Tune Up & Turnaround

Thursday, August 09, 2007

They're fiddlin' again Friday nights in Floyd, a town of some 400 people just west of the Blue Ridge in southwest Virginia.

[Photo 1: Kid playing the banjo]
Warming up. (By Peter Johnson of The Christian Science Monitor)

For 23 straight years of Friday nights, "beat the devil gospel" and bluegrass "wizardry" had poured out from the Friday Night Jamboree at the Floyd Country Store in Floyd, a place where, observed The Houston Chronicle, "everybody in town seems to be a musician, the descendant of a musician or at least good friends with somebody who plays banjo."

But earlier this Spring, the stage at the Country Store went dark for a month to get a major spruce-up inside and out. A new façade was funded by a CDBG grant awarded by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and is one of 20 façade restorations in downtown Floyd.

But facades are just one part of a multi-million dollar partnership to preserve Floyd as, said The Chronicle, a "center of the bluegrass universe." Next door CDBG funds are transforming a blighted property by building a small park, welcome station and public restrooms to accommodate the crowds of musicians and music-lovers who spill-out of the Store every Friday night. Across the street, Virginia's Department of Transportation is adding new parking spaces.

The CDBG grant also has created a revolving loan fund for small business development. The Virginia Housing Development Authority is working with a syndicate of more than a dozen local families to fund transformation of a long-empty commercial building, with a restaurant, offices and affordable apartments. The syndicate also using CDBG funds as gap financing to turn an abandoned supermarket into showplace for 14 local artisans and their crafts. Private funds are transforming a third rundown building into the 14-room Hotel Floyd, with each of the decorated by a different Floyd business or associations.

All told, more than 20 local businesses, owned mostly by low- and moderate-income people, will open in downtown Floyd as a result of the economic restructuring triggered by CDBG funds.

[Photo 2: Group playing instruments]
Fiddlin' in Floyd. (By Peter Johnson of The Christian Science Monitor)

The partnership transforming Floyd also is at work across a 10-county region along the 250-mile Crooked Road, Virginia's Heritage Music Trail. Supported by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture the Virginia Coalfields Economic Development Authority, the Virginia Tourism Authority and, as mentioned, HUD, DHCD and VHDA, the Trail was formed in 2003 to "generate tourism and economic development in the Appalachian region of Southwestern Virginia by focusing on the region's unique musical heritage."

Whether it's the hammering of a dulcimer or the hammering of a new façade, it sounds like it's working. "The changes that are occurring in the town are for the better," Floyd Town Manager Michael Maslaney told The Floyd Press. "Floyd is an eclectic mix of a lot of different cultures and a lot of different things. Everybody has an interest in keeping it in that same mode."

"Keeping it Floyd," he said, is what it's all about. "These changes are great," added Marsha Slopey Paulekas, a member of the Floyd Arts Association. "I just hope Floyd knows when to quit." As long, of course, as the fiddles don't.

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