Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 1, 2012

Southern West Virginia economy claims another downtown business

By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Friday marked the final day of business for East River Arts,  a popular downtown business that provided a live music outlet for musicians from throughout the region, an exceptional dining experience in an eclectic setting, and a venue for scores of local artists.

“I don’t know whether our concept was wrong, or if the times have changed,” Art Riley said. Riley, his wife, Teresa Riley and Pete Sternloff were partners in the venture that experienced some early success, but has failed to continue to attract enough customers to break even. “You’ve got to have customers coming to your business to keep the doors open.”

East River Arts enjoyed early success with its open mic nights, brought big-name performers to the stage and provided a diverse menu, well-prepared and served in a comfortable setting.

“We tried to make it comfortable and to make a place where people could relax and enjoy themselves,” Riley said. “I know Teresa poured her heart into it ... We all did.”

Riley has been a tireless advocate on behalf of downtown Bluefield by providing a venue for small businesses through the Landmark Antique Mall, supporting downtown businesses and residents, and attending city board of directors meetings.

“I’ve always tried to support Bluefield,” Riley said. “Bluefield needs a new direction. East River Arts is closing and the Manor Market is already closed. I think our new economic development director (Greg Shrewsbury) has assembled a good group of people, but we have so many plans and we’ve had too many plans over the years.

“Some plans haven’t worked, and some plans haven’t been implemented,” he said. “What we need is someone to step up and say: ‘Let’s go this way,’ and then go that way.”

Riley said that he doesn’t know what the solution is. “We have an aging population,” Riley said. “The 25- to 45-year-old age group is just not here. I’m going to step back for a while.” He said that only a few people attended the most recent open mic nights.

There wasn’t any special event planed for East River Arts closing on Friday. “I don’t know if a sit-down restaurant can survive in Bluefield,” Riley said.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com