Posted: March 2, 2017 at 1:11 am

By Alison Kaiser, Morgan Krieger and Kristen Tuell

The success or failure of small local businesses in Morgantown, W.Va. seems to be largely determined by one simple factor: location.

Jeanne Hagen, owner of Pinocchio’s Books and Toys, said, “I think I’m in a really good spot and this is a block that people really want to be on.”

Pinocchio’s Books and Toys, located on 322 High Street is surrounded by retailers, something Hagen is very thankful for.

“If I was retail and then bar, bar, tattoo, lawyer, you know, it wouldn’t be as good,” Hagen said, “I love my location.”

Dr. John Deskins, associate professor of economics at West Virginia University, attributes small business success largely on something we have termed the “cluster effect.” This cluster effect, or similar businesses opening up near each other to gain more attraction, is evident throughout town.

“For some business types, there needs to be a cluster,” said Deskins.

Finding what location works for your business is determined by the drive of the entrepreneur and their willingness to endure failures in order to discover what works.

“Morgantown has developed a couple cool shopping centers,” said Deskins.

Higher-end boutiques that may have failed if they were located on High Street thrive in Suncrest Town Centre, he said. Deskins attributes the success and failure of High Street businesses on the volatility of a college town strip.

Morgantown’s different shopping districts all have different characteristics to which they attract the stores that are located there. Downtown Morgantown has a small-town vibe with primarily mom and pop stores. Suncrest Town Centre has earned itself a hip title with higher end stores, boutiques, and restaurants. University Town Centre would be characterized as more big box stores with Wal-Mart, Target, and Sam’s Club located there. However, Morgantown has not always been like this.

“Traditionally, the mom and pops were not downtown,” said Barbra Watkins, the Assistant Director at Mainstreet Morgantown.

Watkins reminisced on some of the chain stores located downtown, such as Hallmark and Montgomery Wards. “When the malls came to town, some of the larger chains started to leave downtown,” said Watkins, “that is when more of the mom and pops started to spring up downtown.”

Watkins attributes the mom and pop stores attraction to downtown with lower rent costs, smaller and more affordable square footage, and a lot of foot traffic from local neighborhoods.

It seems one of the largest consumer concerns when it comes to shopping in Downtown Morgantown is where to park. The large parking lots located at both the Suncrest Town Centre and University Town Centre seem more convenient than street parking downtown. However, Watkins says this is a misunderstanding. “People don’t realize that if you go to the town centers, you can’t park right in front, most of the time you have to park further out,” said Watkins, “Our two garages are just as close to shop in any of our businesses downtown.”

The quality of products and the one on one attention you receive from storeowners and employees within each local business seem to be the recurring reasons why one should shop local.

“If you want something special and you come downtown, there won’t be something cookie cutter,” said Watkins, “You’ll find that handmade purse or that toy that you’re not going to find anywhere else in Morgantown or the tristate area that we are in.”

You may just find “that toy” in Pinocchio’s Books and Toys.

“If a parent comes in, or grandparent, and says, ‘you know my child is getting really bored with this and that, can you think of other toys that will stimulate them?’” Hagen said, “I will go, ‘Oh you know I am just ordering some new puzzles and games, let me give you a call in a couple weeks when they come in.’”

This customer service is simply unrealistic in a big box store. Hagen said she loves interacting with the children, parents, grandparents and everyone else that pops into her store. Watkins says especially in Morgantown, once you begin talking with customers, you find connections through friends, family, and other customers. You receive a special treatment when you shopping locally.

The economic factor that is at stake when deciding to shop locally versus a big box store is extremely important to consider. Deskins explained where your money goes when shopping local versus in a big box store which is portrayed in the figure below.

Screen Shot 2017-02-13 at 10.21.32 AM

“Anytime we spend money there is a multiplier effect,”said Deskins. This multiplier effect is much more beneficial to the local economy when the money is spent locally.

Ash Keane, the General Manager at the Mountain People’s Co-Op located in Downtown Morgantown, is passionate about letting the community know the importance of shopping local. Although local businesses do not typically generate as much revenue as big box stores, all of the money goes right back into the community. At the Co-Op, goods such as honey, syrup, produce, and more are sourced from local companies, this allows the company to put millions back into the local economy.

The Co-Op is a little different than other local businesses. “The community owns the Co-Op,” said Keane, “once you buy a membership, you’re a member-owner.” What does this mean? As a member-owner, you have stock in the company, and you get a dividend back as profit is made. “Member-owners get a true voice in what we stock in here and how we operate,” said Keane.

Keane expressed the struggles that come with competing with large grocery chains in the region, but their solid group of customers always seem to have their back. Although many of their clientele is from the ‘70s, students are quickly joining. Why? “People are just more aware of what they’re putting in their body, how it impacts the earth, and how it impacts the local landscape,” said Keane.

The biggest challenge is teaching unaware individuals about the importance of shopping at their business over their big box competitors, especially with the rise of “green” and “all natural” foods in the grocery stores. What is labeled “green” or “all natural” in Kroger or Giant Eagle would probably not pass the Co-Op’s standards. The Co-Op does research on each company before bringing their products into the store. Whether or not products are ordered is based on the company’s socio-economic responsibility.

You may be eating food sourced from the Co-Op when dining at local restaurants. “We do a lot of whole sales to local restaurants – supply them with coffee, tofu, those things that they really prefer to get through us,” said Keane, “It helps us create more buying power and it helps facilitate getting a good product.”

Keane says they are always trying to lend a helping hand to new and local businesses. Within the storefront, you will find a bakery, their own coffee line, artisan creations, jewelry, woodcarvings, essential oils, and clothes, a lot of which is made my individual community members who they support on an individual basis. This hospitable way of business has been a labor of love since 1975. More than 40 years later, there is no end in sight.