this summer. Recreational opportunities also abound at both city parks in Bluefield and Princeton — including the popular Ridge Runner train in Bluefield. And the walking trails in Bluefield are great as well. If you haven’t visited your local city park lately in Bluefield or Princeton, or the Graham Recreational Park in Bluefield, Va., please consider doing so this spring and summer. There is a lot of fun to be had — even if it is just walking or jogging around the park.

Of course at the end of this chilly first day of spring, I would still love to see a Barnes and Noble in the area. But I have a sneaky feeling that is never going to happen without driving to Christiansburg. But you can always dream — can’t you? A Target and Home Depot would also provide welcomed diversity to the regional shopping experience. So we can always hope, and continually request, for such establishments in our area. Maybe one day our voices will be heard.

And maybe one day it will actually feel like spring outside as well.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

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