NEW CUMBERLAND - New Cumberland's downtown business district is starting to show signs of life, and it may be just in time.
Several businesses have opened in previously vacant buildings in the past year, and another one is planning a grand opening for Jan. 6.
Staley's Hardware & Rentals, located on the northeast corner of Madison and Chester streets, will offer general hardware merchandise and old-fashioned service, said owner Bill Staley Sr. The second floor has efficiency apartments available for rent.
CHANGES — Bill Staley Sr., owner of Staley’s Hardware & Rentals, puts a “Grand Opening” sign in front of the building he purchased nearly two years ago at the busy New Cumberland intersection of Chester and Madison streets. The hardware store, which opens at 8 a.m. Jan. 6, will be the first business to occupy the building in about 20 years. -- Stephen Huba
A Weirton Steel retiree, Staley, 73, of New Cumberland, bought the historic downtown building nearly two years ago with a view toward opening a traditional hardware store.
"I had to go out of town - to Weirton or East Liverpool - to get anything. No matter what you wanted, you had to go out of town, so I thought, 'We need a hardware store,'" he said.
Staley formed a partnership with his son Bill Staley Jr., his daughter-in-law, Lisa Staley, and his brother, Rick Staley, after purchasing the vacant building for $40,000.
"It's a good building, a strong building," Staley said, noting that it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
He and his sons have done $10,000 worth of renovations to the building - mostly to the second floor but also to the first floor, where the shelves are starting fill up with standard hardware store inventory.
"We're all pretty handy. We did all the work ourselves," Staley said.
The building dates back to 1903, when it was a bank and a post office, Staley said. Most recently, it was Graham's Clothing & Miscellaneous Store, but the building has been vacant for about 20 years, he said.
Although it sits next door to several vacant buildings, it's in the same block as another building that came to life last spring when Linda and Jake Settle moved Linda's Dairy Dream to 116 N. Chester St.
In November, Charms, a beauty salon, opened in the same building under the proprietorship of Bonnie Haynes, a longtime cosmetologist.
Haynes said downtown New Cumberland is a good place for business because of all the traffic on state Route 2, much of it heading northbound to Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.
"I've had some good reaction from (city officials) for having a storefront in New Cumberland. They said they're really glad to have somebody here. They love having more business in New Cumberland," she said.
The new business startups come at a time when city officials are renewing their efforts to jump-start economic development in New Cumberland.
The city recently joined the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, and city council appointed Mayor Linda McNeil as its representative.
In November, McNeil, city council members, Hancock County Commissioner Jeff Davis and BDC Executive Director Patrick Ford took a bus tour of the city in a bid to identify future economic development opportunities.
City officials also are looking at new ways to either rehabilitate or demolish previously-condemned buildings - both residential and commercial - in town. The city recently reactivated its Building Enforcement Agency and is researching potential funding sources for the demolition of blighted buildings.
One thing Staley said he needs help with is making the intersection of Madison and Chester safer. The increase in oil-and-gas industry truck traffic through town poses a threat not only to his sidewalk and business entrance but also to pedestrians and customers, he said.
"This corner is a hazard. I'm upset because nothing's been done about it in two years," he said.
Staley appealed to Hancock County commissioners for help last January after getting nowhere with the state. He said he has a letter from West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin expressing support for safety improvements to the area, but an engineering study by the West Virginia Department of Transportation has yielded no results.
"The state came up and surveyed everything and then dropped it," he said.
Staley said the traffic concerns have not dissuaded him from pursuing his dream of opening the store. "I had faith that I could get that changed. I still have faith that I can get that changed," he said.
In the meantime, parking for the 8 a.m. Jan. 6 grand opening, as well as regular store hours, will be available in the lot behind the store and along Chester Street, he said.
Haynes said she, too, is hopeful that business conditions will improve in New Cumberland.
After years of working as a cosmetologist in other cities, Haynes came to realize that there's potential in her hometown.
"I've come full-circle: I've left and come back, and there's no place like home," she said.
(Huba can be contacted at email@example.com)