White Sulphur Springs prepares for golf tournament
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As executive director of an organization responsible for revitalizing downtown White Sulphur Springs, Sadie Fraley decided it was time to lead by example.
Last October, Fraley opened Vines & Grinds, a wine and coffee shop. Since then, several other new businesses have popped up on Main Street -- an ice cream shop, convenience store, casual-dining restaurant and golf outlet store.
The transformation of White Sulphur Springs' once-sleepy village district comes just in time for The Greenbrier Classic PGA golf tournament, an event expected to attract tens of thousands of visitors later this month.
"For years, The Greenbrier [resort] was down, but now that things are looking up for them there's more optimism," said Fraley, who directs Main Street White Sulphur Springs. "There's more opportunity for small businesses to come here and be successful."
Fraley said the turnaround started after local coal operator Jim Justice purchased The Greenbrier in May 2009, rescuing the resort from bankruptcy.
Donations and dues-paying memberships to the nonprofit Main Street group have increased significantly since Justice took over, she said.
"He opened his arms to us and said, 'I want to do well by White Sulphur Springs,'" Fraley recalled.
That wasn't the case under the resort's former owner, Jacksonville-based railroad company CSX.
"We were the red-headed stepchild before," Fraley said.
More and more Greenbrier guests are walking from the resort to the Main Street district these days, Fraley said. There are shops that sell antiques, jewelry, artwork, home décor items and Christmas collectibles. Restaurants offer everything from "down-home" country cooking to specialty pizzas to gourmet lunches.
"Greenbrier guests want to come downtown and stroll," Fraley said. "They don't want to be bussed 15 miles east [to Lewisburg]."
The newest restaurant on the block is 50 East, which opened July 3.
Owner Tom Crabtree, an architect, started vacationing with his wife at The Greenbrier 15 years ago. They now own a second home at The Greenbrier Sporting Club, a luxury residential development in White Sulphur Springs.
The reason he keeps coming back: "It's the people of this community," said Crabtree, who splits his time between White Sulphur Springs and Harrisburg, Pa. "They have 200 years of hospitality in this community. They bring you in and want to be your friend."
50 East, a casual dining restaurant and bar, features soups, sandwiches, pastas and seafood. The bar carries wine by the bottle or glass, 30 different beers with eight on draft, and root beer on draft.
"The town has rediscovered root beer floats," Crabtree said.
Main Street businesses also have been sprucing up their exteriors in the weeks before the golf tournament, thanks to a $50,000 façade grant from the Rhea Foundation. Local property owners can apply for grant funds for painting, and replacing doors and awnings.
The nonprofit previously used a $25,000 grant to plant flowers, install benches and put up banners with the organization's logo along Main Street. There are also plans to purchase a "town clock."
"More funding has suddenly become available," Fraley said. "The momentum has been strong to do these things."
During the PGA golf tournament, White Sulphur's Main Street businesses plan to extend their hours, purchase additional supplies and hire extra staff. About 50,000 people are expected to attend The Greenbrier Classic.
"We're doing everything we can," Fraley said. "No one knows quite what to expect, but we're trying to be prepared. It's going to be real interesting."
Features editor Rosalie Earle contributed to this report. Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.