by Sheree Henderson
Very few weekends in West Virginia during February offer an opportunity for good traveling weather. This past weekend, the first of the month, proved to be the exception. So my first thought was…road trip for my new series with Beckley Online!
The relatively warm temperatures and some great suggestions of places to go harkened to me to hit the open road. With my son and mom in tow, we headed for a visit with our neighbors to the east in beautiful Greenbrier County. While Lewisburg gets all the love from the tourism industry (and deservedly, it is an awesome little town and one I love to visit as well) I decided to explore and highlight the hidden gems in the western parts of the county in the fair little town of Rainelle. Accordingly, here is my “insider look” at where to go, places to see and things to do if you find yourself out and about in western Greenbrier County.
First and foremost, no good review of an area is of much use if you don’t know where it is, how to get there or what to expect as far as cost for your trip. So, my first order of business is to give you the full scoop on all of the above. I have developed a rating system I will use throughout my articles to help you, dear reader, decide where, when and how you will go. My starting point for all my trips is our little Beckley Online office tucked nicely on Main Street, as it is the epicenter of our virtual world and a good spring board for where to start. For this particular trip, you can expect the following:
Distance: Sunday Drive-Worthy (meaning 25-50 miles one way from our office)
My route: I-64 east bound to exit 156, Sam Black Church (Rt. 60), then west toward Rupert/Rainelle (alternative routes include Rt. 20, exit 143 on I-64)
Price range for what we did: Chinese Take Out Range (meaning $10-15/person with drinks and dessert)
Now that you know how to get there and what to expect as far as price, let’s get to the important stuff – where to go and what to do. The drive down I-64 is part of the allure of this particular trip, as it offers some of the nicest views of southern West Virginia’s mountains and rivers as you drop over Sandstone Mountain and weave your way along the interstate heading toward the Virginia border. The exit at Sam Black Church offers a couple of convenience stores, which I recommend you stop at if you need to use the facilities or want a quick snack or drink. There aren’t any others to stop at until you get into Rainelle.
As you wind your way down Rt. 60, also known as the scenic Midland Trail, you will pass some old little towns along the way, including the town of Rupert. No longer quite in their heydays, these areas are rich in history and tell a story in their own right of a time when Rt. 60 was one of the main routes to travel, prior to the interstate system. It winds along the river, which on this particular weekend was still frozen in many spots, despite the milder temperatures we enjoyed on that Saturday. A few little shops and flea market type places dot the highway here and there, but most weren’t open on this particular day.
The speed limit changes as you arrive in Rainelle proper, and you are transported back to one of the old time Main Streets, with much of the architecture dating back to the 1930′s and 1940′s. My first stop was an inviting little store front called Marie’s Fabric and Crafts. Chatting with the store clerk, she informed me the shop had been in operation by the current owner since 2001, but had been in the town under previous ownership since the early 1980′s. For a small town dealing with a depressed local economy, a business that has stayed in business for that long certainly deserves some attention. I wondered the many isles of fabrics, crafting supplies, primitive décor and all sorts of sewing and knitting notions and was put in mind of the old Ben Franklin store that I used to go to when I was growing up, but that has long since closed down.
The prices at Marie’s were quite reasonable and the selection, for a small town shop, was impressive. I highly recommend if you are into crafting, sewing or just like the primitive look for your home you check them out. I picked up a few items (because part of the point of our series is not only to highlight local businesses, but also do our part to support them when possible) and was informed by the clerk that our planned destination for lunch, The Carriage House Café (recommended by one of our readers and faces around Rainelle, Sandra Ellard), was actually closed on weekends. This is a good time to point out to you, potential traveler, that it is always smart to call ahead if you are heading out to an unknown business, to find out their hours of operation, lest you make a trip for nothing. However, I am a resourceful kind of gal and usually have a plan B (and sometimes even a plan C), so I quickly asked the clerk to recommend somewhere else in town to eat, aside from the assorted fast food offerings that can be found there. She suggested a local spot that we had passed on our way into town, called J&S Restaurant and Catering. Thus, our lunch dilemma was solved and we could get back to our explorations prior to going out to eat.
The main drag through town has a scattering of furniture, thrift and oddity stores that I am sure are well worth exploring. On this occasion however, I decided to visit the Veteran’s Memorial Park, which is almost in the center of town and just up the street from Marie’s, right beside the VFW post. It is a small park, but very tastefully and respectfully done, with a couple of nice benches to sit on as you admire the display of flags. I highly recommend if you are in town on a nice day, taking a moment or two to sit and soak in the history of service and sacrifice the park symbolizes and remember to thank your Veterans if you see any entering or leaving the VFW. None were out and about on this particular day, but it was still humbling to be at the park.
Following the park, we headed further down the main strip and stopped briefly by the newly restored Chessie System train car, just across the street from the local Rite Aid. A bright yellow coat of paint certainly catches the eye and offers a nice photo op and up close view of one of the train cars seen throughout so much of southern West Virginia. Since my son, who loves the outdoors, was with me, we also made a quick stop in Park Center Sporting Goods, a local sporting goods supply store located in the Kroger shopping plaza. The store appears small from the outside, but offers a very impressive inventory of all things hunting and fishing related. Any sportsman from the area can certainly attest that it is a “must-stop” for supplies and gear. Unfortunately, my very picky seven-year-old could not find a pair of boots there to his liking (not due to lack of selection, but more due to his insistence his shoes not be too tight-itchy-stiff-loose-rubbery-bulky-ugly-scratchy), but my mom found some pistol shells she wanted, so the stop was not a total loss for us or for the store’s bottom line.
As we had gotten a somewhat late start on our day, evening was quickly approaching when we left the sporting goods store, so we decided to head back out of town and stop for a late lunch/early dinner. I very nearly missed J&S Restaurant and Catering as I left the town limits, but thankfully the parking lot extended well past the restaurant and I was able to make a quick turn into the far end, without causing any major traffic catastrophes. The outside of the restaurant had no particular look that makes it stand out, but the inside was decorated nicely with a warm, homey feel. This night, the restaurant offered a buffet, which my son decided to try, while my mom and I opted to order from the menu. I am not a huge fan of buffets generally, but I have to say the food J&S offers on theirs is good ol’ country cooking at its finest. An assortment of meats, homemade veggies and salad fixings as well as fresh hot rolls greeted my son when he went up with his plate.
His particular favorite, as most kids I know, is mac-n-cheese, and in this department J&S didn’t disappoint, offering a very good homemade version. My mom and I both ordered the bucket steak topped with grilled peppers, onions and mushrooms. The order took a little while, but we soon found it was because everything had been freshly prepared – no instant potatoes or frozen pre-packaged meals being served here, folks. While it may not be good for the belt size, it certainly fit the bill as “comfort food”. Portions were ample and such that we had to order our dessert to go. As we were checking out, the owner happened to be there and very pleasantly chatted with us about the history of the place. He has been the current owner for the past 14 years, but the restaurant has been in existence in Rainelle since the 1930′s, when it was opened offering curb-side service. The original building was much smaller than the one there now and did not have an indoor dining area. The current restaurant offers the regular menu as well as a large buffet on Friday nights and Sundays, with a smaller buffet available on other evenings. They also offer catering for events and cover many business events in the Beckley area.
As we were leaving the town of Rainelle, I reflected fondly on how the places that make up a town – the local little shops, the favorite dining spots – really become part of the life and history of the place. These are the places people remember from their childhoods, the places they fondly recall and, if they are lucky, are able to take their children and grandchildren to. They are the stories and people of West Virginia and can be found in every little town and on the corner of Main Streets everywhere, if you take the time to look.
Often, they don’t appear to be anything special or extraordinary. Indeed, they may not offer anything necessarily unique, other than a place to say hello to your neighbor from down the street, enjoy a cup of coffee with your better half before starting out your day or pick up a few items for your child’s school project that is due this week. But, in offering these very humble things, often in spite of competition from their big box competitors, they are keeping the American dream and Small Town, USA, alive, one customer at a time. And in that spirit, we hope that you too will join us in supporting them as you venture Out and About in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.
by Sheree Henderson
All great ideas are usually birthed from the simplest of concepts, the purest of intentions and the greatest of passions. The best piece of advice I have ever received as a writer is to write what you know and what you love. For me, that means my southern West Virginia home. The places and people that make it so unique.
With that in mind, I began forming a simple idea around the holidays for a series of articles celebrating and featuring what I hold near and dear to my heart. The good, sometimes old fashioned, but other times eccentric, mom-and-pop places. Quirky little pit stops and breathtaking scenery that our little section of longitude and latitude holds. My first idea was simple and basic – travel to the out-of-the-way, ‘diamonds in the rough’ type restaurants, stores, attractions and places of beauty that you might not find on a map. Those known by all the locals. The places you must experience only once to forever after make the detour on your travel itinerary should your path ever go that way again.
Simple concept, right? Find a cool little place, throw it some business and a little exposure, then spread happiness to the business owner and the potential wanderer in all of us by bringing the two together. But then, the challenge presented itself. Some of the “best kept secrets” really are…well, secret!
How does one find them and really get a feel for what they are all about if you aren’t necessarily from that particular town, hollow or speck on the map? I certainly have traveled my fair share of the back roads of West Virginia and have some hidden little gems of my own that I am definitely willing to share with my readers. Yet even as ardent a West Virginia-aholic as I am, I certainly can’t know all of the wonderful places out there – unless YOU, the reader, tell me about them.
Fast forward a few days and one giant brainstorming session with some extremely talented folks later, and my idea, once so embryotic in it’s conceptualization, has taken form and developed into the epitome of a great idea in the making. I can certainly share my few places of interest I have discovered on my own, but the absolute best way to find those one-of-a-kind local treasures is for you, dear reader, to send me to them. As the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come”…only in this case, it is more accurately, “If you suggest it, I will go”.
Maybe it’s a little corner diner that has the best pie on the planet. A coffee shop on Main Street that has an original autographed copy of one of Mark Twain’s works. An old beaten path in a wide spot by the road that leads to an amazing (albeit unadvertised) cascade of water falls, breathtaking to behold- or a century old school house that has been converted into a charming Bed & Breakfast. Whatever the case, I am ready to explore this great region and share my insight with you, loyal reader.
While part of the allure of such places, at least to the locals who are familiar with them, is the very fact they are relatively unknown, I want to draw attention to the fact that they DO, in fact, exist in abundance in southern Appalachia. That indeed, you don’t have to settle for the next fast-food chain restaurant on the corner, or buy your niece a pre-packaged, “big box store” gift for her birthday, or travel 5 hours out of state “for something fun to do”. I want to challenge every one of the readers of Beckley Online to look around you – try out that little café that opened up last week, go in that 5-and-dime store down on Main Street that you always drive past but never stop. Take a Saturday to explore some trails with a camera and a sense of adventure. Then, come here and tell me about it, what makes it great and why I should go there and discover it myself so that I can share it with the rest of our readers. Hopefully in the process, we give some hard-working folks pursuing the American dream a very well-earned boost to their bottom line. Recognition for not giving up on the dream of owning their own business. Sharing the value in keeping their company grounded in their roots and their hometowns.
Even if it’s just a really amazing place of natural beauty or obscure history. If it draws a few visits from those out and about for a weekend of adventure, the local gas stations, convenience stores and restaurants in all of the little out-of-the-way towns along the way will all see a boost in profit from additional visitors passing by. Who couldn’t use a little more profit at the end of the month?
My hope is that by the end of the year, when someone not from the area asks you, “Wow, what do you guys do for fun around here? You must get so bored with nothing around!” you can direct them to Beckley Online. Here they can see all of the amazing places and people southern West Virginia has to offer. Why there is no excuse to ever be bored on the weekends if you are fortunate enough to live here.
So Beckley Online readers, the challenge has been issued! If you know of some amazing, locally-owned little places within one to two hours drive of Beckley (or maybe you own a great little place you hope to promote) speak up! Leave me a comment or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know where you would like to see me go…then pull up a chair, buckle your virtual seatbelt, and travel along with me as we go Out and About in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia!
I look forward to the ride!
By Sheree Henderson
With furloughed workers, government shutdowns, holidays looming and the ever-increasing cost of living, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed. Paying bills and feeding your family top the priority list, with little left afterwards for most families to even begin to think about anything fun outside of work and school. Great memories and life lessons don’t need to cost a bundle though. A day’s escape doesn’t have to be a distant dream of some beach far off, or endless piles of money to spend at some exclusive store. Creativity, a happy and giving heart, and someone to share your day with are all you need to be on your way to rejuvenating your spirit, and maybe even learning a few lessons of your own without ever leaving Raleigh County.
There is a simple recipe to a great (and inexpensive) day out, and is especially good to do with kids. If you don’t have any, don’t want any, or can’t borrow any (from a frazzled parent that will graciously lend them out for the day) never fear. Your day out can be with your sweetheart, your best friend, your momma, your brother – you get the idea!
Whomever you choose to spend it with, start bright and early on a Saturday (or Sunday if that’s the only day everyone is free) with a nice breakfast at home together. Sans TV, smart phones, I-pads, I-pods…any “I” products in fact. After tummies are full, everyone should dress in some comfy clothes and comfy shoes. This isn’t the day to sport the beaded sequin top and 5-inch heels! Load up the car with a nice blanket, some reusable water bottles filled with favorite drinks (the planet will love you for it), a camera, a Ziploc bag, happy hearts, and open minds.
A great place to start out your day, if you are an animal lover, is at the Raleigh County Humane Society. Spend the morning there volunteering – walk the dogs, play with the cats, socialize with the pets and watch the tails wag! The staff will greatly appreciate the help, the animals will benefit from the socialization, and if kids are with you, they will learn some great lessons about responsible pet ownership and the importance of giving of your time and love. This activity of course comes with a caveat. All members of the group understand and agree that, unless you were already in the market for a new pet, all the furry fluff balls have to stay at the shelter when you leave . Not always easy to do! This doesn’t mean you can’t help find them homes of course. Take lots of pictures and post them to social media sites to help spread the word. Someone on your friends list might be in the market for just such a pet as the one you post that needs a home.
Cost for your day so far? A whopping $0!
After a morning of furry, frenzied fun at the shelter, you and your crew have probably worked up an appetite and are ready for a little quiet time and some R & R. Drive through Little Caesars for one of their $5 pizzas and head to a local park. Little Beaver and Grandview both have some nice picnic areas and shady spots to sit a spell. Spread out a blanket, get out everyone’s drinks, and just relax in the splendor of fall while you enjoy your lunch and talk about your morning.
If you are at Grandview, take in the amazing views from the overlook and try out some of the trails weaving through the rocks. Little Beaver also offers trails and the bonus of a lake, with ample photo opportunities of all the changing fall leaves reflecting off the water. While on your walk, have everyone pick out 10 or so of their favorite and most colorful leaves and gather them up to take home in a Ziploc bag. Little ones might even enjoy a contest of who can find the most colorful or most unusually shaped leaf. If you are particularly creative, send everyone on a nature scavenger hunt, in search of items such as a pine cone, a chestnut, a red leaf, etc.
The fresh air and scenery of southern West Virginia in the fall cannot be matched, and so far you have only spent $5, but gotten so much more in return.
After cleaning up your trash and loading back into your car, enjoy the drive back into town as you take in the amazing fall colors. See who can spot the most wildlife on the return trip, or play a game of “I Spy”. Once back to town, stop by any of the local office supply stores or dollar stores and pick up a pack of construction paper and some glue sticks – they will be put to good use later in the day and should only cost around $3 or so.
Frolicking in the leaves can kick in your sweet tooth, so before heading home stop by Dairy Queen to treat everyone to a frozen confection. At an average of $3/treat, $12 should buy a group of four some delicious concoctions to enjoy. Stop for gas on the way home, allowing $10 to cover what you used for the day since you didn’t travel far and dig in your change dish for $0.40 for the toll booth, if you happen to need to go through it on the way back home. If you don’t need the change for the toll, stop for a pack of gum to keep everyone minty fresh and smiling.
Your total for the day? Still only $30 and some change!
Once home, with full bellies and content hearts, it’s time to help nourish your soul as well as your body. There is no better way to do this than teaching children the importance of caring for others- respecting their elders and giving back to their communities. Leave the TV off and spend the evening together making cards from the construction paper, glue sticks and leaves gathered during your day out.Not artistically talented? No problem! A simple folded card with a colorful leaf glued to the front and “Happy Autumn!” proclaimed inside is easy, quick, and will do just fine.
You can be as creative, or as simple, as you want. Once all the leaves have been made into cards, pick an evening or weekend coming up to take them to one of the local nursing homes. Deliver them to the residents there. Ones who cannot get outside to see the fall colors, seldom get visitors or just like receiving cards will appreciate this small gesture more than you will ever know. Plus, you will also be teaching valuable life lessons to your child. Or, if you are doing the project with friends or family, sharing in the mutual satisfaction of brightening someone’s day.
While your day out only cost you $30 and some change, the memories you created and the feeling of joy in giving back is priceless.
So…what are you waiting for?
by Chad McGraw
This is the initial installment of an ongoing series of stories exclusive to Beckley Online relating the experiences of Chris Senopole of Daniels, WV and Adam Shatarsky of Leesburg,VA- both USMC Veterans, as they walk and raise awareness across the United States in support of the Wounded Warrior Project. Beckley Online is deeply honored to have been contacted for this purpose, and very excited to be sponsoring a statewide effort on behalf of The Wounded Walk
An amazing thing happened this week. Having been out of the office and busy all day Monday, I had neglected the online activities that consume much of my typical day in our work here. I had not noticed that Beckley Online had been contacted by Chris Senopole via our Facebook page until Tuesday morning. The message read simply,
“Im a local marine veteran walking across America for Wounded Warrior Project. Please spread this story as we will be walking through southern WV in the coming months any questions please contact me via FB thanks! “
I began following links from Chris’ personal Facebook page to the official Facebook page for The Wounded Walk. I could hardly believe what I was reading. Was there really a local veteran walking across the country in support of one of my favorite charities and I didn’t know about it!? Well, in fact there are two. Adam Shatarsky and Chris Senopole are WALKING approximately 2,700 miles from Camp Pendleton, CA to Washington, D.C. to raise awareness and funds for wounded veterans.
I contacted Chris to let him know that Beckley Online would like to help in any way we could, and was surprised to find that he quickly got back in touch. Chris explained in our early conversations that he wanted to make sure a local media organization got a chance to explain why he was doing this. And so began our fascination with a story that has been nearly four years in the making.
As both Chris and Adam recall, the idea of The Wounded Walk first began to formulate about four years ago in an Outback Steakhouse. Over the next three years or so, they would often discuss the idea as a constant goal. About three months ago the call to action came in the form of a phone call. Chris recalls that Adam just said “it’s now or never.” As is often the case with brothers in arms, no explanation was required. Chris immediately knew what he meant. It was time to walk.
Adam immediately set up the funding website for the effort, and Chris turned in his two-week notice to the Southern Regional Jail where he was working. All this less than three months ago today. I was beginning to understand how it was possible that so many seemed to be unaware of The Wounded Walk. My business partner, Josh Allen, and I are veterans ourselves. We became determined to get the word out and support such an amazing undertaking.
On Wednesday of this week, Beckley Online got a real treat when we got to speak to Chris and Adam by phone from Checotah, OK where the guys were spending the night. They’d had a long day, and it was getting late. Realizing that their days can be pretty grueling, I tried not to take too much of their time. In the time that they did speak though, it was clear how much these two are to be admired. From earlier interviews I already knew of melted shoes and cell phone cases fused to cell phones in the 125F heat of the Mojave Desert in June. By now they merely referred to “feet issues in the early days.” These Marines are on a mission.
While freely admitting that “there is no preparation for this so the early days were pretty brutal”, both Chris and Adam offered it as an insight, not some complaint. Saying that a 15 mile day feels like the proverbial walk in the park now. They even joked that it is a good thing they were doing all this walking as their route had moved farther south because “in nearly every town we come to someone takes us into their home and gives us some huge plate of food!” The most surprising thing about the interview to me was that it was hardly a description of the grueling journey at all. These warriors spoke of the “amazing outpouring” of people and generosity as they walk, and the stories they are hearing about the Veteran heroes from across the country. Chris related how people are actually “breaking down on our shoulders” as they walk along, and admitted that “sometimes I’m really glad I’m wearing sunglasses”. The following is sometimes so great that they are forced to ride part of their daily mandated distance because if they tried to walk and greet everyone there would be no way to finish by their scheduled arrival in Washington, D.C. in October.
Immediately apparent also is that there are not two people better suited to walk across the country together. “We have been best friends for years” explained Chris. Adam says only a best friend could put up with “2,700 miles of Family Guy references from Chris”. When I ask them if it has really sunk in that they are WALKING ACROSS AMERICA, they both agree that it is only “really when we start out in the morning. The rest of the day we are meeting so many people that it doesn’t really feel like it.”
The guys are still in Oklahoma as we publish this article. In coming weeks we will update their travels as they move closer to their goal. We will have family insights from Chris and Adam’s relatives, as well as input from you, the people of Beckley and southern West Virginia. Also, there will be daily updates on the Beckley Online Facebook page, so stay tuned.
In closing for now, I am going to do what we have never done at Beckley Online. I am going to appeal for your financial and material assistance. I am going to continue doing it for approximately 6 weeks. When these two heroes arrive in our state and in our town, Beckley Online wants to show them that all of West Virginia appreciates what they are doing. Until that time, we will be organizing our West Virginia Warrior fundraising campaign to donate to The Wounded Walk and to organize public events throughout the Beckley area to celebrate Chris and Adam.
Support the effort by going to The Wounded Walk website, http://www.thewoundedwalk.org/
As a Navy man, I have often joked that I was glad there were Marines so I didn’t have to be one. This week I have shortened that a bit, I’m glad there are Marines. Especially these two. They have quickly become part of our Beckley Online family, and we are very excited to see them in Beckley in mid September. If I do my job right until then, you will be too.
West Virginia’s tourism industry can boast several claims to fame. From Blennerhassett Island to Bridge Day our state offers an incredible variety of attraction, but tucked away just past Sophia in the old mining town of Tams, W.Va. sits a hidden gem of outdoor recreation. Whether you prefer ATVs, motor bikes or coasting downhill harnessed to a zipline, Burning Rock Outdoor Adventure Park features over 10,000 acres and 100 miles of trails sure to make the short drive down the Coalfield Expressway worth it.
“We’ve got a lot to offer here; there’s something for everyone. Southern West Virginia has some of the most absolutely gorgeous terrain in the U.S. and we’re proud to offer some of the best ways to explore the area,” said Burning Rock spokesperson Matt Sweeney.
Owned by the Beaver Coal Company, Burning Rock held its grand opening in 2008, created from repurposed logging and mining roads and serving as a popular stop for the area’s ATV enthusiasts. Supervised by the Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia (CCCWV), Burning Rock has recently put major changes into effect in an effort to improve existing trails and create new activities to help transform the park into one of W.Va.’s premier tourism destinations, catering to the entire family rather than just ATV riders.
Despite the harsh winter weather, Burning Rock and the CCCWV have spent the past several months upgrading and revamping the park, expanding and redeveloping the available acreage. Employing professional trail builders and utilizing the natural terrain, Burning Rock is committed to providing southern W.Va. with an extraordinary location for off-road riding.
Aside from the profusion of trails, the park also offers camping amenities and cabin rentals, a general store complete with anything you could require on your trip, and one of the East Coast’s longest dual-racing zip lines, the Burning Rock Express. At 2,500 feet long and reaching speeds of up to 60 mph, the Burning Rock Express is a one-of-a-kind, heart-racing, adrenaline-pumping adventure for the entire family–provided they meet the minimum weight limit of 70 lbs.
“You can come out to ride the zipline at night. The towers get lit up, you get a glow stick and it’s a great experience,” Sweeney said.
Trail difficulty ranges from beginner to expert and all ages and skill levels are welcome. Guided tours and rentals are available, showcasing not only the action at Burning Rock, but also the rich history of the coal towns the park encompasses. The not-so-distant future holds more new, purpose-built trails and the addition of a professionally designed and constructed MX track. As warmer weather approaches, Burning Rock plans to schedule a variety of events to help the park become more of a destination, rather than just a stop for West Virginians and tourists alike.
Whether you’ve always been an outdoor enthusiast or are a first-time visitor, with the recent and ongoing improvements made by the CCCWV and the park itself, Burning Rock Outdoor Adventure Park is offering a fresh take on West Virginia adventures. Check the website to stay up to date with the newest enhancements and make your reservations for one of West Virginia’s most exhilarating getaways.
To plan a trip, or more info call 304-683-9242 / visit burningrockwv.com
Over the years, coffee shops have gone from quaint, local hang-outs to mainstream, corporate behemoths. One local business prides itself on keeping the intimate, personal vibe alive in an often hectic world. Located in the Harmony School complex, Coffee Beans and Books provides a wide range of hot and cold drinks, free wi-fi access, comfy chairs, new and used books–everything needed to create an inviting, relaxing atmosphere for all ages.
Longtime Beckley residents will remember the Harmony School as the former Shady Junior High. Appropriately, owner Melanie Hicks took over the old school library, turning it into a haven for those who love the feel of a book in their hands, even in this age of Kindles and iPads. “When people go to one of the big coffee shops, they usually grab a drink and leave,” said Ricky Bishop, manager of CBB. “We try to create a space that is inviting, because we want people to stay and get away from the outside world for a while.”
CBB strives to maintain a strong community presence. You can always find them at Beckley events such as Sweet Treats, Chili Night, and Taste of Appalachia. The shop also hosts in-house events nearly every week, including book clubs, author readings, and open-mic nights. Private groups are also invited into the space, such as the recent after-prom gathering held at CBB. The personable, relaxed atmosphere draws in a diverse clientele, ranging from mothers with their children, to teenagers and college students. “We want people from five to fifty-five to be able to come in and feel comfortable,” Bishop said.
CBB plans to continue promoting their welcoming, community-minded vision. The shop is currently participating in the WV Reads 150 challenge. Created by the West Virginia Library Commission, the event celebrates the state’s 150th birthday by encouraging teams to read 150 books over the course of the year. CBB also has plans to sponsor an outdoor open-mic festival during the summer, and teen nights during the fall. The staff shows no signs of slowing down themselves, so take a moment to show them the hard work is appreciated by relaxing with a warm drink and a good book in their beautiful space.
For more information on Coffee Beans and Books, visit their website at www.coffeebeansandbooks.com
As snow becomes something that I will think about longingly for the next 6 months, I have to force myself to accept it and prepare for spring and summer. Warm weather is inviting, don’t get me wrong, but if you read my last article you know how the winter woos me. It’s funny to be at once pining for the snow while also coming to the shocking realization that my kids will be out of school in a little over a month! Hard to complain as far as West Virginia ski and snowboard seasons go; sliding well into April was one of many reasons this one was epic, let alone that last season rains drowned out the fun in mid-March. Part of my plan to keep the momentum into the dry seasons, and to keep my kids away from the television actively learning what really defines West Virginia is simply to be outside with them. Enveloping all the other activities that we do over the course of the next several months will be a tour of as many of our State Parks as possible. I want to say that we’ll make it to all of them before the fall, but that may not end up being practical or logistical for several reasons. As many as we can seems like a safely vague goal. My ambitions are crystal clear, however; to be proactive I’ve taken advantage of the gorgeous weekends we’ve already had, and been amazed at what I’ve found.
Having grown up visiting Little Beaver, Grandview, and Pipestem I wanted to focus first on the places I’ve never been. The WV State Parks homepage has a map of all the State Parks, Forests, and Wildlife Management Areas, which you can access here, and Pinnacle Rock was the closest unexplored location for me. My daughter opted to hang at home with my wife, but my 5 year old was eager to get out so I packed him up and headed off on a Saturday afternoon with basic directions and the confidence that I could surely beat the Google Maps approximated time for the journey. Located between Princeton and Bramwell, the park is an easy trip from almost anywhere in Raleigh County, and unquestionably one of our state’s most beautiful treasures.
Driving through West Virginia has always been an educational experience for me. When I was a kid my dad would rattle off what he knew about anywhere and everywhere we traveled in the state. I was born here, but it took a while for me to start appreciating where I was in the world. Any real West Virginian knows a thing or two about how and why the back roads of our state connect, and we should probably all know a good deal more about the industries and histories that have shaped the various regions surrounding us. You don’t have to drive more than 10 miles in Appalachia to experience a significant geographical and cultural change. I’ve been all around Princeton, but never through the stretch of Route 52 that passes by the park and on to Bramwell. It was just a few miles away from places I felt very familiar with, but I was amazed to see how the landscape hardened and shifted as we drew closer to the park. Rock formations started to cut through the forest floor, eventually breaking through the steady line of trees bordering both sides of the road and giving an indication of an old, ancient terrain that is often more subtle. You can’t approach Pinnacle Rock without thinking about the time these hills have endured, just how long ago it was when those rocks lunged skyward only to slowly watch the ease of our ascent. Rain started to pour down as I drove and my son had fallen asleep; along with the fact that I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going hope was dashing down faster than the water over my windshield. In my distraction I passed the tiny, roadside parking lot, drove down the mountain and turned around, having only a quick glimpse of the park in my mirror. The rain stopped just as I pulled in and absorbed the sight of the giant sandstone formation reaching 3,100 feet above sea level. I woke my son up and he was so excited after fully opening his eyes that we surpased the standard sluggish time after an impromptu car nap. (For those of you unfamiliar with the daily operation of children, that is symbolic of something profound).
Opened in 1938 the park was originally only 26 acres, but now occupies 400 acres adjoining Jimmy Lewis Lake with 7 miles of hiking trails, fishing, playground area, and picnic shelters. Of the numerous trails, I opted for the Overlook trail and the Falling Rock trail. The view from the top of the rock, accessed by the Overlook Trail, was evidence of exactly why we are the Moutain State. Winding down the Falling Rock trail, the staggering size of this formation becomes clear as you look up from the sloping land at its base and continue down the trademark stone steps layed by the WPA and CCC as our country was rebounding from the Great Depression and preserving the land to remind us why it is something to be held as sacred, to be handed down and carried forward into each new generation. As we climb back up and around and make our way to the car,instead of playing Avengers like he wanted me to, I point out to my son that his great grandfather and other men like him built steps just like the ones we were using in parks all around West Virginia. I never knew my grandfather. But I know that the story of his hands and the story of all the hands that literally laid the paths we take in our lives today speak, albeit faintly, like leaves skidding across that stone which survives us all.
“Times and tastes change. But, change isn’t a bad thing.” While other small businesses come and go, this philosophy by owner Kevin Traube has allowed The Little Brick House to remain a fixture in Beckley for over twenty-seven years. During that time, it has grown from a humble craft shop to include souvenirs, books from local authors, handmade coal jewelry, the Chocolate Moose ice cream parlor, and its most prominent feature, Mountain State Miniature Golf. Kevin and his business offer a fun atmosphere, and are a perfect example of what makes Beckley a great place to be.
Originally specializing in crafts by West Virginia artisans, the Little Brick House thrived for a time, attracting both locals and travelers from nearby I-64. But as customers and suppliers gradually moved down Harper Road to Tamarack, the shop’s niche began to disappear. Though Kevin is the first to praise Tamarack, and sympathizes with the artists who had to make the best decision for their livelihood, the competition hit the House hard. It is a familiar story–the small business losing its audience and fading away.
Luckily, this isn’t that kind of story. Instead of getting discouraged, Kevin switched gears and began selling small collectibles, including the phenomenon that were Beanie Babies. Unfortunately, that business dried up too, as the internet revolutionized the way people went shopping. The Little Brick House again faced uncertain times.
But Kevin saw this set-back merely as the end of a chapter, not the story itself. While mowing the hillside behind the shop, he realized there might be a better use for the space. After two years of research and construction, Mountain State Miniature Golf opened to the public, and has been a fixture of Beckley ever since. Each hole is inspired by a piece of West Virginia’s landscape or history–everything from Seneca Rocks to the legendary Mothman (best glimpsed during a night game)–helping make the course a unique destination not to be missed. “I want to be part of the Beckley experience,” says Kevin. “One of those cool places that people keep coming back to. Somewhere they bring family and guests when they come for a visit.”
Though the Little Brick House began as a simple business venture, it has provided Kevin with more than financial satisfaction over the years. “I remember standing out on the patio the first night we opened and hearing all of this laughter,” he said, unable to contain his own smile. Bringing fun and memories to generations of Beckley families and travelers has become its own reward, and part of the incentive to keep his “little shop that could” going. It is tempting to say this is a story with a happy ending, but given Kevin’s tendency to embrace change and evolve with the times, it’s safe to say the story of the Little Brick House is far from over.
For more information about Mountain State Minature Golf and the Little Brick House, visit www.mtstgolf.com or call 304-253-7242.