Small business boom helps rebuild Clay

CLAY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The town of Clay has many new small businesses helping revitalize its Main Street.

Meigan Edgar started making jewelry at home and selling it on Facebook. Her products became so popular, she decided to open a boutique in Clay to make and sell them.

Mayor Josh Shamblin said multiple locally owned stores have opened so far this year, including three now, as COVID-19 restrictions begin to end. The businesses include the county's first grocery store in years, a coffee shop, boutique, tobacco shop and outdoor recreation rental business.

"It’s really important to see this local investment that we have had," Shamblin said. "I think for a long time we have kind of waited for someone to ride in on a white horse and save us, and it’s inspiring to see young people have the initiative to come in and open up businesses and invest in our town to help us rebuild."

Shamblin said the new businesses are helping bring life back to the area that he described as a ghost town in recent years after the coal industry departed. Many of these new business owners are young and grew up in Clay. They're now working to help it move forward to the next chapter.

"It shows people that there is something here worth investing in," Shamblin said. "We are making an effort, we are rebuilding. When we get tourists coming to town, they’re not just stopping at chain stores like a Walgreens or a GoMart, all of the sudden there are these little niche businesses."

One business that has already opened is Little Country Tobacco. Owner Corey Keaton said it is the first store of its type in town in decades, and means people no longer have to drive almost 30 miles to get its products.

"They are really happy that it is here," Keaton said. "A lot of people walk in this town. Not a lot of people drive everywhere, and they were walking all the way up to GoMart, and they said it was almost a 5-mile walk to go get their tobacco."

Keaton said they have been struggling to get inventory needed to fully stock the store due to factory shutdowns caused by COVID-19.

Another new business, Shay's Southern Chic Boutique, is also struggling to get shipments needed to open its store. Owner Meigan Edgar said customers have started stopping by her store on Main Street as she prepares to open, even buying much of the inventory she has already received.

Edgar said she decided to open the boutique after starting to sell homemade jewelry on Facebook. Her products were so successful that she needed more space to make them and a storefront to get more attention.

"Getting to do items like that, items that are one of a kind that they can keep forever, is something special to me," Edgar said. "Getting to know my customers is what I love."

As Edgar puts the finishing touches on her new store, Melody Cottrell is waiting for permit approval to begin operating her new kayak rental business.

Clay Yak Rentals is looking to capitalize on the town's natural beauty by providing equipment for recreation on the Elk River. They already have multiple different types of kayaks, safety vests and other toys.

"This is a way to get people outdoors, to get people active and it’s a great recreational activity for not just kids but adults, couples, anyone can do kayaking," Cottrell said.

She is hoping to attract Clay residents, as well as people from surrounding towns and counties this summer, since kayaking can be done while practicing social distancing.

"They want to do something different," Shamblin said about the new businesses. "They are investing in another way. That’s what we need. I know it’s not an easy thing to do, and it’s a scary thing to jump out and open a new business, but to see this younger generation take charge of their community, that is really inspiring."

Shamblin said the town has heard from other potential business owners looking to open up this summer, including an ATV rental and service store.