- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2004

ALDERSON, W.Va. — Businesses in this sleepy town on the Greenbrier River are capitalizing as fans and hordes of journalists wait for domestic maven Martha Stewart to start her prison term today.

The Federal Prison Camp Alderson, about a half-mile away from Alderson’s center, is nestled in tree-covered mountains overlooking the river. On a worn-down, green warehouse near the prison entrance gate, a sign says, “We love you Martha.”

The prison was not Stewart’s first or second choice as a place to serve her five-month term. She was convicted in March for lying to federal investigators about a stock sale she made in December 2001. That sale involved 3,928 shares of ImClone Systems Inc. just before the value of the stock plunged.

Still, business owners are excited about having the homemaking icon as their newest neighbor.

Betty Alderson, wife of the great-great-great-great-grandson of the town’s founder, is featuring a Martha Stewart display in her souvenir and clothing shop on Railroad Avenue.

Alderson’s, a fixture in the 1,100-person town like its two restaurants and one motel, is selling two custom-made T-shirts. One reads, “West Virginia Living. It’s a Good Thing.” The other says, “Alderson, West Virginia. A Good Place to Spend Time.”

Mrs. Alderson ordered the shirts after she heard last month that Stewart would be living at the minimum-security prison, dubbed “Camp Cupcake.”

“You don’t see this much customer traffic in six months to a year,” Mrs. Alderson said Wednesday afternoon as four customers milled about her shop. “I fretted how well these T-shirts would sell, but we seem to be getting a good response.”

Orders have been streaming in from Florida, California, Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana. She ordered four dozen more T-shirts, selling at $17 each.

Patricia Payne and her husband, Jim, traveled from Sarasota, Fla., to Alderson earlier this week to see where Stewart would live.

“It’s been a blast so far,” Mrs. Payne gushed after seeing the shirts.

Mrs. Payne, an avid subscriber of Stewart’s Good Living magazine, said she will try to visit the area during Stewart’s stay.

“I really hope everything goes well for her, and I’m glad [her stay] is not longer than it is,” said Mrs. Payne, a flight attendant.

A block down Railroad Avenue, which is on the Monroe County side of Alderson, restaurant owner Patty Massie said patrons have been pouring into Monroe Dining for the past two weeks.

She has had 20 percent more customers, but said she thrives on the new faces and faster-paced work.

“We’re pretty laid-back here, and I’ve really been enjoying seeing all the new people coming in here,” Mrs. Massie said.

She and other residents are hoping that the national media scrutiny will “put Alderson back on the map.”

Across the Greenbrier River, which divides the two counties that Alderson is in, Mrs. Massie’s husband, Kenny, runs the Big Wheel Family Restaurant.

“They are a little more busy over there,” Mrs. Massie said.

The Big Wheel was nearly empty Wednesday afternoon before the dinner rush. One waitress, who would not give her name, said the casual eatery had been swamped for the past few weeks.

“I guess it will die down when [Stewart] goes in” the prison today, she said.

Stewart must enter the prison by 2 p.m. today to start her term.

Prison security guards have blocked off all entrances to the prison and refused any interviews with employees. Glimpses from the railroad tracks that run parallel to the prison show brick dormitory-style buildings surrounded by chain fences.

The prison camp is no stranger to high-profile felons. It housed jazz singer Billie Holiday, World War II propagandists Tokyo Rose and Axis Sally, Charles Mason disciples Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sandra Good and would-be presidential assassin Sara Jane Moore.

The prison holds 1,055 inmates and has 172 full-time employees, said U.S. Bureau of Federal Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley.

Hotels in nearby towns in Greenbrier County were filling up ahead of what is expected to be a busy weekend for Lewisburg, just 17 miles north of Alderson, said Kimberly Cooper, executive director for the Greenbrier County Convention & Visitors Bureau, the marketing arm for the county that partially covers Alderson.

Lewisburg is expecting 7,000 to 8,000 visitors tomorrow for its Taste of Our Town festival, she said.

Outside the prison, dozens of media organizations parked their vans and cranes to catch a peek of Stewart when she surrenders.

Harold Massie, no relation to Patty Massie, rented out part of his 6-acre property bordering the main prison entrance to media crews for an undisclosed price.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” said his daughter, Stephanie, who has a trailer home on the property. She said she and her infant daughter, Kirsten, have been watching the media circus for a week and a half with mild amusement.

But some residents are ready for the Martha Stewart countdown to come to an end so their lives can return to normal.

“She shouldn’t get special attention,” said Alderson resident Misty Powell, outside the Big Wheel on Wednesday afternoon. “I have lived near the prison for almost four years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. The traffic — it’s just something we’re not used to.”

Other businesses turned away reporters, complaining of being overwhelmed.

“I’m burned out on reporters,” said the manager at the Alderson City Market Antique Shoppe on Cherry Avenue. He would not give his name.

But Tom Rousch, spokesman for Alderson’s revitalization program called the Alderson Main Street, was happy to put a positive spin on the town.

“People will see we’re a friendly town and not a bunch of hillbillies,” he said.

Patty Grafton and Vivian Pranulis, who share connecting shops on Railroad Avenue, put out encouraging signs for Stewart.

“See you in the spring, Martha, in the garden,” Ms. Grafton’s sign said alongside frog and garden ornaments at Wolf Creek Gallery. “I hope she survives her stay. I’m sure she will because she’s a survivor.”

Ms. Pranulis, who owns Wolf Creek Printery, said she hopes Stewart will visit the community after her term.

“Martha, thank you for the beauty you have brought to many lives,” her small sign read, propped up on a Martha Stewart Living cloth sack.

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