Wondering whether Whitesville is excited about being selected as the latest Turn The Town Around community? Just drive up the main street.
“Welcome Turn This Town Around! Excited to learn, ready to turn!” reads the sign outside the brand new local clothing boutique, Farmer’s Daughters.
“Let’s all help Turn This Town Around,” said the sign outside John Vealey’s furniture store, Vealey Furniture (below, left). “Welcome TTTA! We need your help!”
As the Hub team visited this small community in Boone County Tuesday night for the first Whitesville Turn This Town Around meeting, business owners stopped us on the sidewalk to say welcome. With beaming smiles and energetic handshakes they told us how grateful they were for the opportunity, and how excited to imagine and work toward a new future their community.
The passion and energy bursting out of the main street of Whitesville is palatable, and made it clear to us that this community is ready to make the investments in itself that Turn This Town Around is all about.
At a meeting of community leaders in the Salamy Memorial Building that evening what we heard was a story that many West Virginians can relate to about the places they grew up, the places they love.
“I remember a time when you didn’t have to leave the town of Whitesville to shop,” said Tammy Gordon. “I miss those days. I want to see stuff back in Whitesville. And I think we can do it. I think we have the people to do it.”
Tammy’s entrepreneurial spirit is no bluff. Tammy and her sister, Jenny Elswick, just opened a new commercial enterprise on the main street, Farmer’s Daughters, a boutique and gift store. In the face of a struggling economy and shrinking local population, they sold out their entire first shipment of stock in a few days. These sisters have every reason to believe there is a spark in Whitesville ready to catch alight.
“I’ve never worked on anything like this before, but I’m ready,” Tammy said.
Until you’ve seen it in action, it is impossible to fully appreciate the sense of camaraderie that exists between Whitesville’s remaining citizens.
“We love each other,” said long time Mayor Fred Harless. “We’re there for each other. I haven’t seen this much enthusiasm in the community for several years.”
“One thing that hasn’t gone away is the sense of community you get here,” said Hollie Smarr, a local business owner and one of the key organizers of Whitesville’s Turn This Town Around effort.
Her sentiments were echoed by Adam Pauley. Though just in his mid-20s, Adam has emerged as a galvanizing force in the community, using a combination of social media and organizing savvy, local knowledge and sheer determination to rally a diverse group of citizens behind a common cause.
“We are all stakeholders because we all live here,” he said. At Tuesday night’s meeting it was clear that everyone in the room had bought in to Adam’s vision; that whether you are a business person or a retiree, looking for work or looking for quality of life, it is only the people of Whitesville that can drive the change that will benefit the community in the long run.
So, what’s next? Adam, Holly and the leaders of Whitesville have already started a loud and ambitious campaign to get 132 people to show up at the first Whitesville all-community Turn This Town Around meeting on Tuesday, March 17. (Why 132? Because it’s one more than Grafton got at its first community meeting! Talk about competitive spirit!)
Out of a population of just 500 or so, that will be an impressive effort.
We are all excited to see what Whitesville will do next. You can keep an eye on this little-town-that-could, and get involved, through their facebook page: www.facebook.com/tttawhitesville