HINTON — Kristal Straub defines bohemian as a “free spirit lover of the arts.”
“A creative person who believes in the power of love and nature. Someone who lives life out loud and encourages others to do the same.”
That definition hangs on a sign near the front entrance to the recently opened Boho on 2nd Avenue next to the McCreery Conference and Event Center which Straub opened in early March.
“Our catchphrase is ‘Live Life Out Loud’ and I think that that’s what it is all about,” Straub said. “It’s about being a catalyst to people finding out how to live their life out loud and about offering products and experiences that help them do that.”
The store is full of an eclectic assortment of options — from art, gifts, housewares and clothing. And while the assortment is wide-ranging, Straub curates the goods to match a style that speaks to her.
“I was really interested in starting a business that could be brand-able,” Straub said. “Where you walk in and know where you are.”
While many new businesses in the region are marketing themselves to tourists, Straub sees Boho as an art center for the community of Hinton as a whole.
Noting the closing of the town’s only big box store, Magic Mart, Straub said she purposefully stocked items of interest for the locals including backpacks and rugs. She said she is attempting to fill a need in the community by offering goods across a wide range of prices.
Straub also noted that the vast majority of her goods are sourced from local artisans or from other national small business artisans.
“We’ve been very cognizant of where we’ve been sourcing things.”
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A native of Michigan, Straub first came to the area during college as part of a volunteer group.
After college, she took a position at the Appalachian South Folklife Center in Pipestem and hasn’t left West Virginia since. She later worked at the REACHH-Family Resource Center in Hinton and currently works as a drug counselor in Lewisburg.
While her day job takes her away from the old railroad town, Straub and her husband, Carl Thompson, still live in the riverside city, only blocks away from Boho.
Thompson, a stained-glass artist originally from Georgia, has set up a workshop inside the new business where he offers classes.
“I’ve had six or seven classes... and they’re full,” Thompson said. “So that’s unbelievable.”
While still new, Straub said that the store so far has been a success.
“My going in goal was for the business to pay for itself,” she said. “It’s definitely showing that it can do that.”
The new store owner said the biggest challenge has been getting a grip on what exactly customers would want to buy.
Crochet wash clothes and homemade soaps have been some of the fastest going products, according to Straub. She said she has had to make multiple orders with the artisans from Fayetteville and Beckley, respectively, who made those products.
“I’m learning what’s going to be interesting, what’s not and working with different artisans to fill that gap.”
While sourcing regionally, Straub said she doesn’t have to look far — there is a blossoming arts culture in Hinton itself.
“There’s all kinds of art going on in Hinton,” the shop owner said, adding that the diversity in backgrounds in Hinton is amazing, from local folks to transplants like her and Thompson. “For some reason, we’ve met up in Hinton and we’re all together.”
That community feeling has spread into the businesses around town, according to Straub.
“Businesses have an option,” she said. “They can either try to become competitors with each other or they can support (each other). Because the more we have going on in Hinton, the more reasons people have to come here.”
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According to both Straub and Thompson, they have seen a shift in the town with more people visiting, more activity and more businesses beginning to pop up.
For Thompson, the first few weeks of Boho’s operation have been an affirmation of his optimistic belief in the town.
“It just seems very positive,” said the stained-glass artist. “If you go to The Market or Chestnut Revival for lunch, you’re going to feel like this is a good place to be and people are here.”
Straub said that while out in the region, she and Thompson have talked to people who are interested in Hinton and what is happening there.
“Hinton’s reputation is changing in a very big way and we’ve noticed it,” Straub said.
She said first and foremost, outside artists are interested in the potential of the city.
“The artists know that the energy is shifting. Things are looking up and it’s an untapped area for them.”
With art, Straub said that she sees hope for her town.
While she said she has great respect for the city’s heritage and history, she said that one of the biggest challenges for her in curating her store is not falling into the trap of Boho being about the past.
“The challenge is to take a historical art or a vintage something, and how can we now recreate and reimagine it to bring it into the present.”
Boho is currently open on Wednesdays from 2 to 7 p.m and Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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