It's been said, for many, perception is reality.
But the people and business owners in
It wasn't enough for
Nothing could be further from the truth, as many are quick to proclaim.
It's a strange twist of fate for the area that has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the most beautiful and inviting places in
Adjusting to the new challenge has been underway for more than two months, with the ongoing effort likely to last several more years.
Already the loss of a usually vibrant summer tourism season has been financially devastating at a time when many residents also are trying to rebuild because of the loss of lives, property and employment in the area.
"In the summer time, that's when many of our merchants make their money," said Kara Dense, executive director of the
But that dynamic was gone this year.
The Greenbrier Classic, in the midst of a six-year contract through 2021, is scheduled to be played
In July, local officials estimated about a
"It could be five times that," she said. "When you think about The
From a tourism aspect, timing couldn't have been worse for
There was a lot of summer left for people planning weekend trips and vacations, but with some uncertainty, Dense reasoned that potential visitors looked elsewhere. People who were considering vacationing in the Greenbrier Valley likely watched reports of the flood devastation on TV, which remained a prominent focus of local, regional and national news outlets for several days.
"We had people from
"We know we need to get the word out and say, 'Hey, we're here. Come and visit,"' Dense said. "The best thing someone can do for us is to come for a visit. Stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, shop in our shops and buy gas in our gas stations.
"It is really about perceptions. We need to let people know that we're OK."
The trickle-down effect hurt every business in the area.
"When people come for a visit, they touch many aspects of business," Dense said. "It affects the entire economy."
Dense said a July unemployment report showed only one county in
"That really shows the impact," Dense said. "Those are typically our strongest times - when the most people are working."
All was not lost. The
"They had a really good year, all things considered," Dense said of the state fair, which, in addition to flood perceptions, also dealt with earlierthan-normal back-to-school dates throughout the state.
Another saving grace for the county was the
In fact, club members were already at the state fairgrounds when the storm hit and they held steadfast.
"I apologized (for the storm) but also told them, 'What a blessing it is to have you here,"' Dense said. "They donated time and money, unloaded trucks and goods - but in addition to that, they were the people here walking down our streets, eating in our restaurants. Everyone felt their impact." The Associated Press reported a
"If it weren't for them, because they had their own place to stay on the fairgrounds, we would have had no visitors during that time," Dense said.
On the Comer
What has been known as a charming, quaint respite, an exciting culinary destination and a playground for tourists and locals alike was suddenly silenced. But the pause was only temporary.
The area actually gets away with being both hip and traditional at the same time, a rare feat in the 21st century.
Dealing with the flood drew the business owners of downtown
"We're all locally owned," Pence said. "We were always checking in with each other, checking on families and neighbors. It was about taking care of each other first. And them we sort of grouped together as a business community and put our heads together."
Bella was only down a day, due to a planned power outage during the restoration. Product loss was minimal, but business loss in the following six weeks has been significant, Pence said.
Figures of 20 percent to 50 percent loss of expected revenues for the summer season are being projected, Pence added.
"It really depends on the (type of) business," she said. "We are all so different. Cumulatively, we're strong."
The new portal for the
"Due to the sadness and everything that was happening, we felt that it wasn't appropriate," Pence said. "None of us were engaged in that. We were engaged in taking care of one another first."
The long-term effects of a bad summer?
"We're not sure yet," Pence said. "We've put measures in place to try to make things happen, using our marketing skills."
Pence reports stronger retail and restaurant sales along
"Long term, we'll do our darnedest to make sure people know we're open for business," Pence said. "We're reaching out, really ramping it up. We're looking at new ways to get grants and funding to help boost our abilities to reach people."
On With the Show
But the damage was significant.
"We had five-and-a-half feet of water in our basement, which is where our costume shop and where we store set pieces and furniture," said Sawyer.
The basement covers about 6,600 square feet of space. The air conditioning units, fire alarms and security system also were destroyed.
"It's been quite a challenge to get those back up and going," Sawyer said.
The water did not affect the main floor where the performance area is located.
"We were able to keep on with performances," Sawyer said. "We lost one the Friday night after the storm. That was because the power didn't come back on in time for us to perform.
"Other than that, we've kept producing but lost a lot of 49 years worth of theater."
Sawyer said estimates of damage to
A professional disaster company was hired to pump water out of the building, which was a huge expense. Sump pumps had to be replaced; floors and walls had to be replaced.
Sawyer said she has been working with the
"We have insurance with the state board of risk," she said. "They initially denied the claim because they said they didn't cover floods."
Since GVT's problem was a drainage one, an engineer sent a letter explaining the unique issue. Another engineer was scheduled to return. While no government agency has come through with funds, some individuals and organizations have stepped forward with donations, Sawyer said.
"The theater community is doing what they can," Sawyer said. "Every dollar counts. It will help tremendously."
But Sawyer echoed the thought that bad perceptions are the region's new struggle.
"Unfortunately, people may think our area is too damaged," she said. "Our attendance has been down at least 30 percent for the summer and now, about 40 percent.
"We need people to start coming back to shows. Yes, there's ongoing recovery work, but the businesses are ready for people to come back. We need to recoup." Sawyer said estimates show the theater has an almost
"It's probably the biggest fair we have each year on
Hopes are the event will go a long way in helping return to business as normal in
"We want to have a strong fall season," Dense said. "Tourism is a product without a shelf life. It's an export item.
"People come in, rent a room, eat a meal in a restaurant and sit in a theater seat at GVT. We can't make up revenue that was lost. We want to move forward and get people here and have an even better fall, winter and even spring."
Moving ahead is key to climbing out of financial despair now, Dense said.
"We want people to know we're alive and healthy and everything's good," she said. "We want people to come here and experience all of the unique aspects of the Greenbrier Valley."
The CVB is largely funded by receiving 50 percent of a hotel motel tax in the county, Dense said.
Faced with additional costs of increasing spending on promoting the area, the CVB approached the
"We put together a plan on how we wanted to spend the funds," Dense said. "It took us about a month, but we finally agreed on a loan for about
The theme of the campaign: "Simply Get Away"
"We've done our research and found that's why people come here," Dense said. "They want to get away from the big city or what they're doing in life.
"They feel things here are a little bit slower. They can go out and get on the river, walk the trails. People like to drive our country roads and find a good farm-to-table meal. We want to focus on how simple it is to come here and get away."