Summer greetings from Princeton Renaissance Project!
It’s hot and humid on the street and there is a lot of activity going on- some that is visible and a lot that is brewing behind the scenes.
There is a noticeable rise in the amount of foot traffic on the street day to day. The entrepreneurs running several new businesses are populating their spaces and their supporters and partners are in and out daily. A handful of upwardly mobile residential tenants have moved in, and their presence is shifting the neighborhood energy. They are watering the community garden and sharing conversations on the sidewalk, smiling at passersby. Some may not realize the significance of several handfuls of positive people on the street, but folks, we are reviving an area that was once completely dead, and populated mostly by people with doubtful reasons for being downtown. We now have a critical mass of positive people working with varied ambitious entrepreneurial pursuits, and flocks of community members willing to put their feet on this pavement to support their efforts.
That is what it takes to turn our town around and make Mercer Street a thriving destination. It requires US- You and Me- physically placing ourselves in these businesses, in the park, in the garden and on the sidewalk. Do you drink coffee? Make The Local Mo'Joe one of your regular haunts! Have a bit of time to kill? Take a stroll and browse the storefronts, harvest some basil for dinner or grab a strawberry from the garden to snack on. Check out the programming at our awesome public library. Enjoy the Music in the Square Concert Series on a Wednesday at Noon. Next time you have a gift to buy, instead of heading out to the big box store, come browse the array of local art, antiques, crafts, books, jewelry and more at the downtown art galleries and shops! Buy local. Put your support behind these folks that are making it happen every day!
Local Mo’Joe has opened their doors and folks, this is the community minded cafe we have been waiting on for Mercer Street. Sourcing ingredients from local farmers and committed to healthy, organic products, this cafe has a big heart and a soulful mission. When we surveyed the community in 2012, the number one most requested business was a coffee shop. In many ways, this is a litmus test for the viability of our downtown’s comeback. Please visit, tell your friends, schedule meetings there and help this joint come to life!
The Golden Rule Montessori School celebrated their grand opening at their new location and are currently hosting science camps. With this forward thinking school right next to New River and Community & Technical College, there is a presence of intellectual, upwardly mobile energy in the section of town which also houses our amazing library and community bookstore, Dayfly Books & Collectibles.
Myra’s Floral Shop's lovely energy is “Helping Mercer Street Bloom,” and they will celebrate with a GrandOpening on August 8th. You can feel their commitment to the renaissance and their already loyal customer base are now regular visitors to Mercer Street. I am a huge fan of their rainbow roses!
That’s 3 grand openings this month! Prospective businesses owners and investors are exploring possibilities and we are showing spaces frequently.
In the lower end of Mercer Street, The Gaia Den yoga studio is working to renovate 222 Mercer Street and hopes to open this fall.
There is so much buzzing behind the scenes in the neighborhood. The crew at Gary Bowling’s House of Art is working diligently to completely transform the old Virginia
Bank of Commerce Building. It is an amazing feat to behold! Dust is flying there and also at The Renaissance Theater where Greg and Jennifer are still leading crews of volunteers in cleaning and gutting. Drive by and you’re likely to see scores of volunteers on the sidewalks filling the dumpster and dreaming big about the day when The Renaissance Theater finally opens and becomes a cornerstone of a thrilling downtown comeback. The plans from the architect are nearly complete and we will soon unveil them to you! Through this process all sort of discoveries have been made of relics of the past. Most recently, a secret tunnel was uncovered! Check out the story here: TUNNEL STORY
Stages Music School is finishing up construction on new band rooms in the basement, and their transition into their new home will soon be complete. This is a building phase for Mercer Street.
Greg and Jen have been busy painting ghost advertisements all over town reviving memories from businesses of the past. Most recently they are working on the Stag Ad near the train museum. The splashes of color and nostalgia have been thrilling for many people.
A few new paintings have sprung up around town including Rita Montrosse and Richard Shrewsberry’s beautiful guitar on the side of Freddy Modad’s Music School. Also, have you seen the colorful new sculptures by Michael (Goose) Sizemore in the parking lot next to the House of Art? They have brought a huge splash of color to the block! There are several murals getting ready to sprout up- so keep your eyes peeled!
The bright blue benches around town have been a hit. Have you spotted them? The Community Improvement Commission approved 5 more, so watch for those to appear soon. There are several new trash cans and cigarette urns along the street, too, and it is delightful to see the folks of this neighborhood take pride in their home.
One neighbor Dewayne sweeps up and down the street on his own time, and there are many like him who pick up trash when they see it and make it a priority to keep Mercer Street clean.
Stages Music School is as active as ever. Their bands are playing out in Music in the Square and traveling around the region. Every day these inspired students, their teachers and parents populate the street and their presence shifts the energy on the block day by day. The other day I was working in my office, and I looked out the window to the alley behind the theater. I saw the most beautiful sight; they were shooting a music video and it was so sweet to see these little kids expressing themselves and creating their own independent media. This is the type of activity that surrounds their building regularly. Check out what they were up to here:
The community garden is flourishing. There are green peppers sprouting, squash and watermelon vines taking over, tomatoes, basil and more. It is clear that several people are enjoying watching for ripe strawberries, because as soon as they are ready, they vanish. It’s a great feeling when neighbors stop by and say they are going to come and harvest lettuce for dinner that night. The most remarkable thing is the lack of garbage in the garden. There is very rarely a cigarette butt. The people of the neighborhood are taking pride in the garden and are protecting it. Energetically, we just know it is affecting the street. Volunteers Bill and Sheila Blazek recently contributed stepping stones and a bird bath, and our new sign is now standing thanking our many sponsors and volunteers. Watch out for new lighting soon to appear in the garden and on the murals bordering it, courtesy of a recently awarded grant from FHLBank of Pittsburgh. Read more about that grant here: GRANT
Exciting news: Plans are now in the works for a new garden for our community which will feature plants used for therapeutic purposes; natural remedies such as lavender, milk thistle and echinacea. It will be in close proximity to downtown, and will be designed and built by Norma Fernandez of Appalachian Plant Magic, with lots of volunteer assistance. If you are interested in helping, let us know! Stay tuned for details!
Teresa Catron and the other folks involved in the Cruisers Reunion & Cruise-In’s are doing a smashing job! Downtown has been packed with classic cars and nostalgia. It has been said that this Cruiser’s Reunion was the biggest yet. Kudos to Teresa and everyone who have created this special tradition! It is clear that this event is going to keep growing for years to come.
The City of Princeton and the Public Works department have made some bold moves such as posting No Smoking signs in the Town Square, which is a very welcome change for many. Along with the fire department, they painted a fresh new coat of stain on the stage. It looks like new and the Music in the Square Concert Series is doing a great job showcasing there weekly! When you drive by at night, check out the new twinkle of some colored lights in the trees and on the stage.
Have you seen the Thorn Street Bridge? Thanks to our community development director Martha Barberio, city manager Elke Doom and The City of Princeton for making it happen. We’ve all been waiting years to see that bridge painted, and it looks extra beautiful in deep blue, and the icing on the cake is a line of flags from various entities on either side of the bridge.
The Railroad Museum is experiencing record numbers of visitors under the directorship of town historian Pat Smith. She is passionate about the railroad! She and a slew of volunteers presented an inaugural museum tour on a trolley to celebrate WV Day and it was a rousing success. They are working on a number of other exiciting projects including the development of a tiny town centered around a model railroad, and 2 large murals- one dedicated to the railroad, and one to our region’s agriculture. Watch for new signage and banners around the district with beautiful old photographs.
All Together Arts Week this past May was another beautiful celebration and showcase of the creative community in Mercer County. The gallery hop on the trolley brought an excited group on a tour of arts venues around Princeton and Bluefield, and the colorful parade down Mercer Street showcased the thriving and ever-evolving arts community that has been painting the town these past several years. A 7 year tradition now, ATAW brings creative people from all around the area together and stirs the pot, so to speak, of the arts scene.
Princeton Public Library has passed the torch of the Celebrate Princeton Street Fair to PRP, and this past June was the first of many summer celebrations in downtown Princeton that we will bring to you. Thousands of people came downtown and enjoyed great live music, comedy, tons of vendors, a Live Art Mash-Up demo with several extraordinary artists, a thrilling canine cabaret called “Muts Gone Nuts,” which was all sorts of fun and much much more.
In late May, the FHLBank of Pittsburgh, co-sponsors of the Blueprint Communities program, held a meeting for their Affordable Housing Advisory Council right here in Princeton. They came to tour all the progress in our downtown, as Princeton has been a model story for community development. They were very impressed! The meeting is opening doors of opportunity, and this networking will pay dividends for years to come. Read more about that visit here: VISIT
-New River Community & Technical College is gearing up for a Murder Mystery Dinner Theater the night before Autumnfest called “Murder at the Art Gallery.” Stay tuned for details.
-PMCCC is busy preparing for Autumnfest September 26, which is always an amazing time. They’ve seen record numbers the past couple of years.
-Jumpstart Princeton will present their 3rd annual Mercer Monster Mash near Halloween. Watch for announcements!
When Princeton Renaissance Project first began, this was the vision:
“By 2016, we will have an attractive, economically vibrant downtown environment that inspires a sense of pride and renewal, where community members are engaged, active, and excited.”
With new businesses sprouting left and right, events happening every month, volunteers engaged in building renovation, beautification and community events, nostalgia tugging at heart strings and a new Mercer Street renewing a sense of pride of place, we are right on track in meeting this goal.
Thank you to all of you for staying tuned to the revitalization of downtown Princeton. These are the good ol’ days of tomorrow.
by Lori McKinney