‘Cool’ club 2011′s coolest mayor offers insight

By on March 6, 2013

By: MELISSA HUNNEFIELD Record Express Staff, Staff Writer

"Welcome to the club!" chimed John Manchester, mayor of Lewisburg, West Virginia, when he heard that Lititz had been voted the Coolest Small Town in America for 2013.

Lewisburg held the honor in 2011, and much like Lititz, this town of approximately 10,000 has a rich history. Let’s venture south, to the Allegheny Mountains.

"Lewisburg beckons to the traveler seeking something other than patented tourist attractions," claims the town’s website. "We are the 221-year-old town with many 18th and 19th-century buildings, where the steeple clock still tolls the hour and the church bells ring out on Sunday mornings. Old structures, converted to new purposes, are still in use, and antebellum homes — often remaining in the same families for generations — are still occupied. There is a comfortable relationship between past and present."

When Lewisburg was in the running for the honor of being "coolest," their biggest rival was Astoria, Oregon.

"It was really down the wire," Mayor Manchester said, "so we decided to do something about it."

To encourage last-minute voting, Lewisburg’s visitor’s center planned an all-night countdown party. When it became obvious that Lewisburg’s victory was ensured, the celebration spilled out into the streets.

It had been a hard winter in small town and snow had piled up. The contest provided a perfect way to redirect everyone’s focus.

"In the dead of winter it allowed people in this community to participate in an exciting contest," Manchester recalled. "It was just a helluva lot of fun."

Two other celebrations soon followed. Lewisburg held a contest to create a logo honoring the town’s victory. At the event where the winner was announced, a second party quickly escalated. The party rocked, for more than one reason.

"We had an earthquake during the party, if you can believe that," Manchester said.

Earthquakes are not a common occurrence in West Virginia.

"Yep, we pull out all the stops here in Lewisburg," Manchester joked.

The third celebration ensued when the folks from BudgetTravel.com visited Lewisburg to do a feature on the victory. They took pictures, interviewed locals and enjoyed red carpet treatment.

The 2011 victory certainly helped put Lewisburg on the map. Local businesses were able to add the "Coolest Small Town" tagline and logo to their marketing materials and the town purchased a billboard on Interstate 64 luring travelers to exit and visit.

"We had a real uptick in the economy, and many more visitors," Manchester said.

But the victory was not without its downside, Manchester noted with amusement.

"When you are proclaimed the Coolest Small Town in America, you’ll always have detractors," Manchester said. "Especially if their definition of ‘cool’ differs from yours. I heard people say, ‘If you’re the coolest small town in America, why don’t you open your pool a week early?’ or ‘If you guys are so cool, why don’t you give me $1,000?’ You can’t make this stuff up. Just wait. You’ll see."

To learn more about perpetually-cool Lewisburg, W.V., visit lewisburg-wv.com. More COOL, page A16