Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Charles Owens

April 18, 2012

Flea market, Stafford crosswalk: Relating to hot topics in the news

I can relate to two issues that have attracted the attention of residents in Bluefield and Princeton in recent days.

For years, my family and I would both sell and buy at the popular downtown flea market in Bluefield. And I, too, agree with the concerns about students walking in and out of traffic along the heavily-traveled Stafford Drive in Princeton. The fact that students are able to walk to and from their school and the restaurants on Stafford Drive is somewhat surprising. While I realize this is occurring in the mornings, and when school is dismissed, it is still pretty dangerous.

First to the flea market. I don’t necessarily view the Princeton Avenue Parking Garage as a blight or a looming danger to the city. It definitely needs some work —  including first and foremost a new paint job. That would certainly make the facility, and the flea market itself, a more attractive place to visit each Saturday. Unfortunately, it would appear that there hasn’t been a lot of work done on the old parking garage for quite some time.

Going to the flea market for the purpose of selling old items we no longer needed was always an adventure for my family — especially back when we lived in McDowell County. That’s because you have to be at the flea market by 6 a.m. or earlier to get a non-reserved parking spot. Yes, it’s that popular and that crowded in the summer.

If you arrived at 6:30 a.m., or say 7 a.m., more than likely you would be forced to drive all the way to the top of the parking garage in order to find a parking spot that wasn’t already taken. And being on the top floor — without a roof — is never a good idea. If it rains, your flea market is essentially over. Given the solid hour drive time between Anawalt and Bluefield, we would have to leave McDowell County well before 5 a.m. in order to make it to the flea market by 6 a.m. We tried to sell at the flea market at least once or twice each summer in order to get rid of stuff we no longer needed. We would normally do pretty well in terms of items sold.

When word broke last week that the Bluefield Board of Directors were considering, once again, tearing down the parking garage, and earlier than expected (it will ultimately have to come down if the Colonial Intermodal Center is to ever become a reality) the news naturally created a stir among those who buy and sell at the weekly gathering.

City Manager Andy Merriman reported that a local recycling company had offered to tear down the parking garage at no cost to the city in return for the structure’s scrap metal. However, when Merriman’s proposal was brought before the full board, it died for a lack of a motion. Mayor Linda Whalen said after the meeting that the estimated time it would take to finish the job, 180 days, would close the weekly flea market for too long. Daily Telegraph sports writer and cartoonist Tom Bone quickly put together a hilarious editorial page cartoon showing the fleas celebrating.

So for now, the flea market has been granted yet another reprieve. The parking garage will continue to stand — at least for the moment. I haven’t been to the flea market since my mother passed away last year. But I will return one day — if only to browse around and shop. I can always find something of interest to purchase — normally very old items — when I visit the flea market. There is almost always a good deal to be found, so a return visit is on my list of things to do. I was actually tempted to visit the flea market last weekend, but simply ran out of time to do everything that I needed to do, and wanted to do.

While I haven’t been to the flea market in a while, I have been to Princeton plenty of times over the past year or two. I have noticed that the students do tend to gather around the fast food restaurants on Stafford Drive in the mornings and afternoons. That’s why an active discussion has been launched over whether or not a crosswalk should be constructed in the area.

It’s a valid and legitimate debate. And while I realize the argument by city officials that a pedestrian bridge may not be a cost-effective idea, it is still a good idea. And the credit for the proposed pedestrian bridge goes to the readers of the Daily Telegraph’s Facebook page, who were quick to propose the unique solution. Such multimedia now allows for instant interaction with our readers. I would hope that city officials are following these online interactions, as a lot of good ideas are being tossed around on the online forums.

A study has now been launched by the city of Princeton into the proposed crosswalk. With hope it, or maybe even a pedestrian bridge, will become a reality in the not too distant future.

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

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