Business owner Nancy Ward said this has been a slow summer for her mid-sized boutique on Bridge Road, where she sells unique jewelry, colorful clothing, comfy shoes and creative gift items.
Ward, who owns Cornucopia, thinks a part of the downturn in business can be tied to the chemical spill in January, where as much as 10,000 gallons of MCHM spilled into the Elk River, contaminating the water supply for more than 300,000 people in nine different counties.
“I think to this day, people that were making plans to come to vacation didn’t come here. I think it’s not something you can really tell exactly, but we see a slowdown and I think there is a lingering effect,” she said.
Ward said a lot of people have the misconception that because her business doesn’t use water, she wasn’t affected, but that wasn’t the case. A study conducted by the Marshall University Center for Business and Economic Research estimated the nine counties that were affected by the chemical spill took a $61 million economic hit within the first four days.
“We were down 50 percent in January, which is unprecedented — it hasn’t happened in 27 years,” she said, adding that the weather also could have had a part in the decline. “We don’t use food or use water. The problem was, if people could leave town, they did. They weren’t going out because they couldn’t shower and it just turned into a ghost town.”
Jeni Burns, the owner of Ms. Groovy’s Kitchen, said her cafe and catering business was forced to close during the water crisis.
“We were shut down. We had to use bottled water for months, events canceled on us and it had a big effect on us,” Burns said.
Although the two women didn’t know each other at the time, they became friends after attending meetings with several people in the community who gathered to discuss what they could do about the water situation. They signed a letter — along with 150 other local businesses — to address Senate Bill 373, which outlined stricter and regular standards for aboveground storage tanks to ensure tank integrity.
Ward said she believed banding together with other small and mid-sized businesses in the area helped address their concerns.
“I believe we made a difference because we got very vocal. I got very active and so did a lot of people,” she said.
After the chemical spill, the two women realized that small and mid-sized businesses needed to have a voice and join together to ensure an event of this magnitude wouldn’t happen again, so they founded the West Virginia Sustainable Business Council. This Charleston-based coalition supports and promotes responsible, sustainable business practices in the area in the hope to promote local education and growth.
“We want to be a voice in that conversation a little bit differently around here. West Virginia is a beautiful state and we have a lot to offer, and while our factory industries are really important, we want to make sure they have a positive impact on our communities,” Burns said.
Now the West Virginia Sustainable Business Council is focusing on trying to get the recycling ordinance enforced in Kanawha County. The initial plan, developed by the county commission in 1992, is seeing a lack of enforcement in the area. According to the ordinance, residents and business owners in Kanawha County are required to separate three different recyclable items in their trash.
“It should be an effortless endeavor for businesses to recycle in Charleston and it’s not. We want for Charleston to be a green city, and eventually to promote that to travelers,” Burns said.
Burns said “going green” can be good for businesses as well. She hopes to bring business owners and sustainable industries together to help the environment.
“I just want our conversations to center around resolutions. Big industries’ influences in the state should not overshadow small and mid-size business,” she said.
For more information about the West Virginia Sustainable Business Council, visit their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/WVSBC.
Contact writer Shawnee Moran at 304-348-4872 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shawneemoran22.