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!
  • Stories give us kinship with strangers

    Editor’s note: This column by the late Bev Davis originally was published April 10, 2010.
     
    My dad was a coal miner. By the time I came along, he was working above ground as a tipple foreman.

    April 19, 2014

  • momrun Just do it W.Va.!

    “Missy’s here — we’re not going to win. Missy’s here…”
    Learning she was a perceived threat from two women whispering at the starting line behind her, women she had never met from among the hopping, stretching, Lycra-clad crowd, had one effect on Missy Burleson — a smile spreading as far as her feet were about to sprint her.

    April 16, 2014 5 Photos

  • living will 1 Decision day

    Pastor Roger Pauley and his wife Marcia were — like so many other baby boomers — charged with the responsibility of making decisions for their aging parents. For the pastor’s father, death was sudden.

    April 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • BAF approves community grants

    Beckley Area Foundation Board of Directors has approved $160,737 to fund forty-four projects throughout Raleigh County between April 2014 and March 2015.

    April 13, 2014

  • Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg unveils upcoming events

    Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg has a variety of events planned for the spring and summer.

    April 13, 2014

  • Singer named an Outstanding Young American

    President Bill Clinton, Elvis Presley, Wayne Newton and General Chuck Yeager have one thing in common, they are all past recipients of the United States Jaycees Ten Outstanding Young Americans award. For over 75 years, the United States Junior Chamber (Jaycees) has recognized the 10 young men and women – under the age of 40 – who best exemplify the highest attributes of the nation’s emerging generation. The U.S. Jaycees is pleased to name West Virginia’s own Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. to the 2014 Ten Outstanding Young Americans who will be honored at the 76th annual black-tie awards ceremony – to be held June 28, 2014, at the BWI Airport Marriott Hotel in Baltimore, MD.

    April 13, 2014

  • alderson americorps Alderson Main Street welcomes its new Americorps member

    The members and friends of Alderson Main Street welcomed their new Americorps member, Lynda Howe, at its recent monthly meeting.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tractor pull event coming to State Fairgrounds in May

    The West Virginia Grand Nationals N.T.P.A. Championship pulling event debuts at the State Fair Event Center in Lewisburg Memorial Day weekend.

    April 13, 2014

  • Djembes Drumming workshop to be held

    The New River Community and Technical College Office of Workforce Education is sponsoring a Djembes Drumming workshop on Tuesdays for six weeks beginning April 29.

    April 13, 2014

  • Learn basic sewing at NRCTC

    The New River Community and Technical College Office of Workforce Education will offer a basic sewing class in Lewisburg in May.

    April 13, 2014