Renaissance man

231641 Eddie Bumbaugh Portraits-1006In 1965, Harrisonburg, Va., for a small city, was a shopper’s paradise. The downtown featured large department stores, druggists, gift shops, jewelry stores, music shops, stationery stores, shoe stores, men’s clothing stores and dress shops, furniture stores, bookstores and three “five-and-dimes.” There were counters for lunching and movie theaters for entertainment — two of them, in fact. And much of the business done throughout the entire county was conducted in downtown Harrisonburg. It was a one-stop shopping venue.

All that changed in the 1970s when businesses began moving away from downtown. Many relocated to the newly-built Valley Mall, east of the city. It was part of a nationwide trend that hit Harrisonburg hard.

Leggett’s department store left. JC Penney left. The “five and dimes” and department stores closed or were repurposed. What had been a vital downtown began to see vacant store fronts and — of greatest concern — fewer people. The mall area was draining the life out of downtown.

Eddie Bumbaugh (’73) who had grown up in the area watched the decline. “My father owned a Buick dealership and I worked summers washing and reconditioning cars,” he says. He later earned his masters in social work at Virginia Commonwealth University, but home was always here in the valley.

In 2003, realizing not only the potential but the possibility of a revitalized downtown, Eddie and a group of citizens formed the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance. He became the executive director.

“When the city decided that Eddie Bumbaugh was the person to lead the revitalization of downtown, it was the wisest decision that could have been made. Eddie is the guiding light,” Glenda Rooney, city resident and former assistant to the provost of academic affairs at JMU, says. “Eddie’s unceasing energy and strong passion for revitalizing Harrisonburg is contagious….It could not have been done without his leadership.”

In well planned and strategic moves, Eddie and HDR worked step-by-step to resuscitate Harrisonburg’s downtown. In the decade that followed, they turned a dying downtown into a vibrant urban center.

One of the biggest differences between the Harrisonburg of the 1970s and today’s Harrisonburg is people — who live there, shop there and meet there once again. According to the Jan/Feb 2013 MainStreetNow magazine, the Journal of the National Trust Main Street Center, the city had 150 houses units in 2003; today that number exceeds 500.

“By having more people living downtown, we could create a strong base for retail,” Eddie told MainStreet Now, which featured Harrisonburg’s renewal as a case study for developing a vital urban downtown. (To read the entire article, including the case study, click on the embedded link above; the case study begins on page 8.)

Eddie’s leadership was critical. Lisa Ha (’04,’10M), assistant director of marketing at JMU and former program manager for HDR, says: “People know him for his genuine commitment to our community and for the unassuming way he has been been bringing people together for the common good of Harrisonburg for more than 30 years. Everybody knows Eddie.”

A decade after it began, HDR’s success is apparent. Today’s city has a thriving and attractive downtown where success has followed success. The Explore More Discovery Museum (another grassroots effort), the public library, the Quilt Museum, art and music venues, restaurants, microbreweries, and a successful community theater all drive the new life of downtown Harrisonburg, as do events like Taste of Downtown, cycling events, film series, MACRoCk, Valley Fourth and First Fridays.

Significant credit goes to Eddie Bumbaugh’s leadership, which is why we’ll soon add him to our Be the Change website. Eddie defines what it means to be an enlightened and engaged citizen. He has been an agent of change in Harrisonburg — which is no longer the city of the 1960s and 70s.

It is  so much better.

To learn more about the turnaround in Harrisonburg’s fortunes, read about Barry Kelley and Andrew Forward and their work to bring people back into the city.


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

6 Responses to Renaissance man

  1. grahammb says:

    You make an excellent point, Phil, and I know Eddie would heartily agree; it has been a community effort and many, many people have contributed their talents and time, but probably the most important contribution is the enthusiasm of so many who believed it was possible and worked to make it happen. And Eddie’s right — the best is yet to come.


  2. Good to know about this! I’m glad somebody’s taking the trouble to further improve downtown.


    • grahammb says:

      You’ll have to come visit! It’s really a fun downtown now. Lots to do and — my favorite — LOTS of good restaurants!


      • Is Jess’s Quick Lunch still there?


        • grahammb says:

          Sure is. And so is Kline’s!


          • Anonymous says:

            The revitalization of downtown Harrisonburg is an amazing story, and one that is still being written. Eddie Bumbaugh deserves a huge amount of credit for his vision and leadership. Also, additional credit goes to Brian Shull and the entire City Council; and many others. As a resident of the Main Street corridor from the mid 50’s through the late 60’s; it is exciting to visit the downtown area and see it thriving again. There is still work to be done. Please support Downtown Renaissance and keep the momentum going. Phil Updike, Realtor Kline May Realty


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