Ohio County Business Owners Tell Their Pandemic Tale
WHEELING — They’ve struggled to stay in business during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now they have filed legal action against state orders financially affecting their business.
Several Wheeling businesses last week filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia seeking injunctive relief from state directives issued by Gov. Jim Justice that closed or limited their operations.
The business owners admit winning the suit won’t help them regain money lost due to the directives. What they want is a ruling stating the governor had no right through executive order to close their businesses, and that the action should have been taken by the legislature.
“What we have been talking about all along is government overreach and overreaction,” said Alex Coogan of Eden LLC, which operates Eden’s Family Restaurant on Wheeling Island.
“It (the lawsuit) is solely to check the power of the governor, who has acted unconstitutionally. That is it.”
He said the goal of the lawsuit is to put the power back in the hands of the people.
“If there was anybody who could have passed sweeping legislation turning off people’s livelihoods and rights, it would have had to have been an act of the (state) House and Senate,” Coogan said.
The lawsuit initially listed six local businesses as plaintiffs. In addition to Eden LLC, others in the filing are The Rejuvenation Center, and four other businesses operated by the Hinebaugh Family — the Fulton Fun Factory, LLC; Hinebaugh Athletics, LLC; Hinebaugh Enterprises, LLC; and Noah’s Ark Childcare and Learning Center.
Beth Hinebaugh was reluctant to speak Monday about the pending lawsuit, but she did say Noah’s Ark and some of her other businesses could be removed from the lawsuit.
Shelley St. Myers, owner of The Rejuvenation Center, said she was fortunate there were two sides to her business — a fitness and exercise side, and a cosmetic procedure side.
“We’re in a unique situation where one side (the cosmetic procedure side) is good, and the other side (fitness) has ended,” she said.
“It is the fitness side that will take the hit in fall. But on the medical side, we’re doing well.”
The governor’s directives have stopped her from having group exercise class classes, and they are not likely to return, she said.
“It’s just gone now, at this point,” she said. “I just don’t see us recouping the clients who were already loyal and coming to us on a regular basis for the prior three years.
“The fitness business is fickle in general. Everyone has adapted to a different lifestyle and schedule. Most have decided they are going to start working out at home and using online measures and classes in their living room. Many of these services are free, versus paying and coming back into the setting of a group class with multiple people.”
She said the environment over the last six months has been a “crazy” and unfocused one in which to do business.
“We’re just hoping for relief — and structured, science-based decisions being made. Not just about who can play ball and who can’t, even though they live in the same place.”