by Shawn Gainer
Clarksburg officials are hoping to improve the appearance and the business climate in the Glen Elk and downtown areas of Clarksburg.
In Glen Elk, the city has used grant money to bury utility lines, install 19th century-style lighting and decorative sidewalks, and other improvements. In June, Gov. Cecil Underwood presented a $100,000 grant to help pay for completion of the project.
"We're thrilled with everything they're doing," Dave Owens, manager of The Flower Shop on North Fifth Street, said. "All the time we have customers remark on how nice the sidewalks are. Years ago, you wouldn't walk through Glen Elk, especially at night. Now at nighttime, it's lit up here better than downtown."
Virgil Larosa, owner of the Parson Hotel Building and president of the Glen Elk Village Development Association, hopes the new atmosphere will attract business and residents and help restore the community's former vitality.
As Larosa walked through a building used by Philip's Restaurant & Catering for wedding receptions and other gatherings, he pointed out several features that impart a classy, 19th century atmosphere: hardwood floors, a bar, a heavily decorated ceiling and pillars, a Roth and Englehart piano and a mural of the old B&O station garden, painted by Charles Hickman.
Larosa described the Glen Elk of his youth -- a frantically booming, and somewhat rowdy, Italian immigrant community.
"At one time there were 11 hotels in Glen Elk. I can remember that," Larosa said. "There were five barber shops and a beauty shop. At one time, there were 11 taverns over here too."
Larosa also recalled a long list of other factories and other businesses that were either located within Glen Elk or close to it: Coca Cola, Whistle and Royal Crown Cola bottling plants, Imperial Ice Cream Co., and a mill for processing flour. At the time, Clarksburg in general was a booming industrial city, the home of Pittsburgh Plate Inc. and several glass factories.
Then Glen Elk was changed by a familiar social pattern in West Virginia -- outmigration of young people.
"At one time, this community was primarily Italian immigrants. A lot of people were first-generation Italian-Americans like me," Larosa said. "In those days, a lot of people lived upstairs from their businesses. They all believed in education. They sent their kids to college.
"When they finished college and became doctors and lawyers, they didn't want to be here anymore. They left and a lot of the buildings became run down because no one was around to keep them up."
Larosa sees the Glen Elk revitalization project as a way to bring back the 19th Century, ethnic atmosphere, and bring business and customers with it.
"It has to be unique. Tomaro's Bakery has been here for 85 years or more and people come from all over for it. You can hardly get in there on Sundays. Some big cities don't know what a bakery is," he said, pointing out features of N. Fifth Street. "We're trying to bring the old look back with the awnings and the leaded windows. Young people like that."
Clarksburg is trying to repeat Glen Elk's success with a similar effort on Main Street. In June, Underwood presented the city a Transportation Enhancement Program grant for $227,040 for work on W. Main Street between Third and Fourth streets. According to Vice Mayor Kathryn Folio, another $200,000 is included in next year's budget, which should almost cover the entire cost of the project.
The plan is to give Main Street the same general appearance as Glen Elk, City Manager Tom Vidovich said.
"We're going to do everything we can to get lines and cables underground. It will include sidewalk renovation and landscaping.
"Obviously the intent is to improve quality of life downtown," he said. "We want to increase traffic and foot traffic and create more opportunities for businesses to thrive."
Staff writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442 or by e-mail at email@example.com.