New group seeks to bolster Middleburg’s economic prospects

— A newly created group of business and professional leaders is seeking to develop strategies to attract new businesses and visitors to town, as part of a long-term plan to boost the town’s economic development.

The group, dubbed the Middleburg Futures Group, grew out of meetings between the Middleburg Business and Professional Association’s Board of Directors and Middleburg Town Councilman Bridge Littleton earlier this year that focused on what could be done to improve Middleburg’s economic prospects and coordinate the various groups working on that front. As such, the group includes representatives from the business association, Middleburg Economic Development Advisory Committee, Middleburg Town Council and town staff.

“The real purpose of the team is to meld what resources Middleburg has, which are many and varied, to create a better business atmosphere and make the Middleburg experience the best it can be for residents and visitors,” said MBPA President Punkin Lee at the association’s monthly Biz Buzz networking event, held April 11 at Salamander Resort & Spa. “In addition, the Futures Group is looking for ways to dispel myths, create clean lines of communication and identify the elements that already work for this town.”

Salamander Resort & Spa hosted the April 11 Biz Buzz.

In preparation for the group’s first meeting, MBPA sent out a survey to its membership to get feedback from local business owners and the Futures Group sent out a survey to visitors and residents that reached more than 20,000 people. Those surveys are expected to help guide the group as it develops one-year, three-year and five-year plans to enhance Middleburg’s economy.

The survey results indicated that residents are generally happy with the town, but they would like stores to stay open longer and some raised concerns about businesses not being open according to their posted hours. Residents and visitors both would like to see more restaurants, and visitors also expressed satisfaction with the town’s events.

With the help of a facilitator, the group aims to figure out how better to attract visitors and what type of advertising should be done to promote the town. Additionally, the group’s goal is to keep communication and conversation open and ongoing, “so we’re all on the same page as we move forward, creating a healthier and friendlier business climate, as people and businesses change on down the line,” Lee said.

The April 11 meeting also highlighted several other new developments in town, including plans for three new restaurants: Best Thai Kitchen, Thaiverse 2 and an oyster bar. Best Thai Kitchen, located at 4. E. Federal St. (the former home of the Federal Street Cafe), will have a soft opening on Saturday, April 15, at 1 p.m., which will include a ribbon-cutting and samples, while Thaiverse 2, located at the former site of The French Hound, expects to open in May. The oyster bar, located at the former location of the Home Farm Store and operated by Rick Allison, owner of the King Street Oyster Bar in Leesburg, has an opening planned for July (stayed tune for details on an oyster festival!).

The Middleburg Business and Professional Association’s membership rolls continue to grow as well, with 113 members, including 20 new businesses. Businesses that haven’t renewed their membership yet for 2017 can do so online.

Among the benefits of membership are promotion on the Visit Middleburg website and social media accounts, which now boast more than 4,800 followers on Facebook and over 1,800 followers on Instagram. MBPA has also recently started an email newsletter for visitors and a printed event card that is distributed throughout the region as other ways to reach potential visitors to town and create better awareness of events in Middleburg for visitors and residents alike.

Middleburg business and community leaders continue to receive recognition in the press as well. For example, the Loudoun Business Journal named several locals to its “Women 100 List,” including Sandy Lerner (Ayrshire Farm), Sheila Johnson (Salamander Resort & Spa), Punkin Lee (Journeymen Saddlers), Susan Byrne (The Byrne Gallery), Betsee Parker, Mayor Betsy Davis (The Fun Shop), Vicki Bendure (Bendure Communications Inc.), Elaine Boland (Fields of Athenry Farm), Katy Tyrrell (Middleburg Community Center) and Melanie Mathewes (National Sporting Library & Museum).

Also noted at the meeting were the new parking signs that have been recently installed in town to designate the town’s 3-hour and 8-hour parking areas. Visitors and residents will now be able to park for free for three or eight hours, as designated. Those who violate the time limits will face a fine of $30 (which rises to $55 if it’s not paid within three days), and repeat violators will face a fine of $100 (which doubles to $200 if it’s not paid within three days).

The next Biz Buzz will be held at the Aldie Mill on May 9 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.