Lewis County’s Economy: Ups and Downs Throughout the Years

© 2018-The Weston Democrat

The economy of Lewis County has changed drastically over the years, going from being a major
glass industry center to not having several factories in operation today. Additionally, it went from having a bustling Main Avenue in Weston, to only having a few shops open.
Looking back at past issues of The Weston Democrat, it becomes evidenced that some people blamed it on the installation of a major box store in Lewis County. Others blamed politicians.
In this article, The Weston Democrat explores the changes in businesses, when some businesses opened and closed that had an substantial impact on the community over the last 150-plus years. The Weston Democrat celebrates the 150th anniversary of the newspaper, and it is said to be the oldest known business in Lewis County, that is still in operation today.
Louie Wohinc and E. Hager took over the property of the Crescent Glass Factory, located one mile south of Weston. The Crescent Glass Plant was the original glass plant located in Weston. The first piece of glass manufactured in Weston occurred on Oct. 12, 1903.
With the addition of this plant, Weston’s glass industry would later grow to six operating glass plants. The plants brought in approximately $500,000
annually, in payroll alone.
Buyers came from across the country to seek glass, from these coveted factories, which in turn helped the other industries in Lewis County, including restaurants, shops and hotels.
Wohinc and Hager worked together in Europe before traveling to America, where they started working at the Bastow Glass Factory.
In 1920, Wohinc took charge of the Weston Glass Company, then in 1926, Louie Glass Company was formed and located, to the east of Weston. Two years later, Wohinc took over the Weston Glass Company, as well, and with everything he acquired, the factories and the shop, a total of 1,200 people were employed.
On July 26, 1990, William and Gail Hogan purchased Mason Glassware in Jane Lew. Hogan was the plant manager for several years prior to the purchase. The plant was used to custom decorate glassware.
On June 28, 1993, Hogan began making stemware and giftware at the new company of Masterpiece Crystal, employing blowers, gatherers and finishers, all from Lewis County. The business is still in operation today, but unlike other glass businesses in the county, it is an operation that is not open to the public.
In 2003, Glass Works, located on Route 33 where Shentel and XChem is located today, stopped production due to never recouping after filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001. The business sold clear, thin-walled, mouth-blown glass.
In April of 2004, Capredoni LLC purchased Glass Works.
Throughout the course of time, glass factories closed for a variety of reasons. Today, the area still has four
local businesses who are preserving the culture of the glass industry. In addition to Masterpiece Crystal, they include the Museum of American Glass in West Virginia (MAGWV), Appalachian Glass and West Virginia American Art Glass.
Over the years, downtown Weston went from nothing but a few trees and shops, to a bustling Main Avenue, with shops lining the street.
“Over the past several years, retail stores have experienced a significant decline due to the increased availability of online shopping,” said Executive Director of the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce Sherry Rogers.
“The hospitality industry has also seen a change in conferencing with the increase of webinars. These changes cannot help but impact our local economy.”
Bennett’s, a family furniture retailer
established in 1957, was purchased from Vesta and George Connell that year. The business was attained by Homer Bennett, who worked for the Connell’s and before that, the Fulks brothers.
Today, Larry and his son Brian Bennett run the company, and have seen Weston and Lewis County change throughout the course of the years.
“It seems like lately, we have had more businesses leaving than coming in,” he said. “In the past, a few businesses would leave, but more would soon claim their space. It is taking longer now to establish something in the vacant buildings.
“Our town is no different than any other small town. We have no retailers in the downtown area. It is mostly small shops, barber shops, banks and locally-owned restaurants,” he continued.
In 1990, Walmart purchased land on Berlin Road to build a store in Lewis County. The store came into operation in 1991 and a few years later, the trend of businesses being closed became somewhat more apparent.
On Jan. 25, of 1992, J.C. Penney closed its doors, due to the store not meeting company expectations for sales and profit for several years. The store, located on Main Avenue in Weston, was in operation for 64 years before closing its doors.
Less than six months later, Sears
Roebuck Catalog Agency, located in Henderson’s Card and Gift Shop in downtown Weston, closed as well. Bill Henderson, the owner of Henderson’s, received a letter from Sears stating that the business was not renewing any catalog agencies. This was the only Sears Catalog Agency in West Virginia.
This made the third closure of a catalog store in the time’s recent history, including Montgomery Ward, which closed a few years prior to the other two catalog stores.
On April 12, 1993, Market Place Plaza was purchased by O. V. Smith and Sons, a 33.58-acre purchase, which cost $1.46 million. When purchased, the shopping center had 11 vacant store fronts. Ames and Rax were the last two stores to leave the center before the buyout.
In August of 1993, Kroger announced moving from their Arnold Street location to Market Place Plaza. Kroger began renovations of the Former Giant Eagle building in April of 1994, for their move to Market Place Plaza.
In January of 1994, CB&T Bank changed identities to Huntington Bank. The same year, Quality Farm and Fleet announced that it would join Market Place Plaza’s list of stores, although Quality is no longer in business, today the building has been the home of Tractor Supply since 2003.
In January of 1995, a seven-week strike at the Grief Brothers Box Factory, resulted in the closing of its doors officially on Jan. 6, of that year. The strike began in November of 1994, after the company severed negotiations with the employees over their contracts.
In 1996, a variety of business changes occurred in Lewis County, including buyouts, closures and openings. In April, a telemarketing firm announced its opening in October. Pat Boyle purchased Floyd and Boyle
Funderal Homes located in Weston (which he did renovations to and added additions later on).
A.A. Tucci, after 86 years in business on West Second Street, closed as the second oldest business in Lewis County at the time, the first being Ralston’s Drug Store. Tucci’s was built from bricks from the former Weston Brick Factory.
Tucci’s was a dry grocery store, but also sold beer and kegs. In 1933, after Prohibition was lifted, Tucci’s installed a beer garden, then later a fruit stand and ice cream stand. In March of 1997, G.C. Murphy’s closed its doors.
Lewis County also attained two new business that same year that are still open today, Dollar General and Lambert’s Winery. Dollar General opened on March 6, 1997, however, their first location is not where there are today, beside the Summit Center on Arnold Street.
The first Dollar General was located along Route 33, where the current Smoker Friendly is housed today. Prior to being a Dollar General, the location was the home of the Super 10 store.
Lambert’s Winery, opened by Jim and Debra Lambert, started off with a hardship, with a 3,000-grape vine loss, due to a cold front. However, the Lambert’s surpassed this set back and made wine out of grapes and are still up and running 20 years later.
One major impact on Lewis County’s economy in 1998, was the closure of the Colonial Restaurant after the death of the owner, Ted Floyd. The Colonial was in business over 40 years.
A significant impact that hit Weston economically was the closure of the IGA store. Patrons of the store noticed shelved items depleting and not being restocked, according to reports in a past edition of The Weston Democrat.
The store served the community of downtown Weston and especially those who lived at Criss Manor and could walk across the street for their groceries.
For a few years, Lewis County’s economy remained stagnant, with few businesses closing or opening.
However, at the end of 2002, things changed. Ralston’s Drug Store was sold at the end of 2002 to Revco, which later became CVS Pharmacy.
Following this in 2003, Tele-Response, now iPacesetters, laid off 100 employees, however, 10 employees returned to those jobs in February of the same year. The Farmers Market along Route 33, closed on March 31 that year because of the owners of the building terminating the group’s lease.
In September, 2003, Paxar bought out the Alkahn label factory, which meant employees would be keeping their jobs. However, Paxar closed a few years later in 2007, leaving many citizens jobless.
In October of 2003, a strike at Kroger began over employee health care benefits decreasing, which affected approximately 55 local employees. The strike lasted approximately two months and ended that December, after company employees voted on what to do about the issue.
In 2004, the former Board of Education building was sold, then later, turned into a billiard hall with pool tables for a short period of time. The Board of Education moved into the former Weston Central School, shortly after the school was vacated of students, who moved to Peterson Central Elementary School.
Also in 2004, the Louis Bennett Jr. Airfield was reopened at Jackson’s Mill. The airfield closed after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, due to safety precautions.
Stonewall Resort also got two new attractions that year, the Golf Pro Shop and Lightburn’s restaurant, located just past the main lodge on the resort property.
Domino’s also relocated during that year, taking the place of the former Donut Connection on Route 33. Prior to this move, the pizza place was in Garton Plaza, where Fast and Friendly Pharmacy is now located.
In 2007, the former State Hospital was sold to Joseph Jordan, an abatement and demolition contractor from Morgantown. With the sale, the hand-cut stone structure has become a boost to the economic growth in the community. With a wide variety of activities, tourists come from near and far to what is now called the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (TALA).
The Jordan family created a haunted house annually for the Halloween crown inside the asylum, however, from Spring to Autumn, the Jordan’s run a variety of tours throughout the grounds of the Asylum and are working to restore the Asylum section by section to TALA back in time to restore its former beauty.
In addition to TALA events, this year the third-annual Almost Heaven BBQ Bash was held on the grounds which left Lewis County positively impacted, with hotels booked to capacity the week of the event.
In addition to TALA’s sale, in 2007, the oil and gas industry surged in Jane Lew with the start of large companies impacting the area, including Dominion and Chesapeake, and with this came other business building in Jane Lew, including Mountain State Log Homes and Tamarack.
The Plantation Inn was sold and renamed Plantation Inn and Suites. Then, in 2015, the hotel was sold again to become Days Inn and is still operational today.
In 2008, Weston garnered some new business, including the construction of a new shopping center, Stonewall Junction Plaza, which at the time only contained three businesses, BFS convenient store, Burger King and Holiday Inn Express.
In 2009, Ballard’s Chevrolet, Buick and Pontiac Dealership closed its doors after serving the community since 1927, a total of 82 years.
Then in 2010, oil and gas continued to dominate the economy. While the rest of industry dwindled, these companies thrived.
In 2012, private investors purchased property near Jane Lew Industrial Park to develop the land and expand businesses and the oil and gas industry.
Over the last few years, the oil and gas industry has taken a downward turn and has left the economy stagnant in Lewis County.
However, officials are hopeful that with the building of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which will run through Lewis County and have a compressor station in Kincheloe, the economy will revitalize and rejuvenate.

© 2018-The Weston Democrat


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