Chester takes look to business development

LOCAL NEWS MAY 16, 2016   CHESTER – What if Chester, W.Va., looked like Beaver, Pa.? Participants who pondered that question at Saturday’s Business Development Workshop were in search of answers to a more urgent question – how to revitalize Chester’s moribund economic life. Guiding their discussion was a recent Facebook survey that provided a window into how Chester residents view their town, especially its business sector. “We have to tap into (customer) loyalty but also do things to tap into new customers,” said workshop organizer Chuck Bailey, president of the Chester-based consulting firm True North LLP. Bailey said Beaver is an example of a town that, 20 years ago, had fallen on hard times but then reinvented itself as a business-friendly community with an attractive downtown, full of small shops. Such a renaissance is not out of reach for Chester, he told the 19 workshop participants. Also speaking were Caroll Rosenlieb, senior vice president of lending for Hancock County Savings Bank, and Patrick Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle. The Facebook survey, which ran last week and generated 32 responses, asked four questions: Why do you shop local? Why do you not shop local? What types of products/services would you like to see in Chester? What feedback/advice would you give to local businesses to help them earn your business? Forty-one percent of the respondents said they shop local because of good customer service. Another 38 percent selected “other,” which included such things as loyalty, convenience and a desire to keep the businesses from closing. Tied for a distant third were price and quality, each receiving a 9 percent rate. Seventy-one percent of the respondents said they don’t shop local because of poor selection/options. Fifteen percent said they don’t shop local at all. “I wish there was more variety to choose from for conveniences,” one respondent said. “I hate having to travel to Walmart for economical items. We need more fast food choices as well, besides McDonald’s.” Several respondents said store hours are not late enough or flexible enough. As for what they would like to see in Chester, respondents replied with a variety of options: Sheetz, coffee shops, a fitness center, a community garden, a farmer’s market, a department store, a dollar store, curbside recycling, more restaurants, pizza delivery and better parking. “We need a lot, really,” one respondent said. “Stuff for pets, places for people to go to have fun, businesses willing to hire people, etc.” “Anything that isn’t a restaurant, bar or car wash,” one respondent said. “In my opinion,” one said, “the ideal Chester would have old buildings restored rather than torn down or turn into video lottery cafes. These cafes are eyesores and give our town a trashy image. The casino at Mountaineer is the place for video lottery games. Chester could be a quaint, charming little town, similar to Beaver, Pa., but on a smaller scale.” Several people mentioned the proliferation of video lottery cafes. As for advice, one respondent said, “Take pride in your business. Clean up store fronts, make the business more inviting. In winter clear snow piles away so customers can get to your door once they get out of the car. Be more involved in the community, plan celebrations and activities to bring people to town. Not the weak attempts made here. Visit some other towns, view their parade celebrations and get fresh ideas.”