Merrifield business group enters 2021 with new leadership

The Greater Merrifield Business Association's 2021 president Kevin Warhurst, past president Karen Hammond and immediate past president Billy Thompson pose by a display set up by Warhurst's company, Merrifield Garden Center. (Photo by Peggy James)

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The Greater Merrifield Business Association (GMBA) has a new president for the first time in seven years, and will bolster efforts to recruit members and support local companies, leaders said Feb. 10 at the organization’s annual “State of the GMBA Union” event.

Billy Thompson, GMBA’s immediate past president, told members at the online event that the organization is in good hands with its new president, Kevin Warhurst.

“GMBA couldn’t have a better leader than Kevin Warhurst to help our businesses grow and reap the benefits of this recovery,” said Thompson, who will stay on as a board member. “My time was up. We needed fresh blood.”

Warhurst returned the compliment, saying the organization owed Thompson a debt of gratitude for his leadership over many years. Warhurst also thanked Thompson and past president Karen Hammond for approaching him about the leadership post last December.

“It was important for me to want to get back in and serve,” said Warhurst, who also served as the group’s president many years ago.

GMBA’s first challenge when moving ahead will be boosting its membership by offering people incentives and showing them the advantages of joining, Warhurst said.

Warhurst also plans to work with Supervisor Dalia Palchik (D-Providence) to promote GMBA’s member businesses.

Merrifield is poised for great things, Warhurst said, citing planned developments at Fairview Park and the Inova Center for Personalized Health.

“We’re looking forward to brighter days ahead,” he said.

Warhurst graduated from George C. Marshall High School in 1985 and four years later earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and government from Virginia Tech. He was deputy press secretary to former U.S. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) from 1990 to 1993 and subsequently has worked for Merrifield Garden Center Corp., where he now is vice president. His father co-founded the business in 1971.

Merrifield once consisted merely of industrial parks and fast-food eateries, including a since-demolished Taco Bell that was the world’s busiest, but now the area has been transformed by mixed-use developments in the Mosaic District and around the Dunn Loring Metro station.

“We are excited with how Merrifield looks today and thrilled with promises of the future,” said Thompson, adding that GMBA’s role is to serve as the link between the community and its businesses. “We feel a responsibility to help this community get the best of everything available to them.”

Thompson cited some of GMBA’s activities in recent years, such as expanding its board, hosting interesting speakers for lunch, developing a partner-sponsor program to enhance visibility for local companies and stressing the importance of shopping at Merrifield stores.

The organization also introduced a more dynamic Website that gave members free marketing opportunities, improved its newsletter, supported land owners and residents in development cases before the government and – until the pandemic forced cancellations last year – held annual fall festivals and holiday luncheon/auction events, Thompson said.

Seeking to grow and reach more people, the organization hired Peggy James as its executive director.

“You have been awesome to work with,” Thompson told James. “I can’t say enough about your patience in dealing with the difficulties, heartbreaks and hardships of so many people last year. You have so many talents and now I can see why you’re everybody’s best friend.”

GMBA began in 1984 when its founders organized against a proposed bus depot and transfer station in central Merrifield.

“It was a perfect example of community involvement to effectuate positive change,” Warhurst said.

Fifteen years later, Merrifield’s transformation speeded up. A task force met twice per month for three years to lay the groundwork for what became the Mosaic District, which has proved highly successful, he said.

When government officials were planning improvements at the wide, heavily trafficked intersection of Lee Highway and Gallows Road, GMBA opposed proposals to separate the roadways’ grades, which would have allowed motorists to drive through Merrifield quickly and skip its businesses, Warhurst said.

“While Merrifield may have changed a lot over these last 20 years, the same heart and soul of the Merrifield community remains today and I think it’s stronger than ever,” he said.

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