I live in a town called LaVale. It's a mountain town, nestled between the city of Cumberland (population 22,000), and down the hill from Frostburg (population 8,000). LaVale isn't actually a town - with a population of only about 4,500, it's called a "census-designated place" or CDP. Hmmmm, that doesn't sound so appealing. I think I'll continue to refer to it as a town, even though apparently it falls into the Cumberland-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area. Yuck - that's even worse.
Okay - so let's talk reality. LaVale is a suburb of Cumberland, plain and simple. The National Road (Rt. 40), or National Highway as it is referred to around here winds it's way out of Cumberland through a beautiful, scenic pass called "The Narrows", where sheer, towering rocky cliffs appear on one side of the road, shooting up from the river bed of Evitts Creek, and densely wooded steep hills are on the other side of the road. Hey, they don't call it The Narrows for nothing! Anyway, if you can manage to get through The Narrows, heading west along National Highway, which, incidentally isn't a highway at all, you will drive right through LaVale. Supposedly at one time in history, General Braddock marched troops right down this road, but that's history, and I'm no good at history, so we'll leave that to Wikipedia if you're so inclined.
Travel along this National Highway for a few miles, and drive right through this small
Scattered amidst these homes, you'll start to see some signs of life: there is a post office, a library, not one, but two fire stations, and some of the homes are actually businesses if you look closely enough. An art gallery here, a travel agency there, even a dentist or two. Keep traveling, and all the sudden the road opens up into a large, busy, business district. And here it is, folks, the highway stop. Here's where you find all the conveniences: fast food, hotels, grocery stores, Super WalMart, the mall, Lowe's. It's not long - a few blocks east-west, and a few blocks north-south and it's over. But it bustles. It draws business from both Cumberland and Frostburg, sustains the citizens of LaVale, and pulls many a weary traveler from 68 - the major highway that slices right through the mountains and exits right there in the heart of things.
So in a nutshell, that's our geography. We have the only movie theater for miles around, the only Walmart for many miles around, and as the population increases and the demographic continues to change, we're starting to see more and more franchised businesses appear, to the delight of some folks, and to the chagrin of others. Hey, this area's been long overdue for a Target, a Best Buy, an Outback Steakhouse. Apparently, they're still in negotiation, and they may wind up within the Cumberland boundaries. But for now, LaVale will have to be happy with the Kohl's that's opening this Fall. At least one step in the right direction!
I'm not entirely sure why this "Cumberland-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area" has dragged it's feet for so long in getting large retail businesses in here. Everyone from this area makes regular trips to places such as Johnstown and Uniontown, Pa, Morgantown, WV, Altoona, PA, Winchester, VA and Hagerstown, MD to do major shopping. Those towns, some of which aren't much larger than Cumberland have everything - all the modern "conveniences". And they're all about an hour to an hour and a half away. I'm sure the combined populations of the big three (Cumberland, LaVale and Frostburg) plus the surrounding/outlying areas could easily support many more businesses and retail franchises, but for many years, the city council had blocked development for whatever reason. Finally, though, I believe they're starting to see the light and are opening some doors for the hungry, corporate traders who would like nothing better than to dot our landscape with Olive Garden and Sam's Club and Barnes and Noble. I say bring it on! My wallet is waiting.....
Stay tuned for Part 2, and if I'm feeling particularly literate, part 3.