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Trimble's Craig wins state title in 800 run

Commissioners to seek other funding for JPG study
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As Jefferson County’s Commissioners pursue a strategic planning and marketing study to determine the economic potential of the abandoned airfield at Jefferson Proving Ground, there was indications this week that alternative funding may exist for that study.

The commissioners in May recommended using some of the county’s American Rescue Plan funds to pay for the study, but members of Jefferson County Council tabled the matter after cost was estimated at $500,000.

Commissioner David Bramer said at Thursday’s meeting, the commissioners now hope to request $300,000 from the Our Southern Indiana Regional Development Authority’s Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI) funds to help pay for the study. Bramer noted that even if the county receives funding from READI, there may be other funds needed from the county’s American Rescue Plan allocation to cover the remaining costs depending on the scale of the study.

Depending on how much the study encompasses, Bramer said the final cost could be $500,000 or less depending on the findings. He said the study was set up so that if a portion is deemed not feasible then that area will no longer be pursued. For example, if availability of air space is identified as an issue, then that would change the direction of the study away from the airfield.

“If we can’t get the air space, then we’re not going to look at the airfield. But, are there other things that we can use that’s there (at JPG)?” he said, adding there may be potential for wider uses of the rail resources or potential for trucking.

“We want to look at all the options we have,” he said.

In other business, the Commissioners:

• Approved a $14,860 contract to Teton Corporation of Madison for wallpaper removal and painting walls to complete a renovation project at the Jefferson County Health Department with funding coming from COVID administration fee reimbursement. Commissioner Bobby Little commended the work done so far on the renovation. “They have done a phenomenal job overall on the whole thing,” he said.

• Troy Morgan, the county’s Emergency Management Agency director, updated on guttering work that was done on the Jefferson County Public Safety Center building. Morgan said guttering has been replaced, “and with the amount of rain we’ve had the past few days it’s amazing how much better the back of building looks when the water is in the parking lot off to the side, rather than standing in the back ... The gutters are much, much better, and already handling the water much better.”

• Bramer said an introductory meeting was held last week with Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions Inc., which in May was awarded the contract to develop a stormwater management plan for Jefferson County.

• Little provided an update on progress being made on construction of the new Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Criminal Justice Center. He said expectations are that the roof will be completed in the next week.

Margie's Country Store
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When Margie’s Country Store closed for the final time last Saturday, it marked an end to 53 years of business — operated the last 51 by owner Margie Webb — at 721 West Main Street in downtown Madison.

But for Margie, it was time. “I’m 85 years old. How many people do you know still working at 85?” she said.

Webb had no expectations of still being in business after all this time. When she opened her store on Madison’s Main Street back in March of 1971, she was just looking for a place that allowed her space to grow her business and raise her family.

Webb had operated Margie’s Country Store for two years out of the front office at Auxier Gas Service in Hanover, but was told “the men couldn’t get to the counter to pay their bills and she needed to move.” With five sons at home, “I was running out of room, let me tell you,” she said.

The building at 721 West Main served both purposes. With living quarters upstairs and in the back of the building, Webb said there was “plenty of room for the whole family” as well as her gift shop business in the front and in the basement.

“It gave me a place” for the business, said Webb, and “a space for the boys. They could walk to everything, to the swimming pool, to the (Lide White) Boys Club” that was in downtown Madison at the time, and they were directly across the street from Lydia Middleton Elementary.

“They just had the run of downtown Madison,” Webb said.

The building, which had been the former Cisco’s Meat Market, had sat empty for 20 years after being purchased by Public Service Indiana. In 1964, it was donated to Historic Madison Inc. and when it was sold in November of 1970, it became one of first where HMI implemented new preservation procedures including a clause in the deed that insured the building’s exterior would always remain in original form.

The Cisco building, a late Italianate dating back to the 1850s, included an iron front made in one of Madison’s four iron foundries in the mid-1850s and one of the better iron fronts left untouched in the city according to an article in the Nov. 18, 1970 edition of The Madison Courier.

However, Webb said it a lot of work to prepare the building before they could move into it.

“It was a mess,” she said. “We had to wire it, plumb it, redecorate it, fix all the plaster cracks. Everything,” she said, adding there was much to clean up. “We would come out of here at the end of the day looking like coal miners. All you could see was pink around our eyes. The whole house was saturated with coal soot” because years ago “everybody burned coal. Soot was in the innards of the house.”

In March of 1971, Margie’s Country Store opened for business initially as only a gift shop, utilizing not just the ground level floor but the basement rooms with stone curved arches.

Eventually, quilting supplies were added to the business after Mills Department Store stopped handling fabric, Webb said. “There was no place to buy fabric in town except the dime stores, and that was polyester, so that’s when I started putting in the fabric.”

Webb said she had much to learn about quilting. She was somewhat familiar in that “I grew up sewing, and my grandmother made quilts. I knew some of it, but I learned as I went.”

Webb began attending trade shows to “buy and see what was out there” and began offering quilting classes — some around the dining room in her home behind the shop. “Anything I could think of that would cause my customers to become enthused. And usually if I was enthusiastic about something, they became that way too,” she said.

Eventually, Webb, herself, developed into an accomplished quilter. In the spring of 2016, there was a month long display at the Jefferson County History Center consisting of 102 quilts all created by Webb.

The City of Madison has evolved in the more than 50 years that Margie’s Country Store has been on Main Street. When it opened in the spring of 1971, Webb remembered the Dolly Madison gift shop in the downtown business district. “That was a good shop, but there weren’t a lot of those,” she said. One month after Margie’s Country Store’s Main Street opening, the former Vincent Grocery Store had been transformed into a gift shop and opened in April of 1971 as the Attic, now the Attic Coffee Mill Cafe.

Webb was also part of the group involved in the Trolley Barn when it opened in September of 1972 with several specialty shops each having a downtown Madison feel. “Every storefront in there is a duplicate of someplace downtown,” she said. Later, on the west side of Margie’s Country Store, a dress shop called M’Lady of Madison operated for several years at 723 West Main.

Webb noted the Trolley Barn sign on that building is made out of “one big long board” from a tree on her grandparents’ farm with the board being the width of the tree. She said her grandfather commented that Webb’s “children will never see a tree as big as that board, but they’ll see that board.”

When they were opening the Trolley Barn, Webb’s mother gave them the board to make the sign. Recently when Joe and Kathy Chandler purchased the Trolley Barn building and reopened it, the sign was restored. “It really means a lot to me that they did that,” Webb said.

Back when Margie’s Country Store opened in the 1970s, tourism wasn’t as much a part of Madison’s economy as it is now. But it was a time when big-box discount stores began leading to the decline of downtown business districts. Traditional retail businesses were becoming less prevalent in downtown Madison and there began to be more gift shops. Webb can’t say if her business played a role in sustaining Madison’s downtown economy but she hopes she did her part.

“I hope I did. I drew in a lot of tourist trade,” said Webb, the first woman to serve on the executive board of the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce. She’s pleased with the growth, diversity and vibrancy of Madison’s downtown businesses today. “They’re doing good things up on Main. I’m proud of them. And they’re getting better and better shops all the time.”

Webb said retirement is “bittersweet” because she will miss all the people she has got to see on a regular basis in the store. “All my friends that come in; that’s what I am going to miss the most. I didn’t have to go out and see the world. The world came to me, and that was nice.”

She will continue living in the building. It will no longer be a business but she will have plenty of space for her sewing ventures. “I can’t sell the business and can’t rent out the area because there’s no way to shut it off from my upstairs and my downstairs,” she said, adding she plans to turn the front room into a sewing room where she can better spread out the quilts when she makes them.

Webb said she’s ready to retire and so are her longtime employees — Barbara Lowrance, who worked there 41 years, and Sandy Noah, who has been there 36 years. “They want to retire and I can’t do it by myself, and I don’t have the strength to hire new help,” she said.

Margie’s Country Store has been good to Webb but she’s ready to step away from the business. “I loved it and I worked hard at it, but I’m weary” and the time is right. “There’s a season for everything.”

Public Arts Commission holds first meeting
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The Public Arts Commission established by Madison City Council last year, held its inaugural meeting on Wednesday with Madison Mayor Bob Courtney there to lead the organizational efforts.

The Commission currently includes Greg Goodknight, Kim Nyberg, Eric Phagan and Tracy Wyne with a fifth member to be appointed and Nyberg was elected as the group’s president.

“We are super excited about the Public Arts Commission and the work that you guys are about to do because it really is another evolution of Madison in embracing things that makes life spectacular for everybody that lives here, visits here and invests here,” Courtney told the group. “You’re about to embark on a journey that will take a lot of discussion and a lot of public input on what these guidelines ought to be, but it’s to help the community and to help the community grow in the right way.”

Courtney thanked the appointees for being “willing to serve in this capacity to do something that is pioneering.”

He said the goal of the Commission is to draft public art guidelines for presentation to City Council for approval. Once that’s in place, the commission will serve in an advisory capacity for the broader community. Courtney noted it’s an effort to “put some structure around it, and at the same time do it so it’s thoughtful for the community as a whole.”

Courtney thinks it will likely take the Commission at least a year to develop the guidelines in a project that cannot be rushed.

“Give it the time that it needs because it’s something that’s going to be guiding our community for the next quarter century and beyond,” he noted. “This is the pioneering level we are now to continue on the direction that we are on. We are on a path of the greatest renaissance that Madison has ever seen.”

He emphasized that art can be “an economic driver, it’s a quality of life thing, it drives tourism. There’s so many public benefits to having art spread throughout the community, not only on the display side of things but on the educational side.”

Tony Steinhardt III, the city’s director of economic development, will serve as city’s government’s liaison to the public arts commission. “Economic development is about attraction of people as much as it is about new employers,” Steinhardt said.

He said there are projects coming up in the next 12 to 18 months where public art will be incorporated — like the Sunrise Crossing retail and residential projects — as part of the agreement with the city. He said the US 421 gateway to Madison from Kentucky will also incorporate public art.

Nyberg noted Madison already has a great creative community so finding ways to allow those artists to express themselves while representing Madison will be key.

“The idea of Public Arts Commission is allowing our creatives to create, and allowing folks to express themselves and appeal to a wide group of people,” Nyberg said, noting the commission’s work will be to “set general guidelines that will be followed and serve not only the public — the visitors and residents — but also the creators. You don’t want to squelch anyone’s creativity” but to help it blossom and bloom with some structure.

“It’s not like you can’t, it’s like let’s figure out,” Nyberg said, adding they can work together toward creating the dialogue and resources to develop better projects.

Nyberg said that while attending the recent celebration of life for late local artist Lou Knoble she realized that the challenge for Madison is to never forget those artists from the city’s past, and “to stand on their shoulders. Madison is an amazing place. It’s always had public art. It’s always had artisans. The people who built these (historic) buildings were artists.”

“A lot of communities are trying to re-create the place, the authenticity of the place they live, and these communities investing hundreds and hundreds of millions to create downtown centers, and create places that Madison already has,”

Steinhardt said. “How do we enhance what we have, and how do we protect it? There is importance to that too. We have a huge foundation, both in people, and in our place.”

Nyberg said the commission’s work “a great assignment. We have a grand opportunity and we just have to share the love.”

VMI close to hiring new executive director
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Expectations are that Visit Madison Inc. will have a new executive director hired by later this month.

“We’re working hard to find an executive director. I think we’re in the final stages of that, so hopefully we will be able to announce that at our June meeting,” VMI President Lucy Dattilo told the board at its June 28 meeting.

Sarah Prasil, VMI’s executive marketing director, said there have been record collections from the county innkeepers so far through April, with $156,634.34 collected in the first four months for a 49.4% increase over last year when $104,860.98 was collected in the same period.

“Every month is beating last year,” Prasil said, noting a record $537,606.48 was collected overall for 2021.

“I think it’s showing on the street,” said Dattilo, adding that increased numbers of people can be seen visiting the community.

Hannah Fagen, a VMI board member who is also the city’s director of community relations, said the crowd that attended last Saturday’s Riverfront River Run Car Show and the Spring Old Court Days around the Jefferson County Courthouse “was amazing” and not only were there a lot of people participating in those activities, but “there were a lot of people on Main Street, where people were shopping and enjoying Madison.”

Nancy Crisp, another board member, said she’s noticed more people seeking reservations to stay locally on shorter notice and then requesting longer stays, which makes it challenging for the local innkeepers, but “it’s a great problem to have.”