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Downtown Front Royal's plight draws concern

More money could be made available for development

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- The town and county are negotiating an agreement under which the town could take $90,000 it now pays to support Samuels Library and use it for economic development, Mayor Timothy W. Darr said Wednesday.

The county Board of Supervisors would have to approve such an agreement, which would span two years and give the town an extra $45,000 each year, Darr said.

Darr disclosed the negotiations at a meeting town officials called to meet with merchants to talk about ways of improving the community's business climate.

Although the meeting at the Daily Grind on Main Street was open to any business person, most of the discussion focused on the plight of the downtown. Many of the 25 merchants who attended spoke bitterly of a downtown beset by stores closing and moving to shopping centers on the edge of the community. Depressed property values and a lumbering local government bureaucracy were also on the list of problems.

"My heart sinks as I'm listening to this dialogue," said Arleen Narron, owner of Arleen Brown antiques. She spoke after hearing several audience members complain to Town Manager Steve Burke about the slow pace of efforts to improve signage aimed at helping tourists locate downtown and its businesses.

Burke said town staff members want to get the support of the Town Council for specific signage before going ahead with the project.

"Let's get it done," Narron said. "Let's not talk about another study."

Darr said the town faces fiscal limits in what it can do. He said he hoped extra money obtained through negotiations with the county over the library could be used to hire an extra staff person to strengthen economic development efforts.

But Darr cautioned the merchants that town officials need to receive a consistent message from them about what kind of support they want to boost their businesses.
"How can we as a town support you all without having clear, common goals?" Darr asked the audience. "It's not just a town effort. It's an effort by all of us," he added.

Some business owners blamed the business community itself for lagging development.

Several complained about other businesses with unsightly outdoor advertising displays that create a poor image of the town and discourage visitors to Shenandoah National Park from stopping to shop.

Others said the downtown needed a more diverse group of businesses. Rachel Failmezger, who manages Vino E. Formaggio Restaurant and Wine Bar on Main Street, said she respected her fellow downtown business owners, but her customers complain about a lack of shopping opportunities.

"They say there is absolutely nothing to do, nowhere to go on Main Street," she said. "They don't want to see another jewelry store, another antique store. They're bored to death with our town because there's nothing to do."



I want to clarify my comments concerning the lack of shopping opportunities on Main Street. The current business owners of downtown bring wonderful products and services to the street, as well as a love and support for this community. Without these shops, downtown wouldn't be viable and this argument would be moot. However, ALL the shops would greatly benefit from thriving new businesses which bring a different flavor and cater to certain segments of our community that we are not currently servicing. We need to all work together to welcome new businesses into the downtown area and fill the empty storefronts.

Rachel Failmezger has hit the nail right on the head. These business owners want to whine about "the Town doesn't do this, the Town doesn't do that," but in reality I have lived in Front Royal for many years and there is only one or two places to go on Main Street that would draw me in. One is the Lucky Star and the other is the Daily Grind. There really ain't much else going on there.

Vino is a good restaurant and so is Wine & Duck, but there needs to be more going on on Main Street than a couple restaurants and a coffee shop. Look at the business that Herb Melrath does at Daily Grind--that place is always hopping. Don't blame the signage, don't blame the bureaucracy, blame Main Street for Main Street's problems!

What do you want the Town to do about these problems? Should the Town instruct Officer Orye to detour all traffic from Commerce Ave down Main Street and write tickets to anyone who doesn't stop and buy something?

There are a few problems with the Downtown. First, there is no ample parking and what parking there is, there are no signs directing new-comers to the parking facilities. Second, The Main Street stores for the most part are slums. The lack of upgrades forces the store owners to have huge overheads in utility fees, ruined merchandise due to leaky roofs and poor upkeep in the store fronts. It is very difficult to "make a living" in downtown when your overhead exceeds $2,000 a month. If the downtown merchants want to attract more business they should look at what they are providing instead of harping there is no one coming downtown to shop.

In the almost four years I've been on the Town Council, we have worked hard to create an atmosphere where small businesses can flourish.

We have fixed the pot holes and curbs and paved Main Street, Water Street, and Chester Streets. We've replaced ailing trees and planted new ones. Does anyone remember the planters the town hung and maintained along Main and Chester Street? We've added and improved signage to the Downtown area and have increased Police and VIPS presence downtown to make people feel safer there.

We've addressed long term parking issues at the Peyton Street Parking lot and added parking along Jackson.

When the merchants complained that festivals were hurting some of them, we got a group together to make recommendations ... and acted on those reccommendations so that we can bring more people downtown while impacting the businesses as little as possible.

Our Beautification Committees installed the plants and trees along Royal, Commerce, and John Marshall Hwy, but the town maintains them. Have you noticed the roses in the median on Royal and 14th Streets?

The Town's Visitors Center sends out thousands of brochures every year showing people what they can do in Town.

All the Town can do is to create an environment where people feel safe and welcome. I feel that we have done that, but we aren't done making improvements and won't rest until our downtown is thriving.

This probably won't go over well, but I'll say it anyway. The Town of Front Royal needs to cater to tourism WAY much more than it does with regard to the types of stores it offers downtown.... Front Royal isn't so much a destination at this point, as it is a way point to the Skyline Drive and a stop-off point for hikers, etc...

I mean look at towns that people go to specifically to visit their "shopping strip" if you want a model for what works. (BTW, Winchester walking mall, are you listening too?). Check out the types of gift-shops, candy shops and craft stores you find in places like St Augustine, FL or Savannah, GA or look to Old Town Alexandria as a model.... Perhaps more realistically look at a place like Middleburg, VA or Harper's Ferry, WV (Heck the hiking shop in Harper's Ferry is the stuff of legends known to all hikers who travel the AT)..... ANY place with a successful "tourist shopping strip" to find the answers that seem to be eluding all of you.

Antique shops and jewelry shops CAN work in places like this, but people need OTHER reasons to come by. Front Royal has a nice visitor's center to build around.... Not trying to make the town into "Cheeseville" or anything, but fun shops like candy, souvenirs, t-shirts, or whatever... You build the kind of strip that becomes THE reason people come to spend a few hours, or even the day in Front Royal, not a place to simply pass time while little Jennifer goes to the bathroom over at the visitor's center and Daddy tries to find out more information about Skyline Drive...

I used to live in Front Royal and have long family history in the area. I love to shop and support local businesses on Main St. I was just in town for the Festival of Leaves weekend but was disappointed to find many of the shops closed with inconsistant hours. I know retail is difficult right now but it takes dedication to get through rough times. Customers are more careful with the money they spend and it may not be your day but be supportive of your fellow merchants. Work together to make it a place where people want to come spend time to eat and shop.

As a B&B owner, absolutely agree with Irishman71 ... BUT ... we need to make sure we have our terminology right.

I'd absolutely LOVE to see more places along Main Street that our tourists want to visit, but the Town Government isn't in the retail business. The Town Government can't say who can and who can't open a store on Main Street.

The EDA is charged with the responsibility to find new businesses and the Town Government is working with them to renovate the downtown area and to find the sorts of businesses we all agree need to be in town.

The town should have more good restaurants and other activities that attract tourists and locals alike. We all agree. The question is "How do we do that?" and "Who has that responsibility?" The Town Government can't make someone come to town, we can only make it attractive.

We are trying to remind our citizens what we have to offer downtown, but we can't make our people come here.

Many, even most, small towns are facing the same problems that we are facing. "Back When" if you needed shoes, you went downtown and bought them there. The stores were closed on Sundays, Mondays, and most holidays and rarely stayed open past 7:00 PM. Now, the big box stores are open 24 hours a day and seven days a week, so people go there to buy the things that they used to buy downtown. How do we compete with that?

This is ridiculous. This conversation and story has been repeated and repeated for at least the last 30 years--as long as I have been a resident of Front Royal/Warren County. Throwing more money at "downtown" isn't going to improve the economy and motivate people to part with their dollars to shop at one of the half dozen thrift stores. It isn't going to motivate the out of town landlords and the local slum lords to improve their store fronts or improve their buildings. They will take your improvement money and say thank you very much. This is a typical free rider problem. The last nice and noticeable improvements were to a couple of old turn of the century and victorian houses on south main, that are apparently in some form of financial distress. The successful establishments that provide a destination are superb and they will survive and thrive because they offer an excellent product. Until the "mickey mouse" operations and establishments provide a unique and differentiated product, my dollars will go elsewhere. Cheap rents and run down establishments breed nothing more than the same. This is not a public problem, this is private business not operating and functioning to its highest and best use. Save your money Front Royal.

Am I the only one around here who likes Main St.? What is wrong with you people? It is very charming and historic looking; there are several tasteful displays informing people about the history; the streets are nice and clean, with landscaping and benches; ample parking near the pavilion (which hosts tons of fun events) or on ANY side street if you don't happen to find a good spot on Main St., which I almost always do. As for the stores, you have Stokes which is an excellent place to get working clothes, western ware etc.; plus there are numerous restaurants, bars, etc. There are a couple of decent second hand stores (the hospice one is particularly well regarded); there is a farmers market, a furniture store, rug store, computer store, small engine repair shop, gem shop, music shop/pawn shop, auction house, yoga gym, a movie theater, skateboard shop... not to mention all those jewelry and antique stores. And not one chain store to offend the eye (except Schewels). Anyway I just wanted to stop by and put a good word in for main street, I always seem to enjoy myself there.

Oh,good grief! Although I am not insensitive to the business owners' concerns, why are we talking about taking vast sums away from the *public* LIBRARY!? Libraries are properly supported by the governments, while people who are in business should assume their own risks, should they not?
Has anyone been to the library during the day recently? Who do you see at the computers? Mostly people searching for jobs, as far as I can see. Given the economy, such services are needed more than ever. And you all want to cut them to provide more signs?!! Give me a break!

Jim, first of all, there is ample parking, and the Town provided new parking signs a year and a half ago. Second, for merchants renting their buildings - is it their responsibility to bring in new businesses into empty locations? Do you expect each individual merchant to provide a selection like Walmart?? Is it their responsibility to improve the buildings that they rent? I'm confused by your comment. Very few of the merchants own their buildings, and the ones that do, take good care of their properties, and most of the rented spaces are well cared for. Compared to a lot of the buildings Royal Avenue and South Street, it looks 10 times better. There is a real charm to it.
Third, if you read the article, the town has come forward to help get all of those involved focused on a concept that they can all build Together!. That was the point of the meeting. What the downtown needs is focus, and a professional marketing person and downtown Economic Developement person to bring in these diverse businesses to make downtown more desireable for everyone. Which is something that they are trying to accomlish. the Visitors center has brought alot of people into town, and they love to browse and have lunch and a coffee, or ice cream. Not all of the stores benefit, but plenty do. And that's a good thing.
It seems that there are a lot of bitter people that downtown is not what it used to be, back when the factory was here, and that downtown was full of department stores. Why is that the fault of small businesses trying to make a living in a small town. It's not their fault, they didn't make all of that go away. They are trying to fill a void, and people like you should be more gratefull that they are taking the rist to help keep downtown vibrant. Would you prefer that they all go away, and board up the town? I don't get the angst???
I was at that meeting last night, and there was alot of venting, which is typical of ANY first community meeting. As the night went on, it became more focused, and possitive, and all agreed to meet on a monthly basis. This is a possitive move. So, stop bashing the merchants. They are trying to stay afloat in a crummy economy. We don't have the only Main Street in America that is suffering. But at least this meeting provided a forum for eveyone to come together and help each other. Stop the Bashing for heavens sake !!!! Be part of the solution, not part of the problem..

The Main Street area is indeed lovely, and I do compliment and thank the town for all the improvements made in recent years. I'll tell you what makes our out-of-town visitors demand to be driven in to town - the antiques my wife has bought from the shops on Main Street! As soon as they get a look at the gorgeous buffet, lawyers bookcase, and farm tables she picked up at Ole Timers, Valley Finds, and the old Main Street Emporium, they want to go in to town. Once there, we usually patronize the Daily Grind, Soul Mountain, the Visitors' Center, and Royal Cinema. Especially since the town started discouraging undue loitering, the Main Street area is a great place to spend and afternoon shopping, having a cuppa coffee, whatever (before the discouragement of loitering, we used to take out-of-town guests down to Woodstock for the day). One improvement suggestion: we really need a good sign making people aware of the great parking available on Peyton Street. Another suggestion: recognize that the shops on Main Street are businesses, not charities, and respect them for what they contribute to our community as businesses. Let charities do their work, and let businesses do their work. I can't think of anywhere else businesses are expected to give out freebies.

Twenty or thirty stores on Main Street and nobody really has a clue what it will take to create a vibrant downtown area? How much additional revenue would each business earn in a month if they had just one or two additional sales each day?

Try looking at how shopping center landlords control their tenants. One way is telling their tenants how many hours per day and how many days a week the store will be open. These terms are written into the property leases. If a business person does not want to operate 7 days a week, he gets passed over by the shopping center lease management. Go to Riverton Commons or Crooked Run and every store opens and closes within minutes of each other every day. Now go look at Main Street.

How many Main Street businesses are open Sundays? How many Main Street businesses are open for business 7 days a week, 10 to 12 hours per day? How many Main Street business owners have visited Main Street on Sundays and counted the people walking by their storefront?

Twenty or thirty stores on Main Street with twenty or thirty different hours of operation. Why would they not be open for business when customers are standing in front of their doors? If Main Street businesses want to compete with corridor shopping centers, maybe they should take lessons from the shopping centers on how to be more competitive? It is time to help themselves and stop looking for magic bullets from the EDA, the tourism bureaus, and the Chamber of Commerce.

Otherwise, the Town of Front Royal can continue trying to herd twenty or thirty head-strong cats towards common goals.

Here is a thought. Remember when you walk into Apple Blossom Mall and you see a huge directory with a big arrow pointing "You are here" and then the map of the mall is laid out for you to guide you to the areas of the mall you might be interested in. Why not do the same thing on Main Street? One at one end and one at the other end and two in the middle. That is one way to advertise the parking areas to make it easier to find the parking and the shops that the visitors might be interested in finding. Designed it so that it will be easy to change out businesses on a as needed basis.

And a note to the business owners. Can someone please post on this sight item by item what the Main Street Merchants expect from the Town Government? That way the citizens of Front Royal who visit this sight will know what the Merchants expect from the Town and County Government. And the Town and County Government will know too and will be able to let us know what they can and cannot do and what they can control and what they cannot control. Twice a monty both the County and Town GOvernments meet and they allow the citizens of the county or town to voice their concerns.


I hope my suggestions didn't come across as "not liking Main Street". I personally think Front Royal is a diamond in the rough. I think the downtown area has an historic charm to it and the entrance TO the town is beautiful. The backdrop of the town is gorgeous, etc... Front Royal has everything it needs to become a tourist destination IMO...

There's a certain frustration that I think many are feeling. What is it that the Town of Front Royal is missing that will allow it to take that step from a stop-off point, to an actual destination? (And is that REALLY what the citizens want in the first place?)

I was simply laying out a successful model that myself and my young family like and enjoy. I mean think about it? What would make myself and my family pack up and drive from Stephens City for almost an hour to hang out in Harper's Ferry for a day along their Main Street, but not even consider driving 20 minutes to Front Royal? I was just trying to provide answers to that question.

Mr. Ratigan, that is a GREAT IDEA about the DIRECTORY at each end of Main Street! I've never focused on Main Street needs before because my wife and I have wanted to patronize our Main Street merchants no matter what. But now that this crisis has been highlighted by nvdaily, we want to do all we can to help. We love our community and are so glad we no lonter have to take out-of-town guests and relatives down to Woodstock for a nice day out. Before the Town cracked down on loitering (or appeared to do so, based on our observation), our guests would tease us on returning home with questions like, "How are all the pervs (perverts)?" Now we proudly take everyone down to Main Street, and we invariably have a wonderful afternoon shopping, walking around, etc. A directory would be great... on our last trip down (a couple of weeks ago), we went to see a file at Royal Cinemas, and all parking on Main Street was taken. Luckily, my wife knew about the marvelous Peyton Street parking lot, and directed me to it. If tourists can easily find out all the great stores and restaurants available on Main Street, believe me, Front Royal will stop being just a "drive through" for them. Also, the merchants are right when they apparently say that downtown festivals hinder their business. On the weekend of Festival of Leaves, we really wanted to see a film at Royal Cinema but did not want to deal with whatever traffic problems might have resulted from the Festival, so we stayed home. People should be able to choose to attend festivals or other downtown activities and AT THE SAME TIME know that if they want to continue on to, let's say, dinner or a movie at a Main Street venue, they can do so without a lot of trouble. Let's work together to patronize our Main Street, our downtown festivities, and especially (per my wife) our local antiques stores! Please do put up directories at each end of Main Street... if you want to collect donations in support of that effort, let me know.

The problem with the individual directory is that once people see the mediocrity of the district, they will say thanks for saving my time and pass by it all together.

I'm a big supporter of our local economy and frequent the shops/restaurants/services on Main Street as often as possible. I find it laughable and very 'Front Royal' to consider taking away funds from the public library to help stimulate the private business interest of a few private individuals.

If Front Royal business/economic development interest were truly interested in revitalizing the downtown community they'd focus their ire on resolving the Afton Inn situation. I'm quite certain that blighted building is more of an issue than the lack of signage.


I have stewed on this story for a few days. Its very sad that the businesses consider the festivals more issue than gain, because during those festivals is the only time I walk around and notice what is actually on Main st. Perhaps the town not charging main street businesses booth space, or employees go out and mix in with the crowds showing off wares, offering food samples. Its almost wasting a huge chance to advertise and show off main street for what it has.
I think everyone is not seeing the forest through the trees here. Tourist are great, but they are not coming in en-mass all year round. there is nothing on Main street that caters to a normal day to day base. Its missing the type of stores that residents rely on, as in the days of the Dollar General or Newberries being located on Main st. Antique shops are nice and all but they only cater to specific people. Considering the current economy, who is buying jewelry and the like? It is kind of like the convenience store putting the toy rack next to restrooms. No one intends on buying a toy at Handy Mart, but when their child happens to notice the rack its a 50/50 chance a toy gets bought. If you ignore the citizens to cater to mainly tourists, then you are ignoring the base that will keep you afloat. I might walk into the antique store if I had stopped in next door to pick up some household item I'm out of, or pay a bill...Main Street lacks any business that isn't catering to one specific need. Well except Stokes Mart, and yeah... I will choose WalMart. Some of the store fronts could use a face lift, but that is the property owners responsibility.
Moreover the idea of taking funds from the PUBLIC library to help prop up Private business is a problem. It is not the duty of government to offer a teat to private business. Have these business owners happened to notice protests for just that reason going on across the country? Business is a gamble, you cant just open shop and expect rainbows from there on out, you have to work at it, but if you cant find success, that is the gamble you took.
Maybe all the library users should occupy Main Street.

Main Street is undesirable due to the traffic. The speeders taking a short cut from the By Pass to Royal Avenue. If you are at the Chester and Main Street intersection those traveling east or west on Main are going to try to "T-bone" you. It is impossible to drive up or down Main and look to see what is there and then park your vehicle, because you can bet someone is right on your bumper. The area is definitely not "user friendly". The speed limit should be strictly enforced by an officer on a bike (motorized of course). The Town owned some bikes a few years ago. Am I one of the few remaining who can remember when everyone worked together for the good of the cause? Softer and gentler would be nice! Friendly would be nicer :)
On the other hand, there seems to be plenty of business at LDees and Stokes stores, so why don't the people walk another block up the street? Maybe a study is needed by those who don't have a "dog in the fight"!

While I respect your opinion on this Katrina, I have to disagree. What you are suggesting probably equates to one of the biggest issues regarding economic shift going on in our country as a whole right now. What types of stores are you suggesting go up on Main Street that aren't located elsewhere in town with a more convenient place to park?

An area like Main Street, in my opinion, MUST cater to tourism, because as you even bring up, Wal Mart, Target, Lowe's, CVS, Martin's, etc... are going to win out 99 times out of 100 on the everyday items. Its just the way things have become. I don't like it, but Front Royal is hardly unique in that sense (Though relatively new to the party)... No sense in fighting a battle that has been waged and lost all over this country already...

A Main Street that attracts tourism seem to be the best way to go. Yes, it lends itself to seasonal ups and downs, but that's true in a lot of retail situations... Sounds to me like stores currently located on Main Street just want A season, ANY season, where business is good, and I'd imagine that catering to tourism would help in that regard.

speeding? unmanageable traffic? Are we talking about the same Main Street here?

A lot of people seem concerned about taking money from the public library. The library is a sore point for me. It could've been an automatic cross-generational people attractor in the downtown area. But where was it built? On a country road on the edge of town where you need a car or have to take a shuttle or a taxi to get to it. I've been there once in 2 years, courtesy of a relative who was willing to drive me there. Amazon & Barnes & Noble are now my library. There's one decision by the town leaders I'd like to have had some input on.

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