The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Life!

December 5, 2012

Big Things in Local Packages

BECKLEY — The produce harvest is a distant memory, but that doesn’t mean conscientious consumers are off the hook for shopping local. Businessman Kevin Traube has stood the tests of time and Walmart inside his niched retail nook, a surviving small business worthy of a case study for its amazing adaptability over the past nearly three decades. His is one Little Brick House impervious to the huffing, puffing and blowing-down winds of change and chains.

“Change comes and you either adapt or hold on to the ideas of the past,” says Traube, recalling the evolution of his business from an arts and crafts venue to a collectibles spot to a combination specialty store, mini-golf course and seasonal ice cream parlor. His philosophy is as casual as his reasons for beginning (he acquired family-owned land and wanted to do something different) and as quietly flexible as one of his largest product lines, granola-kissed casualwear, Life Is Good. Were his business sense captioned in like fashion, it would read: Make them happy, and they will come.

Pre-Tamarack artisan center, Little Brick House was one of the only local clearinghouses for West Virginia-made items. Once artists could have their products purchased in bulk, paid for in advance and featured inside the grand Tamarack turrets, fewer wished to display at smaller brick retailers like Traube’s, although he maintains the highest regard for Tamarack and its mission. “Then we became a place for collectibles.” Following the loss of a number of crafters, Little Brick House boasted several large, national lines like popular Tom Clark gnomes and Department 56 villages. Customer demand dictated much of the inventory, a merchandising practice that begins with the question, “Do you have this?” and which also explains a brief but glorious diversion into the Beanie Baby brouhaha. Much to the dismay of collectibles shops everywhere, the worldwide web became that guy in the prison yard who could get you things, and get them fairly cheap. What was left of Traube’s lunch, post artisan exodus, the Internet promptly ate.

Then one day while mowing the hilly backyard to Little Brick House, he started thinking. Harper Road, his location, was the busiest interchange in southern West Virginia. And if he knew anything about land, it was that they weren’t making any more of it. “You know, this hillside would be nice if it was something productive,” was his inner response. He remembered an entertaining place from his childhood called Hillbilly Golf, in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and it got him thinking more. “This place had such a history of tourists being knocked out by the beauty of West Virginia. It seemed a natural place to make a West Virginia-themed golf course.” That was 11 years and 18 holes ago. He connected with a friend to find an engineer willing to help him build Mountain State Miniature Golf, after hours spent in the pouring rain placing stakes where fun-loving, Mountain State-inspired obstacles, from Seneca Rocks to a mountain still to the Mothman, would emerge amid the green. The day the amorphous sludge was pumped downhill to form his dreams in concrete was a day he remembers “right behind getting married and having kids.”

As long as the weather has cooperated, they have come, customers from far and near. Traube’s adaptation received an adaptation of its own. “At first, I thought, ‘I could make some money doing this.’ Then I saw the tourists, the teenagers on dates, the grandmas and grandpas and I felt like the Grinch when he heard the Whos singing. I realized beyond making money it was meeting the needs of the community.”

In summer, 2012, he was all-in again — this time with the idea he could sustain a make-it-and-weigh-it ice cream parlor. Chocolate Moose Ice Cream and Sweets, so named for the “moth-eaten” stuffed moose hanging over the mantle in the parlor, saw steady traffic and several scheduled business meetings this past summer. “Both (the golf course and the ice cream parlor) are very seasonal ideas. For half of the year, I feel like a genius, for the other half, it’s ‘Hey, Buddy, can you spare a dime?’”

With southern West Virginia’s largest inventory of optimistic cotton casualwear and with artisan faithful Carol Dameron’s  Pockbookity rag purses and trendy coal jewelry, Little Brick House’s strength this peak buying season is with inimitable stocking stuffers that go beyond the call of duty. In addition to these, don’t for a second think the wheels aren’t turning for another adaptation to keep his business relevant, no matter what the time of year. By Traube’s estimation, it sure beats the alternative.

“When you are a small business owner, you can easily fail by trying to keep your initial vision for your business intact,” he concludes, what he refers to as the “I’m going down, but I’m taking my vision with me” philosophy.

— E-mail: lshrewsberry@register-herald.com

Text Only
Life!
  • bob thompson The jazz man

    If Bob Thompson’s 30-year career as a professional musician has taught him anything, it’s that there are really only two kinds of music.

     

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Leave a good legacy, and respect others’

    The death this week of the Rev. Jerry Falwell led to a network and cable blitz of commentaries on his life. We’ve been bombarded with a flurry of eulogies, criticisms, apathetic shrugs and lots of news footage regarding Falwell’s faith and foibles.

     

    July 26, 2014

  • 072314 Life CrossFit 4.jpg Crossfit Nation: Working out the WOD way

    Just as fashion trends come and go, so do fitness fads, and Cyndie Chinn had tried them all.

    July 23, 2014 3 Photos

  • downsize 1 Living large in smaller spaces

    How is it possible that as your nest gets emptier, your garage gets fuller? Living off the grid sounds tantalizing — the extreme version of paring down. But are you ready for solar panels and growing your own groceries or would a smaller home do the trick?

    July 20, 2014 3 Photos

  • Relishing the faith of little children

    July 19, 2014

  • Guns 1 ‘Guns’ for Life

    With the latest World Health Organization figures showing global life expectancy increasing from 64 years in 1990 to 70 years in 2011, staying healthy enough to add quality to the quantity of life is an important consideration.

    July 16, 2014 3 Photos

  • coconut 4 Crack open the power of the coconut

    Now let’s get this straight …
      We know about Parrotheads. And Cheeseheads. But when did Coconut Heads become cool?
    Move over, argan — you are so last season. Another exotic oil is taking lead role in everything from shampoo to weight-loss supplements. That cast-iron skillet seasoning, stretch-mark banishing essence of the hour is — coconut oil.

    July 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • Free summer serenade concert to be held

    Aurora Celtic, sponsored by Ivy & Stone, presents the free Summer Serenade concert Saturday at 6 p.m. on the Brown House lawn in Summersville.

    July 13, 2014

  • WVU Extension: Healthy summer eating tips for all occasions

    Summer and early fall are the times of year for family reunions, potluck picnics, pool parties and various other celebrations where we like to share food.

    July 13, 2014

  • new BAF fund Endowment still helping students attend college

    The “Beckley College, College of West Virginia, Mountain State University and University of Charleston-Beckley Alumni Association Fund” has the distinction of having the longest name of any of the 400 permanent endowments managed by the Beckley Area Foundation.

    July 13, 2014 1 Photo