Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 3, 2013

Economic development director: Combining merchants associations could help grow local economy

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Officials are floating a proposal to combine Bluefield’s two merchants associations as part of ongoing efforts to revitalize the local economy.

Economic Development Director Greg Shrewsbury said he feels combining the Downtown Merchant’s Association and South Bluefield Merchant’s Association into a single group could benefit the city economically. Shrewsbury said the proposal will be discussed with local merchants at an upcoming economic development meeting.

 “We are actually going to be having a meeting this month with local merchants,” Shrewsbury said. “We want to — as part of our economic plan — have one merchants association for the entire city versus having several small merchants associations. Having one merchants association gives the city more leverage than having several small organizations. We also want to start pulling businesses in to the Team Blue concept merging that into a shop local campaign.”

Some business-owners in the city are wary of whether or not combining the two associations would benefit the local economy overall.

Art Riley, president of the Downtown Merchants Association, said he is not personally in favor of a single merchants association but that other downtown merchants might feel differently.

“We have shied away from one merchants association because of the diversity of the kind of stores and businesses we have in the two different areas,” Riley said. “There is a one-mile stretch there from the top of the hill there that is a no-man’s land. I would have to take this decision before our membership. We have a street fair that we hold every year whereas South Bluefield holds Lemonade Day’s every year. I am personally not in favor of this, but it is up to our membership. I am sure this will be suggested as part of the downtown revitalization plan.”

Riley said the idea of combining the two merchants association has been discussed in the past, but never acted upon due to differences between the groups.

“We have addressed this issue before and it has not worked out,” Riley said. “The subject of combining the two has been brought up in the past, but it has never been done. We have certainly worked very hard with the South Bluefield Merchants Association in different events and to get our city moving again. Jeri Ball does a great job in South Bluefield. I will be more than happy to take it to our membership, but I personally view it would be counterproductive. If this is brought up, we will ask our membership to consider it.”

However, other merchants believe changes must be made due to the present economic climate. Jeri Ball owns Manicures and More and served as president of  the South Bluefield Merchants Association for 10 years. Ball said she recently stepped down from the position because she feels merchants from all areas of the city need to band together due to the current state of the economy.

“I was the president of the South Bluefield merchants Association for 10 years,” Ball said. “It was mostly our association that was involved in things like Lemonade Days. This year, I gave my resignation because I feel we need to pull together because of all the businesses we are losing in the area. I think we should have one Bluefield merchants association for the city of Bluefield personally because we are seeing so many doors closing.”

Ball said she feels having a single merchants association could benefit the city as a whole.

“I don’t know how other businesses owners in the area feel, but I feel divided we fall together we stand as the old adage goes,” she said. “I think we could accomplishmore as one Bluefield merchants association as opposed to downtown and south Bluefield. I don’t know what we might do as far as leadership for a larger merchants association, but I feel both sides should have a leadership position representing south Bluefield and downtown. I feel both sides should pick teams to make this organization up.”

In the end, Ball said it will take a consensus of Bluefield business-owners to decide whether or not the two area merchants associations should be combined.

“I think people will change their minds about how they feel about this issue due to the economy,” Ball said. “I held my office for so long, and no one has really shown an interest to take over the South Bluefield Merchants Association. I think now would be a good time for us to get together and become one association. I think city officials should talk with our individual businesses to see how we can become one and work as a team.”

— Contact Kate Coil at