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February 23, 2009

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Monday, February 23, 2009

By KIM BARTO - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) has announced new developments in plans for a "furniture cluster" uptown.

"We are very proud to announce that the old Globman's building (now Martin Plaza) is going to be a one-stop furniture galleria or outlet," said EDC Tourism Director Debbie Robinson.

Event details still are being planned, but the furniture cluster is scheduled to be unveiled May 28-31 during a weekend of celebrations.

"We want to involve the entire community and county" and "hope the citizens will really embrace this," Robinson said.

Tim Martin, whose family owns the plaza, said the cluster will encompass all three floors of the building. Mainly outlet furniture will be sold, with a center gallery of goods that can be ordered through The Showroom across Church Street.

The Hooker Furniture and Lane Furniture outlets already located near Martin Plaza will be part of the cluster, and "Bassett Furniture is moving in with us" this week, Martin said.

Other companies that also have agreed to sell there include Leathertrend, Taylor King, Century Furniture and KAS Oriental rugs. Seven other companies still are in the works.

The existing businesses on the Main Street side of the Martin Plaza building will stay, Martin said, along with the As Is Outlet on Church Street.

The EDC is in discussions with other potential partners, Robinson said.

"The door is open" to other furniture manufacturers that want to join in, Robinson said. Organizers also want the cluster to offer rugs, lamps and other accessories that will complement home furnishings.

With "tremendous cooperation" from the Martin family, Robinson said renovations are starting to prepare the three-story building to become an anchor store for uptown. The Martinsville Uptown Revitalization Association (MURA) also is involved with the plans, as are city officials.

The EDC has been working on the furniture initiative for more than a year and a half, said EDC Marketing and Recruiting Director Leigh Cockram, and the group hopes it will be a "sparkplug" for revitalizing uptown.

"Really, the goal of this whole furniture initiative is just to drive more traffic to the uptown area," Cockram said.

"We realized Martinsville and Henry County needed to find something that makes us unique," and officials decided to focus on furniture because of the area's manufacturing legacy, Cockram said.

Once the furniture cluster is established, other businesses hopefully will locate around it, Robinson said.

"We feel like if we can get these anchor locations up and going, that will spark the interest of other entrepreneurs," she said.

The EDC is working with the Southern Virginia Artisan Center to showcase the art of woodworking and furniture making, she said. Other partners include local historians, who are "working with us on development of some interpretive panels focusing on furniture history" that could be displayed at the furniture outlet or other uptown locations, Robinson said.

Also in the works from the EDC tourism department is a strategic marketing campaign, Robinson said, including a revamping of the Web site to include photo galleries and fact sheets.

Representatives of the Virginia Tourism Corp. visited the area recently and are "helping us fine-tune our marketing," she said. "We hope to eventually put together day trip itineraries and weekend trip itineraries" of area attractions, tying together cultural arts, racing, hiking trails and more.

Also, an advisory committee dealing with marketing the area is being formed with local public relations staff and representatives from various businesses, she said. The first meeting is scheduled for next week.

"We want to find out who our target audience is ... and find out ways of leveraging our dollars" to collaborate and save money, Robinson said.

The committee hopes to include "anybody impacted by tourism," she said, such as the Virginia Museum of Natural History, Piedmont Arts Association, the Artisan Center, Patrick Henry Community College, Philpott Lake, Martinsville Speedway, restaurants and lodging establishments.