SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Little by little, South Charleston's business community is getting a facelift.
With the help of a program that recognizes their effort, business and building owners are voluntarily painting and sprucing up their storefronts.
So far, improvements have been made to the exteriors of 33 businesses in the city during the past two years.
The city had a grant program for businesses to revitalize the outside of their buildings years ago, said Bob Anderson, business recruiter for the city. Now, on the other hand, all the businesses get is a certificate and a little recognition at City Council meetings.
"All of them are doing it at their own expense," Anderson said. "All we're giving them is a certificate .... It's so nice having people cooperate with you, especially at their expense."
D Street LLC, which owns the Family Dollar building on D Street and a building at 600 D. Street that includes the Happy Days Café, improved the outsides of both of those buildings, said Darrell Rolston, a partner in D Street LLC.
Rolston said the Happy Days building was painted and a new awning went up at Family Dollar.
"We like to keep our buildings looking nice," he said. "Tenants don't like to rent buildings that look like they're run down."
South Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens said part of the reason for the program's success is that the city first invested in the downtown area, improving the streetscapes with about half a million dollars beginning in 2008.
"One of the reasons we did the streetscape is that we hoped it would be contagious," Mullens said. "Everyone saw that we made an investment in downtown and that helped encourage them to make an investment in their buildings, too."
And improving the look of businesses not only makes the city look better, it also brings in foot traffic, which could lead to an increase in business, said Tara Elder, director of the Women's Business and Training Center in Beckley.
When businesses participate, it gives cities a unified look that offers a good first impression to passers-by, she said.
"Those façade programs encourage the whole community to step up and make their community better as a whole, especially the business community," Elder said.
She added that when she's traveling alone just looking at the outside of a building gives her an idea of the safety of the business, whether or not it will have what she wants, and how welcoming it will be.
"Usually people go with their first impression," Elder said.
But she warned that business owners shouldn't only rely on improvements to the outside of their facilities. Business owners should also work to improve the interior of their facilities as well as improving customer service.
"The main focus is on making sure the customer has a good experience from the get go," Elder said.
Kristina Oliver, state director of the West Virginia Small Business Development Center, said a building's outer appearance is important for first impressions.