Mall Lands Major New Business; Lashley Tractor to Relocate

Even though production is many months away, the oil and gas drilling frenzy that has gripped Belmont County for many months continues to have an impact on new as well as other businesses in the area.

Some of the hottest selling items after huge lease payments from oil and gas companies came pouring in were farm machinery of all kinds, garden and lawn equipment. One farm equipment representative told me recently that in just one week more than $1 million in sales was recorded.

Two new business moves that show links to that scenario are developing in Belmont County, including a major tenant moving into the Ohio Valley Mall complex.

Rural King Supply of Mattoon, Ill., which specializes in sales of farm, garden and lawn equipment as well as everything from housewares, to automotive parts, toys and sportswear, will be moving into the mall’s perimeter building which has been leased by “Sibs,” an antique and consignment business, and previously had been occupied by Hills and Ames department stores. Mall manager George Diab confirmed the building would be turned over to Rural King on July 23. When the firm will actually open for business is not certain. “The building will probably require considerable renovating before they can move in,” Diab noted. Rural King was founded in Mattoon in 1960 and since that time has added 55 stores in seven Midwestern states.

John Woodring, co-owner of the Sibs outlet with his sister, Debbie Lund, said the store lost its lease. He said the short notice the store was given to vacate the premises was expected. “It was in our lease that when they found an occupant for this building, we’d have to move out,” Woodring noted. But Woodring remained optimistic. “We’re leaving here but we’re not going out of business.” He is hopeful their move to a new site can take place within six weeks. “Moundsville looks good but we don’t know for sure. I know we have to be out of here by the end of this week.” The Sibs outlet closed today.

Sibs is advertised as the store housing 14 stores. Asked what will happen in regard to the huge inventory of antiques and other items in the building, Woodring smiled and answered, “We have 1,150 consignment items here. What we don’t sell after the two big auctions, we’ll take with us.” Those two auctions were held last Friday and Saturday.

Another business – Lashley Tractor Sales – that has enjoyed increased business since the oil/gas boom started, will be moving just few doors west of its present location in what has in past years been known as the Red Barn, the Green Barn and for roughly the past seven years, as the Lashley Kubota Barn. Lashley’s new location will be in the Tinmar development area that was established by Doctors Michael Derosa and Ronald Presutti, whose dentist’s office fronts the National Road development area at 47301. The present address for the tractor firm is 47445 National Road. Construction of the new building is nearly completed. Admitting that sales have been very good, Ernie Wells, general manager of Lashley Sales, said the company’s new quarters will have approximately 14,000 square feet of space indoors and ample space outdoors. “The new quarters will give us much more indoor space than we have now to display our equipment,” Wells noted. He said the move into the new building will probably take place in September.

Departure of the Lashley firm comes at a time when the owners of the “barn” building – the Malik family of St. Clairsville – were in the process of totally redeveloping the 16-acre site that formerly housed a floral, gift and garden complex and had completed construction of a 5,000 square foot building to house a new business. But the occupancy of that building hit a snag. Greg Malik, head of the M5 Management Group LLC that constructed the one story structure, said the well known business firm intending to occupy the building, notified him it suffered an unanticipated economic setback that is preventing them from relocating.

“So we’re in the market for a new tenant,” Malik stated. Despite that setback, development of the entire 16-acre site will continue. Although the new building located in a well landscaped area bordering historic National Road “would make an ideal location for a restaurant,” Malik said it would better serve as a professional office or center. He pointed out there are three, 225 square foot office spaces at the west end of the building as well as a large conference room.

When the Lashley firm relocates its business, the 6,500 square foot building it occupies will also become available for a new tenant. Malik said present plans are to keep the barn structure intact as it is. The last remnants of the former Jack’s Floral, Gift & Garden Shop are gone. “All of our greenhouses are gone,” he offered. “We sold them all.” The area where the greenhouses were located is the focus of the redevelopment. “We’re extending water and sewer lines into the area to accommodate any business or commercial operation that is looking for a convenient and accessible place to locate.”

There is no doubting that the thousands of dollars spent by American Electric Power to set up the elaborate staging area at the Belmont County Fairgrounds to restore electrical service in this area was a godsend. But AEP customers may have to pay for it, or part of it.

Reports out of Columbus note that an AEP spokeswoman said the company plans to ask the Ohio Utilities Commission to pass costs to consumers in order to recoup some of the millions of dollars it spent to correct the massive power outages caused by the recent storms. “We pass on what the commission allows us to pass on,” the spokeswoman explained, adding, “It’s not a guarantee, and it’s not automatic.”

There were 200 or more electrical repair trucks from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri working out of the fairgrounds on their mission to restore electrical service in Belmont and adjoining counties. The workers were housed and fed at the fairgrounds until service to all homes was completed. While lauding the work of AEP and the work crews it employed for the massive electrical restoration project, Belmont County Fair Board president Jerry Campbell also had praise for the role the fairgrounds played in providing aid to people crippled by the storm.

“This proved we’re more than just a fairgrounds,” Campbell declared. “When there is an emergency our grounds are available to provide assistance.” There was early planning for use of the fairgrounds by AEP. Campbell said six months ago he met with AEP officials locally and statewide to discuss the possibility of using the 180-acre fairgrounds site in the event of an emergency. They came to a mutual agreement for that purpose.

When it had to be implemented, it worked quickly. “They called me on Friday and said they’d like to use the fairgrounds. They didn’t waste time. On Saturday the trucks started rolling in.” Campbell declared, “We could not have done this at the old fairgrounds site in St. Clairsville.”

Gasoline prices continue to be a hot topic and a couple of interesting statistics on the product were uncovered during a trip through parts of Belmont County last week. In Bridgeport we found gasoline selling at 10 cents a gallon less than in St. Cllairsville. Driving further south, Bellaire claimed the top prize. Gasoline there was 10 cents a gallon less than in Bridgeport and that adds up to being 20 cents less a gallon than in St. Clairsville. Two stations in Bellaire had prices set at $3.289 a gallon.

After three years of negotiating with the federal government and the General Services Administration, the U.S. Army Reserve Center building located along the Ohio River just north of Bellaire, is finally owned by Belmont County.

County commissioners revealed last week the sale has finally been consummated. Belmont County Port Authority director Larry Merry has been negotiating the purchase for $205,000. Plans are to lease the building to MPR transloading facility which plans to improve railroad service to its facility.

Al Molnar can be reached at: