I imagine that you were just as disgusted as I was at the story in Wednesday's newspaper about the two different groups of downtown merchants, whose feuding means that the city will probably miss out on a state revitalization grant.
I have no idea whose fault the situation is, or who's been difficult to work with, or who did what first and who responded.
All I know -- and, at this point, all I care about -- is that we have two squabbling groups of downtown merchants. That sends the wrong message to the state, and it means that neither group is going to be effective in its goals.
The representatives of the two competing factions have each done a lot for the downtown area. But this is a case where the need for unity outweighs any one individual's vision, and it outweighs anyone's need to pat himself on the back and feel self-justified.
If the downtown merchants can't agree, that's ultimately going to hurt everyone's events, everyone's business, everyone's chances for keeping our downtown active and viable.
Bedford County is in a serious bind right now in regards to its jail and will be meeting with state officials in December to discuss the situation. Merchants have claimed in the past that they would be devastated if the county moved judicial functions away from the square, but if the county ends up forced to build a new jail, depending on the situation, one possibility is that it would build a jail and justice center, as other communities have done, in order to deal with courthouse security issues and minimize the need to transport inmates.
If that happens, it will become even more important for merchants to actively promote the square, find alternative uses for empty space, and insist that the county preserve the courthouse as a historic site. Now is not the time for downtown merchants to be concerned with petty jealousies, finger-pointing and ridiculous disagreements.
A couple of weeks ago, I was visited by some out-of-state friends who were on their way to a missions camp and who spent the night at a local bed-and-breakfast. I was proud to show them our square and to suggest one of our local restaurants for supper that night. I pointed out my name on the bicentennial monument, and I showed them the veterans' memorial.
Our square has a lot to offer, and even more unrealized potential, but unless merchants can get their act together and speak with one voice, the prospects may be dim.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.