WV Press InSight Videos

Whitesville 2.0: A coal town’s reboot

Register-Herald photo by Chris Jackson A former market long closed.
Register-Herald photo by Chris Jackson
A former market long closed.

BECKLEY, W.Va. — The nation’s economic recovery and the state’s coal decline haves not been kind to small towns dotting the rough, mountainous landscape of southern West Virginia — this town is no exception.

Along the main drag, stores are abandoned and people are missing. The stop light blinks green, yellow, red, but hardly any cars are going, slowing or stopping.

Whitesville is a town of about 500, give or take a few souls. There’s Mountaineer Pharmacy on Lewis Street and Duncan Service Station on 4th Street. In between there is a smattering of small shops, mostly selling yesterday’s items at last year’s prices.

The unemployment rate is hard to peg, as Census figures are not current. However, Boone County had a 9.2 percent unemployment rate in February 2015, not the highest in the state, but well above the 7.2 percent average. Many would argue that rate is reflective of more and more people moving away from the workforce.

The situation could be worse for Whitesville were it not for the hope lent by the contest Turn This Town Around, said local leaders. The town’s survival in the post recession, declining coal world depends on keeping people around.

Leaders are forward in saying they don’t want their town to shrivel up and die, but for Whitesville to survive, it must have a vibrant downtown filled with parks and recreation and a supermarket.

That’s why on a recent Tuesday, more than 140 people crammed into the town’s fire department…


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