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From H. John Rogers

By Staff | May 5, 2009

One of the great questions in economics (PACE former W.Va. Justice Richard Neely) is the conflict between protectionism and the free trade. For example, here in the Upper Ohio Valley a long campaign has been waged to curtail the import of Japanese steel in an effort to preserve Weirton Steel. This campaign has helped with local boosterism, but, as far as I can tell, has had little practical success.

To its credit, the New Martinsville Chamber of Commerce has entered this historic fray. Some weeks ago, the local Chamber mounted a massive “buy local” campaign via billboards, television, and radio ads.

However, when the Chamber’s annual banquet came around this year, the Chamber acted like a robber baron (or, at least, like Hillary Clinton denouncing NAFTA during the Ohio Democratic primary). They put the provender out for bid!

It is, of course, in the best capitalistic tradition to go for the lowest bid, which is what the Chamber did here. But, in doing so, the New Martinsville Chamber crossed the Mason-Dixon line (literally) and hired a part-time caterer from an adjacent county, bypassing New Martinsville’s venerable (est. 1941) Court Restaurant.

The Court is a seven-day-a-week restaurant with a 60-item dinner bar, plus separate salad and dessert tables. It has catered events for industrial installations, PPG and Miles, educational institutions, and every politician (including Governor Manchin) passing through town.

In 1976, the Court handled a chicken dinner at the town park for any resident who showed up at a Rockefeller political rally.

This contretemps has quietly divided the local community. The Court and its partisans feel somewhat like they would feel about someone who set in the cheering section of an opposite sports team.

The Chamber seems to believe that they have done nothing amiss: “Adam Smith would applaud our decision.” Well, maybe, but in the middle of a program urging people to patronize local merchants? It is a little as if a segment of a town which has spent the last year boosting Bill Stewart started a petition drive to return Rich Rodriguez as WVU football coach.

Disinterested people might shake their heads at this, too.

H. John Rogers

New Martinsville