Paul Thompson is a Lewis County Methodist minister who has found a calling well outside his church's walls.
It started when Thompson purchased a handmade cherry rocker from a local woodworker for $80.
"I thought, 'There's more money in materials than that,' " Thompson recalled. "And I said to myself, 'This is ridiculous. We're going to lose this.'"
"This," as Thompson saw it, was a long tradition of fine Appalachian craft. If a woodworker was selling a cherry rocker for $80, how could he possibly make any money? And if he couldn't make money, he was likely to stop woodworking.
So earlier this year, Thompson started the website our-wv.com, which he bills as an online Appalachian mall. Already, the site includes categories such as skin care specialties, glass art, toys, quilts, photography, paper goods, jewelry, leather art, West Virginia grown foods and more. Now. Thompson hopes to fill up those categories with artists and craftsmen.
"We're still growing," Thompson said. "It's going to take a couple of years to build up to where it's really making an economic impact, but if we can find a way to market finished products, we are going to increase the revenue stream to our communities and I hope this will eventually help people to get into cottage industries."
Thompson may be a Methodist minister, but he came to that by a circuitous route. He headed to college as a pre-med major and then studied microbiology before answering a spiritual call, though while in seminary he studied ecology and economics.
He considers himself to be an eco-theologian, and takes a lesson from Proverbs 31, which talks about the woman of the household minding its economy. In part, it reads, "She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night."
"We have to be involved in having a sustainable, healthy economy," said Thompson, 53, a native of Marshall County. "My primary mission is to create new opportunities that wouldn't exist and to do as much good as we possibly can."
"I love West Virginia and I hope we can do well," he said.
Thompson said his intention isn't to compete with Tamarack or its online shop, or any other retailer with an online presence.
"We're not trying to get a piece of the pie; we're trying to expand the pie," he said.
To that end, Thompson and a friend who is a web expert created the site that is set up a bit like etsy.com, with items organized by category.