HUNTINGTON - As a business district, Old Central City continues to repurpose, reuse and upcycle, and this weekend shows off the best of its shabby chic self as the eclectic 14th Street West antiques and shopping district kicks open the doors for its 27th annual Old Central City Days that runs Friday through Sunday with a hodgepodge of antiques, local arts and crafts, food, music and kids fun in what is known as "the antiques capital of West Virginia."
Fresh off of the spring Huntington Sustainability Fair, Old Central City, home to a couple dozen antique stores, is prepped for the landing of it largest annual fest, Old Central City Days, the festival and street-long antiques sale that runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 8-9, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 10.
Centered around the gazebo and The Wild Ramp, Old Central City Days will feature nearly 60 total vendors that will be set up at various areas along 14th Street West, including dozens of juried antiques dealers who will be behind The Wild Ramp where there also will be kids activities, including Saturday Kids Art presented by the Huntington Museum of Art.
Renee Lewin-Williams, president of the Old Central City Association, said they're excited so many people are involved this year in adding their time and energy to the festival that will feature a lot of family fun. In addition to the kids' art and games, plans include a classic car show, food trucks and a steady stream of live music from such bands as Of The Dell, Montage and Stony Point String Band, which will host a special children's workshop during which kids will be allowed to touch and play a number of traditional instruments.
Lewin-Williams said the association puts on the fest so folks from around the Tri-State can come and check out the vibrant and historic district that has been picking up steam in the past few years from reeling in The Wild Ramp to a number of building renovations including Bobby G's, the Boys and Girls Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and her own shop, Thistlepatch Vintage Garden and Antiques.
"The association is made up of mostly business owners in the area and residents who meet monthly with our basic goal being to bring people to the area and to promote businesses and to reach out to people from the Tri-State to connect to our shopping, dining and entertainment," Lewin-Williams said. "With Old Central City Days, the goal is to raise money for the association and to also bring people to the West End to share with them the great shopping and dining experiences that we have down on the street."
Already home to businesses such as Moonlight Cookies, a bakery that delivers homemade cookies, coffee and fresh juices, Old Central City will have a deeper and wider DIY feel at this year's fest, as the association reeled in artist and organizer Zac White of Huntington Culture Storm to work his magic of gathering an eclectic regional tribe of makers to come vend.
White, who wrangles artists for the Huntington Music and Arts Festival and who puts on the heavy metal Heck Yeah Fest every August, said he was excited to jump in and help, reaching his list of artistic friends who will vend everything from collage art and unique lamps to comics and books. White said the majority of vendors he knows will be concentrated on Saturday, although some will be vending at least two of the three days.
"We have somewhere between 25 to 30 people already signed up, and so we could have up to 35 people," White said. "It is really awesome to see so many people who want to get involved, and it is really eclectic, and I think even more eclectic than we have had for the Culture Storms. There are several artists who on board with this who haven't done Culture Storm because it didn't synch up."
Denise Poole, who is one of the festival organizers, said she feels that the backdrop of Old Central history blended with the new energy in the district will make for a great fest this year.
"We have a lot of nice artisans and vendors and food and when you put all of that together with the history of Old Central City it does make for a special event," Poole said. "In years past the fest was a pretty big deal and like a lot of things it kind of waned for a while and some of the businesses weren't as involved as people got older or passed away. I feel like this year is the beginning of it turning around and fostering an appreciation of the area. I hope that resonates as well as more people learn the history of Old Central City and what it used to be. We've all worked really hard to make it happen."
Some of that work will be visibly evident. Folks visiting Old Central City will notice that 10 of the large quilt block murals, which were first painted in 2010, have been redesigned and installed by Ackenpucky Creative's Jill LaFear and Seth Cyfers, who also installed quilt block-themed bike racks as well.
As part of the America's Best Communities revitalization plans, The River to Rail Committee, a community-led coalition, found funding from J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation to re-imagine the quilt trail installation - and that is just the beginning of work being done along the street, said Lauren Kemp, who is vice president of the association and the development director for The Wild Ramp.
The River to Rail Revitalization Initiative is a coalition of neighbors, business owners, organizations and agency representatives working to improve the livability of West Huntington. The key elements of the initiative include improving pedestrian and bicycle paths, attracting new businesses to Old Central City, reducing property blight and creating more inviting public spaces.
"Quilts are decorative yet functional and can represent aspects of culture and family heritage, often passed down from one generation to the next," Kemp said. "A newly awarded grant from the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town Program will help to create a plan to continue to improve neighborhood revitalization. The plan will create a vision for the district in five years, 10 years and 20 years that will drive the growth of Old Central City."
The $75,000 grant is matched with funds and staff time from the America's Best Community Fund, River to Rail Committee, Heritage Farm and Unlimited Future to create a total project of $150,000. The grant also will study the potential to connect Old Central City to Heritage Farm and West Edge (a project of Coalfield Development) to create a greater attraction for regional tourism.
"We are so excited to have a fantastic partner like Heritage Farm that sees Old Central City as an important gateway and connection to regional tourism developments," said Kemp, who is the project coordinator. "This funding is a critical first step to revitalization in the business district, as it will create a long-term plan that combines design, signage and art installations to reinvent 14th Street West."
The partnership between Heritage Farm, Coalfield Development and the River to Rail Revitalization Initiative goes beyond the grant program. In March of this year, Heritage Farm and Coalfield Development partnered to begin operating the business formerly known as Old Town Antiques, now known as Village Renew-All Antique Mall. "We wanted to support Old Central City, remind people that we are a part of its legacy and see how our organizations can join together in the revitalization of this historic area," said Audy Perry, executive director of the Heritage Farm Foundation.
Lewin-Williams, whose shop Thistlepatch Vintage Garden and Antiques moved into a larger space at 444 14th Street West in October, said the many efforts and collective impact of the new collaborations make for an exciting future where many feel like Old Central City's best days are ahead.
"I think Old Central City has always been a destination point as far as antiques, and it is still the Antiques Capital for West Virginia, but I think there is also this influx of energy with these working collaborations with the River to Rail and the West Huntington Organization and the Association and the city all working on these revitalization projects from the Quilt Trail to renovating the park that surrounds the gazebo and creating a space that will be even more inviting," Lewin-Williams said. "We have really good signage off of the highway, we are easy to get to, and we are a really good entry point into the city of Huntington as a whole. There is a lot going on, and we haven't see all of the direct changes yet, but they are coming."
If you go
WHAT: The 27th annual Old Central City Days featuring 60 vendors all over 14th Street West. There's an Antiques Showcase behind The Wild Ramp, an arts and crafts, community and business showcase along 14th Street West, food trucks, an old-time photo booth, kids art and games, the Mystery Machine Van, and live bands on the gazebo and strolling. Bands include Of The Dell, Montage and Stony Point String Band.
WHERE: 14th Street West in Huntington
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 8-9, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 10
ON THE WEB: For the full schedule, go online at https://www.oldcentralcity.org/old-central-city-days.
TAKE THE WALKING TOUR: Go online at http://media.herald-dispatch.com/walkingtour/walkingtourmapwestend.html and take a 2.5-mile walking tour of the West End.
WHAT IS OLD CENTRAL CITY: Home to a couple dozen antiques shops, Old Central City is known as The "Antiques Capital of West Virginia." The shops of Old Central City offer a wide range of antique furniture, glassware, clothing, lamps, collectibles, records, vintage garden supplies and more.
CENTRAL CITY HISTORY: Once a booming manufacturing town, Old Central City was home to large operations such as Fesenmeier Brewing. The historic homes, original buildings and legacy businesses like Heiners' Bakery are an enduring connection to the roots of the town that pre-dated Huntington.
WHERE TO EAT/DRINK: Central City Cafe, 529 14th St. W., has been featured on "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives." A new favorite is West Tenampa, 1360 Madison Ave., Huntington. A favorite watering hole is Bobby G's Past Times, 601 14th St. W, which has seasonal live music on the patio. Go online at https://www.facebook.com/Bobby-Gs-Past-Times-231355480344797/.