GAULEY BRIDGE — It might seem crazy to open a new dinning and music venue in an area of Fayette County that’s been hard-hit by waning coal jobs, outmigration of youth and economic depression.
But Steve and Vicki Thomas love their community and are of the mind that “If you build it, they will come.”
What they’ve built is a cultural center out of the Gauley Bridge High School band room and auditorium.
Buffet-style meals are served once a week, on Friday or Saturday nights, starting at 5 p.m. with live, local, world-class entertainment starting at 6 p.m.
The venue is meant to be family-friendly and casual, and many locals use it as a gathering place to socialize, which has been a happy surprise for Steven and Vicki.
“We find people will sit and socialize, go watch some of the show and them come back in here to eat dessert or talk some more. We keep the buffet open during the concert and people just relax and take their time,” she said.
The price — at $6 for dinner and $10 for the show — is meant to cover costs.
“I can’t sing, dance or play an instrument, but I like to listen to music,” explained Steve. “We just want to see opportunities for our community and create a venue for local musicians to perform their own songs.”
The Thomases used to manage menus and entertainment for Hawk’s Nest State Park, but this project is a labor of love.
The believe Gauley Bridge has the locale, natural beauty and history to draw visitors and be a gem of the Upper Kanawha Valley.
Many of the workers who died in the Hawks Nest Tunnel Disaster were from the town of Gauley Bridge, Steven noted. So far that history has gone untapped, but a local museum or interpretive tours could draw in visitors.
“Gauley Bridge used to draw people from Clay County and Summersville to go to the doctors or shop. Midland Trail was the main thoroughfare before the turnpike was upgraded and before U.S. 19. When you see a town that has gone down like Gauley Bridge, you want to do something to bring it back,” he explained. “The Upper Kanawha Valley has so much potential.”
He sees positive change in the town, including a young, passionate mayor in Jonathan Grose and a new business down town. His one frustration is that he’d like to see things move faster, he shared.
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The venue is part of a city-wide effort to utilize the former Gauley Bridge High School as a multi-purpose community center.
The building is owned by the city itself.
“I’m a firm believer these abandoned school buildings should go back to the community and be used by the community,” noted Steve.
Two rooms are utilized as a gym, one filled with free weights and another with cardio equipment.
Gym manager Jill Perdue said the facility opened for members of the community who needed local access to exercise equipment. About 25 people regularly use the facility. Memberships are $20 per person or $30 for a family.
Those with memberships have 24/7 access to the facility through a keyless door lock.
Free family-friendly movies are shown every other Tuesday in the auditorium, and Thomas said plans are also in the works to create a business center with computer, Internet, print and fax access for members of the community.
At the request of community members who attend concerts, the pair hopes to help the city develop a book club and pottery class using the school’s existing kiln.
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The following upcoming concerts are part of the dinner-concert series:
March 11 — A local favorite, Duffy Boyd and Friends will host an evening of traditional bluegrass.
March 17 — “An Evening of American Irish Songs and Yarns” performed by Mick Souter. Souter is one of West Virginia’s leading educational performing artists and has toured across the region for more than 25 years. Dinner will include traditional Irish fare, including Irish stew, cabbage and corned beef.
March 25 — Krista Hughes, former contestant on NBC’s “The Voice” will perform a selection of country hits and original music.
March 31 — Frank Conn and The Partners will perform classic country.
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