CYCLING – West Virginia has a moment.
There’s the launch of New River Gorge National Park, a venue so photogenic it was featured in Vogue. There’s the enviable vaccine introduction. There are the move-in bonuses and recovery passes of $ 12,000 for remote workers.
There are the three telegenic titans – Governor Jim Justice, RW.Va., Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va. and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va. – whose native charm and pragmatism seem to overcome both the political divide and all tastes of the national media.
Yes, West Virginia has a moment. But could it also be that Wheeling has a moment in this moment?
A multitude of voices, ranging from a state tourism official to two national journalists to a young entrepreneur who started his vinyl empire here, believe this could be the case.
TELL THE STORY
“Wheeling has a cool vibe” said Chelsea Ruby, Secretary of State for Tourism.
Ruby, who came to the mountain state from Washington DC, backed up that statement by ticking the reasons why the city might very well be on the rise in a post-pandemic America.
Oglebay Park – the 104th largest urban park in the world. That’s right, the world. Lower cost of living. Lower business costs. Lower population density. The opportunity to leave work at lunchtime and go for a walk or have lunch outdoors. National location.
“We give people the opportunity to escape the big cities, settle in our mountain towns and find the work-life balance they have always dreamed of.” Ruby said about the general mix. “Life is easier here.”
When she focused on the last item on the list – the location – she added a plus that is specific to the friendly city. “Wheeling is a real little mountain town with such amazing proximity to other cities.”
She pointed out the craze for elevating the New River Gorge to a national park, why this is critical. “National parks are the gold standard for so many travelers” Ruby said how the park put the state on a global radar screen.
Even she was surprised at how the place drove the publication of the story deeper and further. As expected, tourism magazines have eaten up the outstanding prospects. But also other media that were as unexpected as Vogue magazine, a driver in the fashion and lifestyle world.
This venue has focused on being near the “Natural wonderland” In densely populated cities on the east coast, the prognosis of its popularity may be similar to the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, America’s most-visited national park.
“We can tell our story better and people take note of it.” Ruby said about the growing interest. “People start to think, ‘Wow. What’s going on in West Virginia? ‘”
COOL CITY, USA?
They include an editor for Southern Living magazine and a Pittsburgh-based writer and filmmaker nationally.
Southern Living’s Kaitlyn Yarborough named Wheeling to the magazine’s Best Small Towns in the South for 2021.
“… Wheeling is an open-air city that is endowed with all of the coveted natural activities characteristic of the mountain state, from zip lines to bike paths to lush butterfly gardens.” Yarborough wrote in the March publication. The story also mentions the Capitol Theater and art galleries.
It is a special honor to be included on the list this year. Yarborough stated that because of COVID, the editorial staff of the magazine chose cities for their ability to provide the escape and comfort people longed for during a troubled time. A poll is traditionally used.
“With Wheeling, which has wonderful access and outdoor activities and a rugged small town scene, we thought this was the perfect show for West Virginia.” Yarborough said.
The 2021 list reflects a moment in time, but Yarborough noted that this could point to the longer term.
“It definitely seems like small towns have offered a welcome respite” She said. “If it were up to us, we want this feeling to last forever. We love our small cities. “
John W. Miller of Pittsburgh, who met Wheeling while filming his PBS documentary “Moundsville” – has also developed a love for small towns.
“I think Wheeling falls into the category of cities that have enough cultural and community life to be cool in the sense that they are attractive to young people and remote workers with options.” Miller said, noting the vibrancy of having colleges in and around town.
He suspects the possibility of combining these options with “A good housing stock and a declining population” will likely speak to city dwellers looking to protect their quality of life from disruptions like another pandemic.
“I think Wheeling is one of the smaller towns on the list of places to go.” Miller said. “And as West Virginia loses its reputation as a coal state, it becomes attractive as a beautiful, mountainous place near the east coast and Pittsburgh.”
OR JUST AT HOME?
Jon Napier noted that a person doesn’t have to be from a big city to appreciate Wheeling.
A native of the city, 29-year-old Napier toured the United States after graduating from West Liberty University with an economics degree. He checked vinyl (record) stores on the West Coast and in Colorado, among others, before choosing downtown Wheeling as the base for Nail City Record.
“Our business model wasn’t really geared towards a lot of wheeling traffic.” He said about the store’s online sales. “(But) it’s in a really good place geographically … to get shipping to our customers.”
Nail City Record can get a vinyl to almost any location in the U.S. in two to three days, he explained. Given that 80% of the company’s sales are online – and that in just three years of business it has shipped to all 50 states, five US territories, and 38 other nations – this matters.
He also noted the comparatively low costs for retail space and a three-year corporate tax reduction that is specific to the city center.
While only 20 percent of sales are in-store – and much of it goes to collectors outside of town – a brick and mortar store still has a seal of approval that it and its business partner wanted.
Prior to COVID, Nail City Record hosted live music, stand-up comedy, and movie screenings. He sees everything coming back.
“We like to call ourselves a mini-tourism destination.” Napier said bringing vinyl enthusiasts within a radius of about 50-70 miles. “Wheeling was a really competitive option, and not just because it was my hometown.”
As he watches the city continue to invest in infrastructure and a real estate market that borders on speculation, he becomes more excited about a decision that he hopes will last much longer than a moment.
“It will turn around” Napier said about Wheeling’s long-term outlook. “It looks good.”
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