Thursday, July 21, 2016

Gentrification has revived rural W.Va. mountain community, but raised suspicions, prejudices

A once-sleepy West Virginia mountain community 125 miles west of Washington, D.C., has received an economic boost from urban migrants, many of whom are gay, Shilpi Malinowski reports for The Washington Post. The gentrification of Hardy County has brought new business but also suspicion and prejudice, especially among poor residents who have seen newer, more expensive housing being built, with most of the new housing being used for weekend getaways by urban dwellers. (Post photo by Astrid Riecken: Wardensville, W.Va.)

In the past two years 16 new businesses—13 owned by newcomers—have popped up on Main Street in Wardensville, a town of about 250 residents whose downtown was once filled with vacant storefronts, Malinowski writes. In 2015, there were 115 local real-estate sales, up from 61 in 2012. One factor that helped: "In 2010, Hardy County received a federal grant to lay fiber-optic cable for internet service throughout the area," bringing in high-speed broadband.

"What is happening in the area seems to fit the definition of gentrification; the new residents moving into Wardensville and Hardy County often have D.C. salaries that far exceed the area’s median household income, which the 2010 census put at $31,347," Malinowski writes. "Wealthy gentrifiers moving into the relatively poor, rural area come with their own tastes, and the new businesses popping up often seem like they belong in Columbia Heights or Bloomingdale. Breweries, restaurants with city-level prices and art galleries are bringing the larger world into the small town."

Malinowski writes, "a rainbow pride flag now flies on Main Street, and the town is incorporating a more visible gay culture into its existing community." Paul Yandura and his partner, Donald Hitchcock, who moved to Hardy County in 2008, opening a store and becoming real-estate agents, told Malinowski, “We were told at one point that one of the churches was going to boycott our business because we are gay. But one of the preachers came in and apologized, and said they should never treat people like that. And the truth of the matter is that there have been gay people in this town for many years.”

Martha Bradfield, a longtime resident, told Malinowski, “Change is difficult for some people, and so is the fact that it’s the outsiders who are coming in and being the movers and shakers. realize that a lot of people who have lived here all their lives probably would like to see it remain a sleepy little town." (MapQuest image)

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