Jessica Lilly Published

'There Is a Change in the Air' in This Southern W.Va. Town


A town in Southern West Virginia is rolling up its sleeves to revitalize downtown. The goal is to turn the main street in Princeton into a safe place to socialize, shop, and grow. Residents basically decided to stop complaining about the rundown reality, and do something to change it.

The Princeton Renaissance Project began about six months ago. It’s a vision to create an attractive economically vibrant downtown. Most of the work is focused on Mercer Street, an area with a reputation for drug trafficking and prostitution. Those projects include:

  • Festivals and events: The crew at the Riff Raff Arts Collective, a gallery on Mercer Street in Princeton organized and hosted the Altogether Arts Week for the past five years. The event includes a parade, sidewalk painting, and more. Volunteers with the project have also organized outdoor movie viewings, and in October, tricks or treat on Mercer Street.
  • Restoring the historic Lavon Theater
  • The Princeton Community Improvement Commission created a grant program to help renovate storefronts. Businesses can apply for up to $2,000 for storefront renovation.
  • Relocating Princeton City Hall from the corner of Courthouse Road to the former First Community Bank building on Mercer Street.
  • Artist Alley: The project blocked off more than 20 spaces on two walls separated by a narrow strip of rough pavement. Any artist was able to cover a section of the wall with a masterpiece. After a few final touches the alley will be a 24 hour outdoor art gallery.
  • Circle time: business owners, non-profit representatives, citizens, and sometimes the city manager meet once a week to discuss new ideas to make the Princeton Renaissance a success
  • Eight paid mural artists to help cover some buildings

“It’s pretty cool because I’ve been wanting to paint this town for years and years and years,” Patch Whisky, one of the paid artists helping spruce up Mercer Street.

“I was wanting to paint that building five years ago when I was trying to open up an art gallery downtown here,” Whisky said. “They wouldn’t let me do it for free. Now they’ve had to pay somebody a lot of money to paint whatever they’re painting on there right now. But it’s definitely changed.”

“There is a change in the air.”

Wisky’s work can be found across the east coast in cities like Charleston South Carolina, Miami Florida and now his hometown Princeton.

“The whole idea is to give people a good reason to come back down to Mercer Street,” Sam Franz said during a circle time meeting. “Lots of fun. I’m surprised at how eager all the local businesses are to get out and help us with this.”

“We’ve got the arts, and we have education, government, non-profit and just the regular folks all pulling together,” new city manager Elke Doom said, “to bring us back to I can’t say the old glory, but a whole new Mercer Street.”