ASHLEY Kane owns Mountain People's Cooperative in Morgantown, which has been in business since 1977. It sells natural, organic and "fair trade" products. She is fighting City Hall.
"It started with us looking to relocate and expand, and we were looking at the same property Sheetz was interested in, as well as the Boys and Girls Club of America," Kane told WVU's Mountaineer News Service. "When we found out Sheetz got several of the variances they asked for, it passed under everyone's radar, including the city council and the mayor's, who were very upset about it.
"We're just trying to raise awareness of the city plan, and how these large businesses are going directly against their city plan, trying to raise awareness of how the downtown district is being treated and how all these big businesses are getting everything handed to them, when these types of businesses don't pour back into the community."
Wait a second, whatever happened to the rule of law which treats every citizen equally? People seeking variances are a part of life in a city. But it is wrong if, as Kane implied the city gives preference to large regional companies such as Sheetz, which has 448 stores in six states.
Sheetz is a great success story and its development should be encouraged in the state, but shouldn't an existing local business owner get the same opportunities?
Kane is petitioning Morgantown City Council to pass a resolution giving local businesses preference in property development decisions in downtown Morgantown.
But this should not be a local business vs. corporate battle. Nobody should get preference. What the city of Morgantown and the state of West Virginia should do is be a friendlier to businesses of all shapes and sizes.
The federal Small Business Administration reports that West Virginia lost nearly 4,000 small businesses in the first decade of this century. That's about one business a day, seven days a week.
That also is more than 12 percent of the state's small employers.
If city zoning ordinances are bad for Sheetz and for Mountain People's Cooperative, then they are bad law and they should be reviewed to make sure that they serve a public purpose.
Likewise, if the state doesn't feel it needs to charge a certain tax to a multi-national corporation headquartered out of state, then the state shouldn't charge the body shop or the tanning salon down the street.
Yes, state and local government should work to attract large and growing businesses and the jobs and revenue they bring. But those same governments need to work just as hard to inspire, promote and help grow local businesses that remain the backbone of West Virginia's economy.