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Local business: a dying breed or adaptive species?

Like any college town, Morgantown has its fair share of locally owned “mom and pop” stores and restaurants. The last two weeks, I wrote blog posts looking at these businesses, and came to the conclusion that without any uniqueness, a store is destined to fail.

However, there is a greater threat to local business other than lack of originality: big business.

In just four years, the landscape of Morgantown business had changed greatly. The huge influx of Sheetz locations and the additions of Chipotle and High Street’s Panera Bread have made many in town wary of corporations coming into the community.

Last fall, the Sunnyside Superette, a college landmark for the past several decades, closed it’s doors for good, much in part due to the WVU-endorsed Sheetz that opened up less than a block away from it at University Place.

Shortly after the Superette’s closing, I spoke to its owner, Pat McGinley, about how the larger company affected his business.

Later on in the development (of University Place), it was announced that they would be putting a grocery store in the bottom of (the building). Instead, they put in a Sheetz, which is a far cry from their original plans of a full-service grocery.

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The Sunnyside Superette after going out of business. Notice the art of WVU President Gordon Gee as the Monopoly man. via The Dominion Post

McGinley’s biggest problem with the Sheetz was the fact that, due to a private-public partnership with WVU, the mega-convenience store is allowed to sell tobacco products on university property despite WVU’s heavily-pushed (but rarely, if ever, enforced) tobacco-free policy.

While Sheetz wasn’t the only reason the Superette closed-McGinley also cited the lack of students over the summer and some ill-conceived road work on University Avenue as deterrents to his business-it was enough, and the Superette died with a whimper.

Thankfully, not all stories of big businesses coming to Morgantown end this way.

Around the same time, WVU’s campus was abuzz with excitement that Chipotle would soon be opening. In a turn of events that surprised me, however, campus consensus of the issue quickly changed a month after the restaurant’s opening.

While, granted, only WVU students were interviewed for the above stories, I believe the argument still holds footing. Maybe people were generally excited at first to try something new before realizing what they really loved was in front of them all along (like a 1990’s teen movie), or perhaps the excitement for Chipotle was the result of bandwagon-hopping.

Still, some Morgantown residents are protesting the commercialization of their beloved city, and places like Chipotle might take a little longer to really make their presence felt.

What do you think? Are Morgantown’s local businesses in danger? What other businesses do you see making an impact?

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4 thoughts on “Local business: a dying breed or adaptive species?

  1. John Mark,

    Great story and great coverage of a story that threatens not only Morgantown, but also my own hometown. Granted, I appreciate big businesses just as much as the next person (let’s be real, I couldn’t live without my Wawa, Target and Starbucks), but the mom and pop stores are what make Morgantown and other areas unique. You don’t go to a new place and visit those stores that are familiar to you, you want to see the unique side of a specific place. Often times, mom and pop stores have so much more to offer. I found it interesting that after a while, students started to criticize the chipotle opening. I thought that many students were still excited about it and every time I drive by the area, it’s packed. But parking and price have become an issue.

    I do agree that Morgantown’s local business is in danger. Every semester or school year I feel as though we are getting something NEW to the area, but only new in the sense that Morgantown hasn’t been exposed to before. Often times, the new things are businesses that we have already been exposed to before. Honestly, the closing down of Superette had many people talking on social media and even the owners showed their discontent (understandably so). But how many more businesses are going to have to shut down or close in order to “make room” for big businesses that we don’t necessarily need?

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  2. I think McGinley’s issue with the tobacco products is completely valid, and it’s something I never considered. Why the heck would the University allow those products to be sold there when they make such a big deal about smoking? That’s crazy to me. They should leave that up to non-University businesses. I do think Morgantown’s small businesses are in danger. It’s a process, but eventually many will have to close their doors. Besides that, the increase in big business in Morgantown takes away from its character, which was something that attracted me to the city in 2011 when I visited the first time. There are still small, unique businesses with that intriguing heart and spirit, but that may not be the case down the road.

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  3. Morgantown small business owners operated for decades with a captive market (college students) and now that they have competition they are exposed for the small time operators that they are. The Superette, like the rest of Sunnyside, was an overpriced dump. I can get a decent sandwich at Sheetz for $2. I trust Sheetz to deliver on what they promise: a good value for my money. I don’t care about some “boo-hoo! I can’t gouge customers anymore!” Just like the slum-lords of Morgantown, local small business owners refused to change and adapt and soon they will be extinct. I have no sympathy!

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  4. I’m not going to mourn for the loss of the Superette – the place was a pile of absolute crap, and the owner has no right to complain that Sheetz came in, exposed it for the inferior operation that it was, and he was unable to adjust and hold his market. The place sucked long before Sheetz ever came. Big business is always going to be a threat to small business, but small businesses can find a way to compete if they’re smart. All the Superette did was complain.

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