By Kim Harbour
“Messy Vitality” – that’s the name for the funky art galleries, coffee shops and quirky specialty boutiques that are breathing new life into West Virginia’s main streets.
“You need some funkiness and messiness to get the vitality back into a downtown,” said Mike Gioulis, a historic preservation consultant who moved from New York in the 1970s to practice in Sutton.
As an example, Gioulis indicated La Dolce Vita café down the street from his office, where the owners wanted the business to be three things: a gallery, a café and a performance space.
“People are balancing the way they want to live with the way they want to work and mixing things in creative, unexpected ways. It brings vibrancy to our towns,” he said.
Another benefit is that starting multiple businesses under one roof serves as an incubator. In the best cases, one of the businesses might spin off if it is successful, or it can help carry the weight of the other ventures during tight times, he explained.
But community revitalization doesn’t happen by accident.
Mike’s wife, Dorothy, is on the board of the Sutton Community Development Corporation (CDC). She recalled that about four years ago a group of concerned residents got together and decided to find ways of rebuilding Sutton. They looked at their town’s assets: the 1,400-acre Sutton Lake, the gourmet Café Cimino Country Inn, the Landmark Studio for the Arts, the annual West Virginia Filmmakers Festival…
Through public meetings, surveys and master planning, the town’s residents determined that Sutton should strive to become an arts community, focusing on recreation and historic preservation. So, the CDC applied to have Sutton become an ON TRAC community, a project of Main Street West Virginia that fosters economic development through historic preservation.
After all, Sutton’s turn-of-the-century buildings are keys to both its past and its future, says Mike. “The history gives people roots to their community – a collective memory, an ambience. Preserving this is invaluable to re-establishing the town as a destination, again.”