By: Marin Williams
This week the Gap cohort traveled to Mullens, West Virginia. Located in the Appalachian region, the former mining town has a population of roughly 1,200 people. Our job this week was to clear up the Itmann company store.
The Itmann company store used to be a thriving center for the town of Mullens. Coal miners and their families depended on the business for all their necessities. From washing machines to cookies the Itmann Store had it all. Italian immigrants built the store in 1923, modeling its structure after an Italian prison. It was built with hand-cut stones carried over the river. It resembles a castle amongst the small wood and brick homes of the town. The store closed in 1983 because the local mine was shut down, and in turn, the Itmann ran out of business. As years passed, the store was changed in attempts to support the community. At one point it was a homeless shelter, a thrift store, and a post office. Eventually, the building became unusable. A former West Virginian Senator bought the property in hopes of turning it into an estate, but did not want to spend the money to fix it. Over time the building became dilapidated and began showing the effects of not being taken care of. It was an eyesore for the community.
This week, we cleared out the building, landscaped the yard, and cleaned the buildings entire interior. These jobs were easier said than done. We faced waist-high piles of molded clothing, rotted wood, and broken furniture. It took a lot of team effort and heavy lifting, but we made a lot of progress. Now there are hopes to turn the store into something that will serve the entire community. It was difficult to find value in the work we were doing until we started hearing gratitude from the locals. The store was a really significant building for the town. In a way, it symbolized the end of an era when it closed down. It really boosted the moral of the people living there when we cleaned it up. 🙂