Local businesses thrive in Newport, St. Marys
NEWPORT and ST. MARYS – Divided by a river and a state line but united by a bridge, Newport and St. Marys, W.Va., share both a determined culture and business communities.
Newport has only a few storefront businesses, the largest and best known of which is Oopsa Daisy florist, a big rambling emporium of flowers and decorative home items.
On Thursday, the day before Valentine’s Day, the shop was busy, with florists creating arrangements in the back and taking orders by phone in the front.
John Binegar said his mother, Sandra Binegar, started the shop in 1981 as an attachment to the family business, a Quaker State gas station.
“It was something to keep her busy, and eventually we kicked the gas station out,” he said.
Binegar said Newport is a good central location for the business, which does trade with New Matamoras, St. Marys, Reno and other small communities up and down the river. A departing delivery van, he said, was taking flowers to a funeral home in Sistersville.
The floral business has changed dramatically since Oopsa Daisy was founded, Binegar said, and the shop now carries far more home decorating items than it did 20 years or more ago.
“People like things such as lanterns or wind chimes, they’re permanent, last longer than flowers,” he said. Most of their orders come in by phone or through the business website, and the market for floral arrangements has declined somewhat over the years
“People don’t have funerals so much any more, and that’s a big part of our business,” he said.
But Valentine’s Day remains a busy time for flowers, he said, carefully placing a spring of baby’s breath into a vase of a dozen red roses, then gesturing to the multi-colored arrangements around it.
“We’ve got eight different colors of roses,” he said, and pointed to a showcase of delicate colored glassware. “You can even get your flowers in a Fenton Glass vase.”
Binegar said the shop has a staff of six, two of them part-timers who mainly do deliveries.
Across the Carpenter Bridge over the Ohio, which connects Newport to St. Marys, W.Va., dozens of cars were parked along the downtown streets on Thursday. Old brick and stone buildings showed indications of old and new businesses.
Phillips Pharmacy was established in 1898 and is now owned by Tammy Smith, related to the Phillips family through marriage. She said she started in the store 52 years ago working the soda fountain. The business is part of the community, she said.
“We’ve had customers for five generations or more, and for me, it’s all about the people, our staff and our customers,” she said. The store has a staff of 15 people, she said, “and that’s payroll money that mostly stays in the community.”
St. Marys, she said, considers the folks in Newport as neighbors, and some of the staff at Phillips live over in Ohio.
The long history of the store is part of its appeal.
“We have loyal customers, they like our service, dealing with people that they know. We check on them if they don’t come in, make sure they’re all right, and sometimes they’ll call us if they’re in trouble,” she said.
Smith has opened another business, the Whippoorwill Artworks shop, a block down the street from the pharmacy.
“I liked the idea of investing more in downtown. We’re a thriving little community,” she said.
Another but more recently established Second Street business is the Box Car Restaurant, opened in 2015 by chef Kristian Lenard. With its ambitious menu, the unpretentious restaurant was an immediate success, expanding last November into an adjacent space and doubling its floor area.
“We had a great need for more space, we were turning people away,” he said.
The dinner special on a recent evening included seared salmon with Ponzu sauce and citrus rice, and other dishes have included horseradish crusted prime rib, a filet mignon burger and truffle parmesan fries. The restaurant is run by a staff of 15.
It’s open for breakfast lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday and for Sunday buffet. It’s closed Monday and one Sunday a month “so I can go to church,” he said.
“When I opened with this, people told me locals don’t eat like that, but I told them it’s only because they’ve never had the chance,” Lenard said. Now he draws customers from Marietta, Parkersburg and other communities in the region.
Lenard said he’s been a chef for 28 years and worked and lived all over the country. He settled in St. Marys to be closer to his family.
“I like this community, it’s the first place I’ve lived where I feel like setting down roots,” he said. “I really feel like part of the community.”
Newport and St. Marys have kept a stable population since the 2010 Census, with the most recent American Community Survey showing just over 1,000 people in Newport and just under 2,000 in St. Mary’s.
Michael Kelly can be contacted at email@example.com.