By Carol Vaughn
Americana, Victorian, friendly, railroad, hot rods — all were words Parksley residents used to describe their town during a Monday, March 2, brainstorming session that included around three dozen people.
The workshop at the Club Car Cafe kicked off a three-day visit by consultants charged with helping Parksley develop a brand that will tell its unique story to residents and visitors alike.
Aaron Arnett and Shawn Terpack, of Greenville, S. C., creative planning firm Arnett Muldrow, along with architect David Hill, spent hours looking around town and listening to its residents and business owners.
On Thursday, March 5, they reconvened at the town hall to unveil an initial concept for the Parksley brand — including logos, a color palette, marketing strategies, and a brand statement — a brief “elevator speech” defining the town.
“We want to create a unified message,” Arnett said, noting that a brand “is not just a logo. … The brand is the message.”
A first draft of the logo includes a stylized cow-catcher, representing the railroad, and the town’s name in gold and red, in a style reminiscent of the sign on the railroad depot.
Attendees at Thursday’s session wanted to see a change to the logo’s top element, which in the draft form represents an architectural feature from a former bank building on Dunne Avenue.
Some said the element looks too much like a city skyline; some suggested using the outline of the war memorial or a Victorian element instead.
The consultants will continue working on the logo and other aspects of the Parksley brand, taking into account input they received.
Brand development is part of what the town is getting after the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development in February awarded Parksley a $700,000 downtown revitalization grant.
Additionally, the grant will pay for facade improvements to 20 businesses; improvements to two signature downtown alleyways connecting Dunne Avenue to the new library area; and a bandshell and other improvements to the town square.
The downtown revitalization plan was prepared over the course of two years, using a planning grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and working in collaboration with the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission.
The plan was completed under direction of a project management team appointed by the Parksley Town Council.
Arnett also asked the group on Monday what single picture of the town they would use to represent the town on a postcard.
Responses included Jaxon’s Hardware, the vintage Coca-Cola sign, the Eastern Shore Railway Museum, the farmer’s market, the war memorial, and a Victorian house.
Another question was about what aspects of town they would pitch to a travel writer who wanted to write an article about Parksley.
Responses to that question included: the soda fountain at the cafe; 1800s buildings; the railway museum; the town park; and local businesses, such as Russell’s Formal and Bridal Shop.
The facts that the town was a planned community developed around the railroad, and that its streets are named for various women in the developer’s life, also were mentioned.
One person described Parksley as “the last Rockwellian town.”
Arnett also asked what residents would like to see in town that is not there now.
Responses included more restaurants, including fine dining; a grocery store; a bakery; and a hotel or other lodgings.
Accomack County Supervisor Paul Muhly spoke at both Monday’s and Thursday’s sessions about the importance of considering the new regional library and heritage center in the town’s brand development.
“One of the big things you are missing is the importance of the Eastern Shore Regional Library…It’s not just a regional library, it’s a historic heritage center, which will become a repository of, really, all family history records from the entire Eastern Shore,” he said.
Muhly also said the grain elevators on the south end of town are a defining feature of the town and highlight its agriculture industry.
Additionally, Muhly mentioned the likely development in coming years of a multiuse trail along the railroad right-of-way from Cape Charles north, which also would bring visitors to Parksley.
“The future looks, I think, really good for Parksley,” Muhly said.
Arnett said highlighting the library and heritage center as part of the town brand is among items on the consultants’ “punchlist” still to do.
They also will be looking at recommendations about the town’s business needs, including having a place in town for visitors to stay overnight, among others.
“It’s always fascinating to me, even as a designer after 20 years, being able to take three fonts and five colors, and come up with nearly a dozen different variations, in a couple of days, that really help show a community how it’s not just a logo — this is a system that’s easy enough, whether it’s the railway museum, whether it’s a merchant’s organization, or the hockey league, or the farmer’s market, to take these tools and really play around with them and come up with something wholly unique,” Arnett said.