Written by Tia “Fix” Rumbaugh.
When asked to write my thoughts on downtown Huntington, and where we’re headed into the New Year, I have to reference my childhood growing up in Ceredo – I was born in 1978, I’m 45 years old, so the late 80’s and 90’s were my quintessential Huntington experience.
I moved away to NYC for college and spent almost a decade there before coming back briefly in 2005 to see a vastly changed downtown Huntington – Pullman Square was up and running and new storefronts and experiences, like the Funny Bone comedy club, were in full swing, bringing celebrity laughs to my former sleepy town’s barren Super Block.
I thought it was cool. I loved comedy. Huntington seemed on the up and up and some of the excitement I had experienced in NYC, such as the movie “We Are Marshall” being filmed locally, added to the hope of a new vibrancy coming to the area.
On the contrary, flashing back to my growing up here, I saw business after business close their doors around the old downtown Plaza, zero new construction projects, or even remodeling seemed to take place, local peers who attended Marshall mostly complained about their frustration with faculty and a focus on sports over academics, the one downtown bookstore and coffee shop Renaissance, was almost always empty.
It was fairly depressing. There wasn’t a lot of hope. It’s one of the reasons I left the state, because I got lucky and could, I wasn’t stuck here. Staying felt like being stuck. This was 1995-1996. But, it’s amazing how much un-sticking can happen in a decade.
My 2005-2006 sojourn in Huntington included a beloved stint as a Jim’s Spaghetti waitress, I had my internet advertising branch office in the Arcade Building, and I lived and worked at my mom’s greenhouse Perennial Favorites in the West End, hustling flowers and vegetable plants all the while. It was a lot of work, but it was good work, and I was surrounded by good people.
Despite all the cool new things, old things were still falling apart. My marriage. The dream of raising a family. The Arcade Building was sold, my branch office closed.
But even when things fall apart, new things come in to fruition. I pivoted to an ESL teaching position in South Korea, the type of job I had never even dreamed existed, and only knew about thanks to Marshall’s English Department and the many brilliant students who had safely gone there and back again, sharing many a joyful tale and new praises of their college experience.
It was a life changing decision and after almost 4 years working overseas in South Korea, China, and Thailand, I returned to Huntington to see the Funny Bone was gone, as were many of the “new” storefronts of 2006, replaced by forever vintage movie set window dressings, new condo projects for downtown above all the old spots, great local food and clothing shops surging, and Create Huntington residents meeting at the Frederick to dream and build each week!
Only a few years had passed, but there was a buzz of excitement and passion to build something great in our small town. The possibilities and opportunity seemed endless. The community was transforming itself by coming together and lifting one another up with new ideas they’d gleaned from places near and far, and yes, thanks to Facebook. I compliment a lot of our coming together (and these days, our coming apart) to social media.
The growth didn’t stop at the storefronts. I now had beautiful children of my own and early education experiences to share from my journeys overseas. By 2013, I had built a small Montessori childcare business tailored for families, and I wasn’t the only one. The need for family friendly services and shops was evident and over the next decade places like The Pottery Place, Inner Geek and The North Arcade grew and developed around Pullman Square.
The Civic Arena’s plaza has been beautifully transformed for families to explore and play. Education centers, such as the Brad Smith School for Business and the Marshall Advanced Manufacturing Center along 4th Ave, and the Visual Arts Center at Pullman continue to provide arts and cultural opportunities, education, and federal funding for technical and manufacturing innovation.
Currently, the city is still working with the Department of Highways to secure the final roadway rights for a federally grant funded $10mm development of downtown’s sidewalks for safety, and reverse angle parking to increase the number of spaces available to customers, and additional improvements to outdoor spaces for public gatherings. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention, that thankfully, the comedy scene and Open to All community spirit are alive and well at Le Bistro, Cellar Door, and Black Sheep Burrito’s and Brews.
It’s incredible to think how much things have changed since the 80’s and 90’s, when the Super Block was king and dormant, and how vibrant and constant the new construction of the last 2 years has been and will continue to be as 4th Avenue and Hal Greer see incredible small and large business developments through 2026, thanks to investments and community partnerships heralded by Marshall University, President Brad Smith, and with neighbors, like Clint Artrip, who continue to invest and develop 3rd Avenue into a vibrant food scene with Calamity J’s and The Grill on 3rd.
In fact, there are so many multi-million-dollar construction and renovation projects slated for downtown by private and public entities that I wager anyone who hasn’t visited Huntington in the last decade or two won’t hardly recognize it by 2026. It is not the sleepy, disconnected, and empty downtown of my childhood of the 80s and 90s.
There are simply so many wonderful people living and working here making a positive difference in all of our lives, it’s difficult to name them all, though I wish I could. I’ve already exceeded my word count by several hundred. Editing is not my strongest suit. But what is strong, is my faith that the people of Huntington are what make this little city great, because we care, we take action, and we share ideas for innovation and improvement while lifting each other up to achieve these goals.
My children are now 10 and 11 years old, and our town’s transformation has waxed and waned over all of these years, but I see and want to honor all of you working towards building a city of Motherly Love into 2024, and that’s no joke.