Chambers taking businesses to the streets
In an effort to bring attention to the variety of goods and services offered by local businesses, the Follansbee and Weirton chambers of commerce have encouraged their members to bring their wares outside or share their sidewalks with an assortment of independent vendors.
On Saturday the Weirton Chamber of Commerce invited local businesses and organizations to join them in celebrating Christmas in July.
Among those who accepted the invitation was Newbrough Photo on Main Street, which set out assorted frames, mattes, albums and other photo-related merchandise, offered at discounts of 60 to 90 percent, while inviting passerby to step inside to see camera equipment and other items available at 10 percent off.
Mae Lamb, retail associate for the photo studio, said it was a good opportunity to tell visitors about Newbrough’s services, which include providing assorted personalized items for individuals, groups and businesses as well as portrait and special event photography.
Gretchen Carter, a manager at the studio, said she spoke to visitors Saturday who spoke because of the sidewalk sales event.
“We had people come in who said they were looking for something to do and were visiting other businesses,” she said.
Outside the Summit Gallery at the Top of West Virginia Convention and Visitors Bureau stood two tall, fanciful metal sculptures created by New Cumberland artist Ken Simpson.
Weirton artist Mike Swartzmiller and others invited passerby to use a paint brush to add to his watercolor painting of a vase.
Molly Mossor, a member of the Top of West Virginia Arts Council, said the volunteer group behind the art gallery was pleased to be able to show off their new location.
“We’re just happy to have this opportunity to show the community what we have,” she said, adding there are plans for a reception in August.
With about 11,000 square feet in which to work, the volunteer, the group has created exhibit areas for members and guest artists, including new talents and children.
In keeping with the bureau’s goal of attracting visitors to the area, there also are areas with photos and information about local communities.
Not far away, staff and volunteers with the Mary H. Weir Public Library shared information about services offered there.
Library Director Rik Rekowski had with him a Nintendo game player, with an Olympics game cartridge inside, noting there are plans to offer video games for all ages at the library.
He also brought a laptop computer with which he could direct visitors to sidewalk sales participants on Pennsylvania Avenue, Three Springs Drive and other areas.
Sitting outside the Weirton Millsop Community Center next door was Coty Shingle, who said he wanted to let everyone know the center consists of “86,000 square feet of fun,” including an indoor swimming pool, basketball and racquetball courts and weight and other exercise equipment.
“A good thing about this is letting people know we’re open again,” he added.
Shingle said since pandemic restrictions have been lifted, the center has returned to a six-day summer schedule (being closed on Sundays) and a full week of operation in the cooler months, while continuing to thoroughly disinfect the facilities against the coronavirus.
A similar promotion was being held further south by the Follansbee Chamber of Commerce.
One of a series of sidewalk sales continuing from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 21 and Sept. 11, it involves both brick and mortar enterprises along Main Street and independent dealers of assorted crafts and other merchandise.
Lori French, owner of the Three Bridges restaurant, said she and her son Aaron, its chef, served up skewered sausage, raspberry cream cheese chimichangas and other handheld foods “so people can eat them while they shop.”
Adapting has been part of the pair’s mode of operations since the restaurant opened in 2019, just months before the pandemic.
French said they found themselves meeting a demand for fresh bread when local deliveries were delayed early in the crisis, then shifted to take-out orders while advertising daily specials through social media and utilized an enclosed, adjacent patio for outdoor eating when that was permitted.
She said barbecue brisket, ribs, chicken and pulled pork were added to the dinner menu recently and have been big hits, while the restaurant continues to serve breakfasts ranging from pancakes and french toast to chorizo and breakfast tacos.
French said she hopes the sidewalk sales will boost long-term patronage of small businesses and spur others to fill vacant storefronts.
“I hope these will get these small towns running again,” she said.
Deborah Smith of Weirton was one of several independent vendors participating, selling soy wax sprinkles with a wide variety of scents, from lavender vanilla to the aroma of rustling leaves.
“This is my first sidewalk sale here, but I will be at the rest of them,” she said.
The events have been organized by chamber member Monica Rotellini-Myers, owner of Moe’s on Main.
Opened in 2017, the shop is unique in that it offers an assortment of hand-made items sold on consignment for area crafters and regular classes for those who want to learn sign language, sewing, woodworking and other creative skills.
The sale of Amish foods and locally produced masks carried it through the pandemic.
While Rotellini-Myers chatted with visitors, Chamber President Debbie Puskarich dropped by with bright red signs from the West Virginia Small Business Development Center for participating businesses that read, “Come in. We’re open!”
She said when patrons of the sidewalk sales return a card on which the names of participating businesses and vendors have been checked off, they are entered into a drawing for a gift basket containing items donated by the participants.
Rotellini-Myers added there’s still some space at future sales for outdoor vendors, who are paired with a local participating business that doesn’t offer a similar product or service.
“We’re trying to get people into the businesses so we don’t want to compete with them,” she said.
Mary Denham of Weirton welcomed the events as another outlet in which to sell her bath, beauty and other products, saying, “It’s nice. It’s good for small businesses, to get people into the city and see what they have.”