Local establishments and mayor vie for 'Best of West Virginia'

Suzette Lowe

If anyone in Jackson County were asked where the best of West Virginia could be found, the answer would be easy.

“It’s right here,” they’d say.

When the folks at West Virginia Living magazine asked for nominations for their annual ‘Best of West Virginia’ contest, many of the finalists ended up being from Jackson County. Some of those have been in the contest in previous years. Some are newcomers. One of the local competitors has only been in business for a few months, another for just a little over a year, but word has gotten out about their specialties.

WV Living magazine

What’s the story behind these nominees? Why do they think they are different from the others in their categories? Why should they receive consideration by those who go online to cast their votes?

The seven nominees that responded to these questions agree on one thing. It’s a true honor to be nominated.

“This nomination means the world to me and my family,” Justin Johnson of Hot Johnson’s said. “I think there is a comfort in nostalgia and food does that for me.”

The support and pride the community has invested in these businesses has provided optimism.

“It gives me hope that we’ll be in business for a long time,” said Shari Leavitt who owns The WV Artisan Market. “It brings me to tears when I think of all the encouragement this county has given me. To get this nomination is beyond belief.”

So, who are Jackson County’s nominees and what makes them special?

Best Hot Dog — Hot Johnson’s

Johnson said the appeal of his eatery is not just the hot dog. It’s the love he and his dad, Jess, have for food and making people happy. Growing up, Johnson said his favorite hot dogs were Skeenies and The Big R.

“I’ve tried to pay tribute in a way, to emulate the good taste, but these are definitely unique to Hot Johnson’s,” he said. “My dad’s recipe is the one for the chili and I’ve improved on my mom’s slaw, in my opinion.”

A vote for Hot Johnson’s is for the food but also for the perseverance.

“Our food represents not only a great hot dog, but living life on our own terms and serving our customers in the best way we know how,” Johnson said.

Best Gift Shop — WV Artisan Market

This unique shop offers a gathering place, along with a chance to purchase hand-made items.

“We don’t really compete with other stores,” Leavitt said. “My goal was to offer a relaxing location for area artisans to showcase their beautiful work. This is something you really don’t see unless you go to some place like Tamarack.”

Always looking for ways to expand, Leavitt now offers lunch and various classes taught by the artisans.

“We have 100 artists represented right now,” she said. “Just when I think we’re full, someone comes in with something that we just can’t turn down. I love being able to showcase these talented folks.”

Best Law Firm — Adams, Fisher & Chappell

To be the best requires the best. That is exactly what Ceason Ranson, an associate attorney at Adams, Fisher & Chappell, says this firm has in Rob Fisher and Leah Chappell.

“No one knows real estate better than Rob Fisher, a man who has a memory and skill with detail that astounds me,” Ranson said. “With Leah, you get an expert at family law which is one of the most difficult areas of practice. She gets all the nuances and deals with all the emotions with a level head and professionalism.”

To be chosen as the best law firm, said Ranson, would be recognizing a firm that is built on home, family and community.

“We are there for our clients for everything that life brings them,” she said. “Our support staff, our passion for the law, our willingness to go above and beyond in everything we do are all things that set us apart.”

Best Local Floral Shop — Evergreen Florist & Christian Supply

Evergreen Florist is the result of three generations carrying on a family tradition. As Rhonda McCutcheon says, “The face and location of the building may have changed over the years, but the focus has stayed on God, family and serving others.”

Being a small-town business allows a close relationship with customers and vendors alike.

“Our customers visit during lunch, bring goodies to us during hectic times and join us in fun activities,” McCutcheon said. “We know our vendors by name and recognize how important they are to our success.”

That success means there is no job too big or too small for the hometown florist.

“We are driven by what our flowers and gifts can bring to others,” she said. “A vote for us recognizes the love, labor and role model that exemplifies West Virginia. It is truly humbling to be nominated.”

Best Local Furniture Shop (Bricks & Mortar) — Vail Furniture

Those who operate Vail Furniture today say that the success of the store reflects that in some ways, it never changes.

Dave Lowry says, “This store is 177 years old and we still run it the ‘old-fashioned’ way. We believe in helping our customers, not just trying to make a sale. We even have free delivery locally when most stores charge.”

One thing that does change is inventory. Everything from grandfather clocks to dining sets to beds and mattresses can be found at the store that is still owned by the family descended from founder, Isiah Vail.

“We were here before West Virginia became a state,” said Shali Casto. “We continually strive for good quality furniture at affordable prices, while doing our own repairs and in-house customer service. We truly believe this nomination is a consequence of our commitment to service and quality and the wonderful support we have gotten from people in this area and all over the state.”

Best Fair Festival/Event — Mountain State Art & Craft Fair

Not many people know that the Mountain State Art & Craft Fair was intended to be a one-time event to showcase West Virginia’s centennial. It was such a success that it’s now in its 60th year.

“This fair is historically recognized as the original juried art and craft fair in the state,” said Debra Gard, co-chair of the festival. “Being a trend setter has become one of the trademarks of this craft fair.”

Unlike most other festivals, every artisan must demonstrate and share how each piece of art, dance, music or food product is created. The opportunity for fairgoers to create a piece of art is made possible through hands-on interactive programs.

“The sound of Appalachian music, the smell of homemade bread, the laughter and joy of family and friends sharing a time together while celebrating our heritage is priceless,” said Gard. “A vote for the Mountain State Art & Craft Festival is really a vote for all those who put their heart and soul into this event.”

Best Mayor — Carolyn Rader

To many, the face of Ripley is its mayor, Carolyn Rader. For Rader, the face of Ripley is its people.

“To me, the only reason I was nominated for this award is because of the citizens of Ripley,’ she said. “They are the ones that make this place special, not me.”

While the position of mayor carries many responsibilities, Rader says it’s never a chore to come to work. But she says she knows she was elected to be a public official and she takes her job very seriously.

“I get to communicate with all different types of people, businesses and agencies who really care about getting things done,” she said. “And the staff I have can’t be beat and neither can our city council. They all care deeply about this city.”

Rader feels it’s important for her to be visible, active and aware of everything that goes on in Ripley. Anyone who has seen this mayor out painting curbs, mowing grass, directing traffic when necessary and going out on emergency calls with her ‘city guys’ will not doubt that she fulfills that goal.

“I do have something that will be a very proud moment for me,” said Mayor Rader. “When the present lagoons are exceptional sports fields for our youth and our new sewer plant is operating (it) will be a great day for the city of Ripley.”

Other area nominees in the ‘Best of West Virginia’ competition are Appalachian Distillery (Best Distillery), Ravenswood Inn Bed & Breakfast (Best Bed & Breakfast/Inn), Sold Sisters Realty (Best Real Estate Agency), I Scream Sundae (Best Ice Cream Shop) and Fairplain Yacht Club (Best Local Watering Hole, Best Brunch, Best Burger, Best Sandwich and Best Wings).

Online voting will be Sept. 13-Oct. 3. To vote, visit www.wvliving.com or visit WV Living Magazine on Facebook.