BEECH BOTTOM - In some communities, the vinyl "Coming Soon: 'Bottoms Up' Roadhouse" sign strung above a plain block building wouldn't have warranted a second look.
But not Beech Bottom, where filling up the gas tank or running to the grocery store for a loaf of bread means hopping in the car and driving a good 10 minutes north or south.
"This town was just dead, it really was," said Councilwoman Becky Uhhly. "No activity anywhere. The whole area was dead. It's come to life, it's just a positive thing for this area."
BOTTOMS UP — The oil and gas industry has transformed a once-sleepy stretch of state Route 2 in Beech Bottom into a beehive of activity, persuading Wheeling Island resident Paul Shearer to open a pub across from the old corrugating plant-turned-industrial park. Shearer said he expects the club, Bottoms Up, to be up and running later this month. — Linda Harris
Less than a year ago the community was on the rocks: It's largest employer, Wheeling Corrugating, had been idled by the bankruptcy of RG Steel, leaving a gaping hole in the local economy. Then came State Route 2 LLC, a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based Hackman Capital, and the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, teaming up to acquire the sprawling 650-acre riverfront property and then develop new business opportunities there.
The oil and gas industry responded: In March, Sheehan Pipe Line Construction Co. leased a 20-acre parcel for a staging yard. A month later, Integrity Kokosing signed up for a couple acres. And in June, Illinois-based Jupiter Aluminum decided to purchase and refurbish corrugating's paint line instead of moving it, rehire many of the steelworkers who'd operated it for years and added a slitter line.
Now comes Paul Shearer, soon-to-be proprietor of Bottom's Up, who figures the pub will be the go-to place for area residents looking for food, beverages and entertainment.
"It had been empty for years," said Shearer, a Wheeling Island resident. "I had to start from the ground
up. It's been a lot of work, but I think Beech Bottom is going to grow and thrive."
Shearer said the building was an obvious pick: It's located on state Route 2, directly across from the corrugating plant-turned-economic hub.
"It's a good location, the people are friendly," said Shearer, who hopes to be ready to open at the end of August. "Workers are coming back to the plant. The residents are excited - they're telling me they see a lot of change, a lot of traffic. They're just excited people are willing to give them a shot again, especially the plant - they're hiring back the workers who were here before. To me, that's a positive thing."
Mayor George Lewis said the before and after for his community is like night and day.
"It was unfortunate, the mill closing down," he said. "But now, Jupiter Aluminum is in there and I understand they're calling back people who worked there because of their expertise, they know the machinery. They really did a lot of good for people in this area - when you're 50-some years old and out of work, you're out of work. But their experience paid off for them."
When the corrugating plant shut down, "We lost a good bit of revenue from B&O (business and occupation) taxes," he said. "This is replacing some of it. Of course, we also cut corners at city hall.
"It's brought a lot of hope and faith to the people of Beech Bottom, actually all of Brooke County," he added. "The (businesses) coming into the old corrugating plant are doing wonderful things for the community, they're really easy to work with. I'm hoping we can get more of them, and that what we've got there now is planning on staying a while."
Uhhly said the pipeline workers have made their presence felt in the community in a big way: Whenever they're off the company clock, they're out in the community looking for ways to help.
"Pay it forward, have you heard of that?" she asks. "That's what they're doing. They've done work in the community, they've done work for the church, they've donated more than you can imagine to the food pantry. One of them noticed there were no balls on the playground (so) he went to a sporting goods store and bought three dozen balls, then stood outside the fence and kicked them in. The balls disappeared but he said he didn't care, he'd just go get more. Little things like that mean so much to these kids, having a ball to take home."
Uhhly said their latest project is to make sure every child attending Beech Bottom primary school gets a backpack stuffed with school supplies. She said the workers "probably spent $3,000 just on school supplies."
"I'm on council and I do hear a lot of positive comments," Uhhly adds. "The only negative I hear is about mud on the road. ... If that's what you've got to put up with for some development around here, that's not a bad price to pay.
"It's nice for people to finally realize we are here and there's lots of available space to develop, it's just a good place to be. I credit the BDC for that: if they hadn't stepped up and been able work with Hackman to purchase that place, none of this would have happened."
Lewis, too, said the partnership has been good for Beech Bottom, even if it means having to clean mud off the road.
"They do their best to keep it cleaned off," he said. "And when they're done with it they actually come up and clean some streets for us, just to help out. And about any time we need something above our capabilities, we go to Sheehan and if they have the machine to do it they'll send somebody out. They're a good neighbor.
"We're definitely no longer a ghost town," Lewis adds. "It's been a shot in the arm for our economy - for the whole county. There were some concerns about what we'd do when the fracking was done, but we'll deal with that when it gets here. Right now, we have several new businesses in and some of them have plans to stay an extended time. Hopefully, when their job is done and they need to move on, we'll get someone to replace them. ... Keep a positive attitude and it will keep coming."