Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


January 11, 2013

Specialty shops — Bluefield’s future linked to its past

— Like many other municipalities across the nation, Bluefield has struggled with difficult economic times. Unlike a good number of these other cities and towns, Bluefield has a rich history thanks to its status as a center of the coal industry and a railroad. Recent proposals for economic development focus on using these historical assets to attract visitors.

Many Americans are fascinated by locomotives and by vintage automobiles. Recently Tim Taylor, a longtime employee with Frontier Communications, proposed using his collection of classic cars as the basis of a new automotive museum for Bluefield. Taylor’s own museum now includes a Model T Ford, a very rare 1932 Model V Ford that features suicide doors, a 1958 Edsel, a 1940 Ford Sedan Delux and other classic vehicles.

Car museums featuring rare vehicles have proven to be a draw in other communities, and there is no reason why such an institution could not do well in Bluefield. The museum could be an even greater draw if it is not the city’s sole attraction.

City Manager Jim Ferguson has suggested that a railroad museum and a Baldwin Felts Detective Agency museum could help bring visitors into the city. And both ideas would be a nice fit for Nature’s Air-Conditioned City.

A combination of museums, places where visitors could observe operations at the Norfolk Southern railroad yard, and small shops downtown could serve as a draw. Such a viewing site for the NS railroad was originally included in the vision for the Colonial Intermodal Center, a project that is still stalled due to a lack of federal funds needed for the actual construction of the transit center.

Such ideas — and several others — are included in the new “Blue Momentum” economic development plan unveiled earlier this week by a team of citizen volunteers and former City Economic Development Director Greg Shrewsbury. The full Bluefield Board of Directors have not yet acted on this plan.

Specialty shops and antique shops situated in communities along the Blue Ridge Parkway routinely draw visitors, and there is no reason why a similar formula could not work for Bluefield; especially if there were museums that would bring shoppers into the area.

A new venue for the flea market that was held in Bluefield every weekend during the spring and summer until the old Princeton Avenue parking garage was demolished could help, too. Let’s not forget that the old flea market would bring hundreds — if not thousands on certain weekends — to downtown Bluefield. It was a true asset that is now in danger of being forever lost.

A major event such as summer flea market festival or weekend — with local stores offering sales and residents encouraged to stage their garage sales — could bring more people to Bluefield. Neighboring Bluefield, Va., could be encouraged to join such an effort. Similar annual events have done well in Hillsville, Va.

Bluefield could use new businesses that offer jobs in manufacturing and technology, but unique tourism and retail opportunities could be part of an overall economic development package, too. An automotive museum, coupled with railroad and other museums, is an idea worth pursuing.

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