During the first half of the 20th century, the company store was the "big box" in coal communities throughout Appalachia, serving, Charles Owens of The Bluefield Daily Telegraph recalls, "as the core of the local social and economic life" of the then booming communities. "stocking just about everything miners, and their families, needed."
Ashland Company Store
But then the coal veins went dry, the boom went bust and the stores closed Today, Owens adds, many old company stores are still standing, but are "vacant and in a state of great disrepair."
Except in the town of Ashland, West Virginia where, thanks to funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission, HUD and private contributions, an old store is enjoying a brand new life,
Located on Route 17, the Ashland Company Store was built in 1943 to replace a store that burned down. The two-story, Ashland Company Store was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 and is owned by Travel Beautiful Appalachian, Inc., a non-profit founded by SAFE, Inc. - Stop Abusive Family Environment - to promote job and economic opportunities, particularly in McDowell and Wyoming counties..
And opportunity is precisely what was on display at the Store's grand opening in April. More than 50 vendors displayed both "modern day goods and arts and crafts," The Daily Telegraph reported, "everything from painted rocks to reproduced Ashland coal scrip" Just a short distance from the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System, the Store is expected to become a "popular stopping point" for visitors exploring coal country.
But the Ashland Company Store is more than just a store. It's also a place where budding entrepreneurs can launch their businesses. The West Virginia Department of Public Health recently approved establishment of a Kitchen Incubator to help local artisans and chefs develop and promote food products. The first person to use the incubator - Geneva Manes - has won numerous blue ribbons for her apple butter and blackberry jam at the West Virginia State Fair. ravel Beautiful Appalachian Inc. also is using the Store as a mini-museum, displaying artifacts that chronicle and celebrate the history of the area.
"Talk to almost any West Virginia family," said HUD Charleston's Pete Minter, "and you're sure to hear tales of the important role company stores played in their communities. "I still have vivid memories as a small child growing up in Ansted, West Virginia in the late 1950's of the variety of goods you could buy at the Gauley Mountain Coal Company Store," Minter recalls. We're very excited to be a part of TBA's Ashland Company Store project, not just because it opens a door to that past, but also will help the people of McDowell County compete in the future."
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