BETHANY - A visitor to Bethany might half expect to see Andy Griffith, Aunt Bea or Barney Fife wave hello as they drive through town, gazing at its rolling hills, tree-lined streets and even a genuine, old-fashioned general store on Main Street.
With just a few hundred full-time residents when the local college is out of session, and operating on an annual budget that wouldn't even pay for a good fire truck, Mayor Jay Eisenhauer and Bethany leaders are working to capitalize on the town's best asset - its idyllic, Mayberry-esque atmosphere.
"Bethany's unique. We don't have a manufacturing base. We're a rural college community and we've got to take advantage of that," Eisenhauer said.
NEW WELCOME — Bethany Mayor Jay Eisenhauer stands with his 7-year-old grandson, Hunter Knisley, next to the town’s new welcome sign installed along state Route 88. -- Ian Hicks
With that goal in mind, the town has planned several outreach events in the coming weeks designed to show that, in Eisenhauer's words, "you don't have to live in Bethany to be part of the Bethany community."
Bethany will host the Brooke County Farmers' Market from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Saturday along Ross Street, which intersects Main Street just east of the local watering hole, the Bison Inn. It will return Aug. 31 during the same times at the same spot.
Local farmers and crafters will hawk their wares, providing an opportunity not only for commerce but also a social gathering.
And from 6-8 p.m. Saturday, the town is planning a "Potluck in the Park" inside the picnic shelter at the community park off Church Street.
Similar events could be in the works for September.
"It's twofold, really. It's to try to keep the Bethany community together ... but also to encourage people to come to Bethany and enjoy what we have to offer and the beautiful scenery," Eisenhauer said.
Planning such gatherings is just one of the ways in which town leaders are endeavoring to increase Bethany's visibility within the surrounding area, encourage more participation from Bethany College students and draw interest from surrounding Brooke County and beyond, Eisenhauer said.
Town leaders, recognizing the need for an Internet presence in today's world, recently enlisted the help of a student at the college in revamping its website.
The result has been a much more modern-looking site featuring, among other things, a photo slideshow, a video tour of the community and links to various ordinances, a zoning map, the town's comprehensive plan and WVBC, the college radio station.
Most recently, a large welcome sign was installed along state Route 88, made possible through a $3,800 state grant. And the town is working with Bethany College fine arts professor Kenn Morgan to dress up vacant storefront windows with sculptures, paintings and other artwork.
Despite its size, Eisenhauer said Bethany faces many of the same challenges typical of larger cities, including dilapidated buildings.
He said officials are working to encourage owners of such properties to improve them - and may even explore buying some of them, though Eisenhauer acknowledged resources are limited with an annual town budget of roughly $250,000.
"We're just trying to keep Bethany moving forward in a lot of areas," he said. "We're not looking for excuses why not to do things."