Posted: December 9, 2013 at 6:11 pm

By Joshua Cooper, Hayley Clover and Allyson Parrish

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — If you walk in downtown Morgantown, you will see local store after local store, but corporate restaurants are coming.

Concerned that Panera Bread and Sheetz will squeeze out local businesses, Mountain People’s Market Co-op has started a petition to give local businesses priority in property development decisions in Morgantown’s Downtown District.

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Mountain People’s Co-Op, where people can buy any organic foods and other products.

Their website says that businesses such as Sheetz, Starbucks, CVS, and Panera Bread have little interest in reinvesting in the community and that Morgantown’s city government does not understand the spirit of local entrepreneurship.

Josh Lohnes, development coordinator of  Mountain People’s Co-Op is concerned that the University is taking over their property. Also, he feels as if the community doesn’t have enough room to grow.

“What’s going on if our local businesses can’t even try and get opportunity for growth, then something needs to be addressed,” Lohnes said.

So far, the petition has more than 900 signatures and counting. Last Thursday, on November 14th, the planning commission brought it up to City Council and they have also spoken with Mayor about the petition.

With that, businesses like his are struggling and are trying to find new ways to keep themselves going. Lohnes says that they were first trying to move to a former car dealership because there was parking. Then they thought they were going to Sheetz. Now, they are looking at having satellite stores around downtown.

“We want to become a food hub, aggregating and distributing food from farmers and passing that back out to other food businesses in town,” said Lohnes.

Businesses like Mountain People’s Co-Op are coming together to make sure that their businesses stay afloat as these corporations move Downtown. Christopher Belt, the owner of Jay’s Daily Grind says that it is great to see that these businesses are coming together and talking to each other.

“It’s good that our local companies are coming together, not necessarily opposing these corporations,” said Belt, “but just talking with each other discussing ways to make this town better, enhance their businesses, and enhance their relationships with each other because we’re all in this together, we’re all trying to do the same thing. I think it’s a good thing that it’s just sparked conversation and communication between the businesses.”

 

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Another one of Morgantown’s local businesses where people can sit down with friends, relax, and have a good bite to eat.

But Belt says that the one thing that Jay’s Daily Grind has that Panera Bread doesn’t is that Jay’s is a part of the community. Jay’s wants their environment to be a place where everyone knows each other and people can come together and talk.

“They can come in, they can relax. They know they can talk about the football game, who won the basketball game over the weekend, or what this hockey team is going to look like. It’s just know that we are not just here to give you a service, take your money, we’re a part of the community.”

Not only is the Daily Grind sending that same sort of message, the people of Morgantown are having the same feelings. One person who signed the petition and shops at Mountain People’s Co-Op, Tia DeShong, is a first-year grad student. She says that places such as the Daily Grind is the place to go.

“It comes down to, I would rather buy my produce, I would rather go to restaurants, I would rather go to pharmacies that are local.” said DeShong. “They care about their workers, they care about the townspeople, the learn their name. They’re invested in the communities, so they want the communities to do well. Corporate Panera could not care less whether or not Morgantown succeeds, but Jay’s Daily Grind and other businesses do. I always try to frequent local businesses at all costs.”

Melanie Cook has been coming to Jay’s Daily Grind since it opened. It is a place that she has always brought her friends to and she would never go to any other place like Panera Bread.

“I like the environment. I like the personalization of it. My girlfriends come here all time time. It’s our favorite place,” said Cook.

She also will be a supporter of small businesses going forward.

“I think we’re overdeveloped in Morgantown,” she said. “That’s why we’re going to support small businesses like this. I have no interest in supporting Panera.”