POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. - With his trademark heavy breathing, Darth Vader walked through the aisles and past customers of the new downtown shop Counter Point Cooperative.
Walking past the register where Kelsi Boyd was ringing up some customers, "Vader" stopped and used the Force for a pretty convincing sales pitch. "Shop local," he said before flipping aside his black cape and walking back out onto Main Street during the 16th annual Mothman Festival.
The Mothman Festival was like a bit of a cosplay Christmas come early for Counter Point, as the new creative retail co-op at 424 Main St., in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, got to let thousands of shoppers from the Tri-State and beyond know about the new store and its eclectic, mostly local gifts from West Virginia and Appalachia.
While Counter Point may not usually serve as the staging and dressing area for dozens of "Ghostbusters" and "Star Wars" characters, the new shop has been letting folks know there is a new rebel alliance of sorts in the quiet Ohio River city where local crafters and artists have banded together to create a new business and help foster a creative movement.
The idea for the collective shop was birthed earlier this spring at a "Get to the Point" meeting at the Mothman Museum.
Modeled after Create Huntington's Chat and Chew - which has seen folks meeting in downtown Huntington weekly since 2009 to discuss ways to fix problems and create changes they'd like to see in the city - Get to the Point has been started by local citizens such as Ashley Wamsley Watts (the daughter of Mothman Festival and Mothman Museum founder Jeff Wamsley) to help make that kind of homegrown creative and positive change in Point Pleasant.
"We were up late one night at the Mothman Museum, and Ashley said, 'We literally need to Get to the Point,'" said Kelsi Boyd, who co-owns Counter Point with Watts and metalsmith artists Marqkita and Travis Sexton. "We know what the problem is here, but it is time we started acting on it. We don't have the time to be pointing fingers of why isn't it better, what could have been done differently; now it is to the point of we are all responsible, being citizens of Point Pleasant, so we need to each take responsibility and to start actually doing something. The problem has been identified, now it is how do we address it and what do we do? What is cool with this group is that there is a variety of people who are involved. You don't have to be involved in politics. We have been hosting community conversations like Huntington, and people feel welcome coming into a space and voicing their concerns and opinions. It is about networking."
At Get To The Point, Boyd, who does Silver Market skin care products, said she began talking with Watts, who does screenprinting and photography, and Marqkita Sexton, who does metal cut art that she cuts at Huntington's Robert C. Byrd Institute.
Marqkita Sexton, who is trained as a computer designer and who was working as a GIS analyst for oil and gas company EQT before getting laid off in February 2016, had started a business cutting signs and art out of stainless steel. She and her husband Travis were looking for a building when she got together with Watts and Boyd in April.
"We were doing the metalworks through Christmas, and in January I had already purchased a booth for Mothman Fest, but in April this little egg hatched, and I had a vision for an Appalachian made shop, a co-op like this, and that's when I got together with Ashley and Kelsi," she said.
They looked at another building that was a bit out of their price range and that needed a lot of work, but hit paydirt when with Ruth Finley, who owns the historic Lowe Hotel as well as the Counter Point building, which used to be a consignment shop as well as a hair salon.
"Ashley was talking with Ruth, and she said, 'Hey we have this space available over here if you girls would be interested.' So Ashley was like, 'Do you all want to do something?' and we were like, more or less, we don't have an option. I guess we have got to dive into it," Boyd said. "That was three months ago and now here we are. We are basically trying to create an outlet for local artists, and what we are trying to do is to create inspiration and bring more people on to Main Street and to get them inspired and let them know this is possible. We can start from the ground up and create something not necessarily from nothing, but with very little resources. It doesn't have to be anything too extravagant. We just need a little more hope, - especially, you have the drug addiction and this wave coming through West Virginia, and it is depressing and it has caused a lot of heartache - and so I think it is time for people to start banding together and seeing what we can do. I think West Virginia and our town is going to see the value of artists."
Counter Point opened Aug. 25 and features dozens of artisan items from around the region including from well-known Charleston poster makers Base Camp (they do the Mountain Stage posters) as well as some items from Huntington, including products from The Old Village Roaster, located on 4th Avenue.
Gallipolis, Ohio, resident Elisha Biland and her graphic design business, Lucky Cat Design, is one of the vendors at Counter Point.
Biland said she met Boyd vending at an event and wanted to be a part of the movement to help bring more life to downtown Point Pleasant.
"Obviously, we are not in New York City or even Cincinnati, but there is a niche here, and I kind of like the Appalachian life. My family is from West Virginia, and I grew up over in Ohio, and I enjoy the area, and the work and the people," Biland said. "This store and stores like this bring these towns back to the little man that got ran over and left behind when bigger businesses came in and wiped them out. This can bring back that life back of people walking up and down the street and shopping locally, and buying hand-crafted local goods. Knowing who made your shirt and who made your soap - I really like that aspect of it too."
Boyd, who has dual bachelors of arts degrees in sociology and psychology from Ohio University as well as a master's of arts in sociology at Ohio University where she specialized in poverty in Appalachia and information and communication technology as it relates to social inequality, said Counter Point is a bit of a sociological experiment to see if they can help incorporate economic diversification through a small, sustainable business and grassroots movement.
She named her craft business Silver Market Co., as it became her silver lining, and she is hoping others will find their silver linings too.
At the lot next door to the business, Counter Point has been hosting pop-up markets, including regular drop-in days where the nearby Amish sell their baked goods on the lot.
And they hope to help bring more pop-up events, open-air market style, to that lot that is owned by a local doctor, Kyle McCausland.
Counter Point also supports other area art ventures, like helping sponsor FunktaFest in Huntington, the free funk festival organized by Point Pleasant native Parry Casto set for Saturday, Sept. 30, at Ritter Park Amphitheater.
"We really just want to bring the arts. West Virginia doesn't have industry like it did have, and it would be great to head into a more sustainable, and progressive route, but it is like the chicken before the egg - what comes first? So we might as well start with what we have, and let's see what we can do. We have had such great positive feedback with this place coming in. The town has been so supportive, and our friends are looking at other buildings on Main Street, and they are thinking about putting in restaurants, thinking about breweries, and that is what we want. We are here to just spark some excitement and to get people thinking about what the possibilities even are."
Point Pleasant native and Huntington resident Megan Doeffinger, who was shopping in the store during Mothman Fest, said she's ecstatic that her generation, the next generation, is pouring energy into her hometown.
"We are dear friends with Kelsi and her husband, and seeing the town reshaped is kind of cool. It brings hope in a place that doesn't have a lot," Doeffinger said.
Whatever happens with Counter Point, Boyd said they were not, and are not, going to just sit back and watch the region atrophy, choosing instead to dive into the future now.
"The jobs that were available 50 years ago - and even 10 years ago - are gone. They are not relevant, and we are kind of at the point where we have to create our own path and have to create a new career and maybe many new careers for
the younger generations coming up. And it will continue to change so rapidly with new technology that what is relevant today may not be relevant 10 years from now. So we have to be willing to change and be willing to create something new for ourselves. That can be hard, but it can also be fun. As an artist it is kind of like, let's see where the wind takes us today."
Head to Counter Point
WHAT: The new Counter Point Cooperative, a new creative retail co-op.
WHERE: 424 Main St., Point Pleasant, West Virginia.
WHAT'S THERE: Locally made arts and crafts, and products from makers all over Appalachia.
CONTACT: https://www.facebook.com/counterpointwv/ and @counterpointwv on Instagram and you can
GET TO THE POINT: Counter Point was formed up out of community discussions in Point Pleasant called Get To the Point. The first GTTP meeting was conducted in April. Folks are trying to meet at least once a month and conduct community conversations every few months. The chats have been at Counter Point while the larger community conversations are at the Gathering Place, a church that extends its facility to help recovering addicts in our area. GTTP is based off of Create Huntington's Chat 'n' Chew.