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The Walgreens in Parsons shuttered in mid-December. Photo by Erin Beck

Walgreens closure is latest blow to Parsons in decades-long fight against decline

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by Mountain State Spotlight. Get stories like this delivered to your email inbox once a week; sign up for the free newsletter at mountainstatespotlight.org/newsletter.

PARSONS — Driving on U.S. Route 48 from the north into the Tucker County seat, drivers used to be greeted by a three-business plaza. 

But now, with the closure last month of Walgreens, the only store left in the plaza is the Family Dollar. 

“It just looks so empty on this side of town,” said long-time resident Dana Corcoran. “It just looks like a ghost town.” 

When Walgreens announced it would close the Parsons location — one of 150 store closures across the country — it prompted criticism from Gov. Jim Justice, who sent a letter to the corporation decrying the economic loss and lack of warning. 

In Parsons, there’s another option for prescriptions; the St. George Clinic Pharmacy is just a half-mile away. 

But for many, the Walgreens closure is the latest in a long string of closures — a large number of which occurred after the 1985 flood — that has resulted in fewer and fewer places to buy household essentials.

One evening several days after the closure, the indoor lights of the Walgreens still shined on part of the parking lot as former Walgreens workers loaded up a semi-truck with storage totes. 

Just a short walk away, Mary Moore, 85, lives in a house by the river with her husband, Okey. 

Moore knows well the role pharmacies can play in a community. She worked for Parsons’ locally owned pharmacy, Barb’s Drug Store, for years before it closed, as well at the Rite Aid that followed. She said community members would even walk in to ask for recommendations on other local businesses, such as advice on a good plumber or electrician.

“I miss my people,” she said.

The Moores’ house is one of many in Parsons on stilts — reminders of the Cheat River flood of 1985, which many say irreversibly damaged the town. After that, Parsons’ population dropped: from about 1,900 in 1980 to about 1,300 in 2020.

Insurance agent Bob Gutshall’s original office was wiped out by the flood. He said he had to swim out to survive, gesturing to his chin to describe the height of the water. 

“It’s the flood of ‘85 that killed us,” he said.

But before that, he said the town was once a bustling place, full of restaurants, stores and pedestrians.

“Sometimes you parked your car the night before just to have a place to park for Saturday coming up,” he said.

That was nearly 40 years ago. Now, residents have to drive to cities half an hour to an hour or so away like Elkins, Clarksburg or Morgantown for items like appliances and clothing. And the recent Walgreens closure will mean residents will have to leave town for even more items like seasonal decor, cards and higher-quality toiletries. 

Rob Klein watched a sense of complacency envelop the town following the flood. He wants to see local officials focus more on infrastructure and economic development, but said residents are slow to change. Klein cited one example, when about eight years ago, residents voted down a fee increase for expanded ambulance services. 

“We’re a very gray-haired state,” he said. “And I think Tucker County’s super gray haired.” 

Tucker County Commission President Michael Rosenau said the county is working on economic development — commissioners apply for grants to improve infrastructure, and they are working to promote the river as a kayaking destination.

“We only have like 6,400 residents in our county,” he said. “So there’s not a lot of funds to work with.”

There is also some forward-looking planning going on elsewhere in the region, including plans for Corridor H to connect Weston to Front Royal in Virginia, through scenic West Virginia ski areas. 

The planned route will go right past Parsons, but Crystal Nutter, owner of Crystal’s Bakery, said completion will mean less reason to visit their town.

“Why would you get off the four-lane just to come in here to Crystal’s Bakery?” she said. 

Nutter noted the Walgreens closure also meant the loss of jobs. She worries her kids will have to leave town for work.

“I honestly don’t know if anything could survive here because there’s nothing here,” she said. 

Reach reporter Erin Beck at erin@mountainstatespotlight.org

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