Oscar Robles was traveling with a friend from Virginia to Seattle, Washington in 1999 when a tire on his car went flat in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.
The then Mayor of the Town of Bath — Susan Webster — helped Robles out with the flat tire and convinced him to move to the town and open a restaurant.
Now, sixteen years later, Robles owns and operates one of the more popular restaurants in town — Mi Ranchito.
And he’s president of the Bath Development Authority — an organization he helped start to promote all things Town of Bath and Berkeley Springs.
He would transform the town’s train depot — which is owned by the town — into a welcome center.
“Put in a big map showing what we have in town,” Robles told This Week in Morgan County. “You can take a break in the welcome center and then walk right into the town.”
What’s wrong with that idea?
“I don’t want to say names, but there is another group who doesn’t think that would be a good idea,” Robles said. “For them, the town is perfect the way it is now. I’ll be very straight with you. The town is not right the way it is now.”
Robles says that the town needs to create at least 20 to 50 new jobs.
What businesses would he like to attract to the town?
He would promote tourism — more spas, more massage rooms — “places where people would come to relax, places where people can come in to disconnect from the big routine.”
“They don’t want to hear noise,” Robles said. “They want to come in to a quiet town.”
Robles says that Berkeley Springs has to be seen as a resort town where people can come seven days a week — not just on the weekend.
“When you call some places, they tell you that you need to schedule an appointment for a Thursday or a Friday,” Robles said.
Mi Ranchito is opened six days a week. He takes Tuesday off.
“I closed one day to be with my boys,” he says.
Robles says that Berkeley Springs suffered the double whammy of the closing of Coolfont in 2006 and the Wall Street meltdown in 2008.
Robles says that those two events cut business by about half. Only now is the economy starting to come back a bit.
Robles says that the Bath Development Authority is looking to take out billboards on the local interstates — 70 and 68. On those billboards, he wants to send the message that Berkeley Springs is open seven days a week.
Robles estimates that as many as 1.5 million vehicles pass through Berkeley Springs every year and that only one or two percent stop in. He would like to boost the number to five percent.