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OktoberWest brings community together

Lawrence Pierce
Mary Charles Wallace, 4, of Charleston, takes her pumpkin painting seriously at the OktoberWest event on the West Side of Charleston on Saturday.
Lawrence Pierce The Fort Hillbillies were the first of several musical acts to take the stage at OktoberWest on the West Side of Charleston on Saturday..
Lawrence Pierce Food, music and beer were on tap at the seventh annual OktoberWest event, a fundraiser for the West Side Main Street organization.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- People of all ages enjoyed live music, beer, food, arts and crafts and games at the seventh annual OktoberWest gathering on the West Side of Charleston on Saturday evening.

West Side Main Street puts on the festival to raise money for community revitalization projects.

"We have really stepped it up this year," said Stephanie Johnson, director of West Side Main Street. "We really tried to make it feel and look like Oktoberfest in Germany."

Johnson said 1,500 tickets were sold before the event, but with live music from the Davisson Brothers Band and expanded food offerings this year, she wouldn't be surprised to sell more than 2,000 tickets this year.

There were booths from Charleston Brewing Company, North End Tavern & Brewery from Parkersburg and others. Volunteers wore traditional German beer dresses and delivered beer throughout the crowd.

This year's event added the Taste of West Fest, where 13 area businesses provided a variety of festival food ranging from brats and sauerkraut to barbecue sandwiches.

"It's a celebration to come together and celebrate the accomplishments we've had and move on as a community," Johnson said.

Scott and Catherine Wallace of Charleston brought their kids to the festival. They enjoyed face painting, pumpkin painting, sidewalk painting and a bounce room.

Scott works for Agsten Construction, just down the block on Washington Street. He wanted to bring his family down to have a good time and see the completed mural on the old Staats hospital building just down the street from the festival.

"It's an added bonus," Catherine said. "It's fun when we can all be together."

West Side Main Street started in 2005 to fill a void in economic revitalization, Johnson said. The grass roots community organization works closely with West Virginia State University, the West Side Neighborhood Association and the City of Charleston to connect businesses, ideas and community members to revitalize the area's business community.

Cathy Callihan's family has owned Fountain Hobby since 1957 and has her business has been on Washington Street West since 1960. She said that years ago the West Side had a business association that put on community activities.

"Then through the years it kind of dissolved," Callihan said. "And then West Side Main Street came on board and this has been great."

Both Callihan and Johnson were pleased the Staats hospital mural was finished in time for OktoberWest. Johnson said people love to see change and this is something they can see.

"The mural has brought the whole community together from the residents to the business owners," Callihan added.

Callihan serves on West Side Main Street's board and said West Side businesses are growing together.

"It's just been a real positive for the West Side," Callihan said. "It's great to share your successes and your problems and know you're not the only one."

The organization has helped attract more than 30 businesses since 2005, creating about 150 jobs on the West Side, Johnson said. They've also invested about $150,000 in revitalization efforts.

For the past two years the organization has held business expos featuring West Side businesses. Johnson said the feedback from the business community has been great.

The organization also looks to residents for input on projects moving forward.

"We want to make sure all residents of the West Side have ownership in what we're doing," Johnson said.

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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