SMITHERS, W.Va. (WOWK) — It is expensive to start a business, but it is also expensive to keep a business booming, especially in an area hit hard by the decline of the coal industry. That is something Graceann Nutter knows firsthand. Her business The Christian Family Book Shoppe has been a staple in the small community of Smithers, West Virginia for more than 40 years.
“42 years,” explained Nutter. “My parents opened it, then gave it to me. There is nothing I love more.”
Nutter’s passion is evident as she greets each customer will a sweet hello and smile. Her dog and her cat, Ringo, can often be found in the shop as well. Her parents started the business as a Christian book store. But since the decline of coal and the loss of nearby West Virginia Tech, the business has taken a hit.
“Book stores are like dinosaurs. And once we lost West Virginia tech, it was like turning off a faucet and immediately losing the majority of your customers just like that,” explained Nutter as she quickly snapped her fingers.
Nutter knew she had to expand the business. So she has partnered with the post office, she also formed a partnership with AT&T and Direct-TV. Now in addition to Bibles and books, the store sells electronics, women’s clothing, and small gift items.
“We had to completely overhaul a lot of our merchandise and purchase new stuff to reinvent the store,” explained Nutter.
Nutter says that would not have been possible without help from the Kanawha County Commission’s UKAN Grant Program. The program encourages the start-up or expansion of small businesses in the Upper Kanawha Valley, a region of the county hit hard by the decline of coal.
The businesses are awarded a $10,000 grant. They are also partnered with business coaches and professionals to help with guidance through the transition or establishment of the business.
“This is the perfect example,” said County Commission Ben Salango. “This shows that we aren’t just developing new businesses. We are making sure that we keep the ones that we have.”
Applications are being accepted for another round of grant recipients. If you’d like to learn more or apply for yourself, visit the UKAN Grant webpage.