How Cleve Persinger and his family are keeping his grandparents’ Appalachian spirit alive through a Charleston storefront.
When Cleve Persinger visits Pendleton County, he’s greeted by memories from generations past. From his own recollections of spending holidays and family trips in the region to new stories he hears from people around town, the welcoming, warm spirit of his late grandparents, Buck and Bette Persinger, remains in the air to this day. Buck and Bette married in 1936, spent their lives in West Virginia, and fostered some of Cleve Persinger’s most treasured childhood memories. In fact, he might have grown up in North Carolina but, through their legacy, he’s found that all roads have led him home to West Virginia.
Persinger, along with his wife, Katie, and her sister Laura Jewell, have breathed new life into his grandparents’ memory with their Charleston store, named in honor of the beloved duo: Buck & Bette. Katie Persinger and Jewell are not West Virginia natives, either. They grew up in Georgia, but they were inspired by Cleve Persinger’s stories and his calling to end up in the state where Buck and Bette built their lives. “My grandparents were proud of West Virginia,” Cleve Persinger says. “They brought a sense of pride in Appalachia and West Virginia.” After years of thinking about the state and what makes it special, the Persingers finally made the move several years ago, finding Charleston to be a perfect home. Jewell followed soon behind, her big sister and brother-in-law offering her both a measure of comfort in an unfamiliar place and a new adventure.
Simply living here wasn’t enough, though—the three of them wanted to be involved in the community, offer it something new, and honor the spirit of the grandparents who made Cleve Persinger fall in love with West Virginia in the first place. And so, Buck & Bette, the shop, was born. Now nearing its fourth year of operation, it’s doing its namesakes proud. Customers can browse cozy West Virginia–themed hats and clothing, pick through the works of local authors and artisans, snag a candle or a unique piece of jewelry, or find the perfect home decor item to add a bit of character to their tables.
But above all, they can feel the spirit of the real-life Buck and Bette, whose black-and-white photos adorn the walls, watching over what their grandson and his family have built in their honor. “Bette was a bit more sophisticated,” Katie Persinger says. “Buck was a hunter who worked for the railroad.” As a pair, they represented the grit and resilience of Appalachia just as much as they represented the region’s hospitality, pride, and elegance, and that’s exactly what the trio of owners aim to embody on the store’s shelves.
As co-owners and cultivators of the shop’s products, they toe the line between fancy and rustic, never leaning too far in either direction but striking a perfect, polished middle ground. They don’t stock anything they wouldn’t buy themselves, and they strive to offer sophisticated, stylish items while keeping prices accessible.
They’ve also found themselves acting as ambassadors for West Virginia even though they’re transplants themselves, showing that the Appalachian hospitality of Buck and Bette is alive and well. “I love giving customers recommendations for food and restaurants and the state in general,” Jewell says. “Have they been to New River Gorge? Or to Thomas? That’s my favorite part.” No one was a stranger to the real-life Buck and Bette, and so no one is a stranger here. “We want people to feel welcomed and known when they walk in,” Katie Persinger says. And just as the store is built on Cleve Persinger’s memories of his grandparents, they want to make sure customers leave with the makings of memories of their own. “I love selling those instant heirlooms,” Jewell says, noting that many of their products are built to become beloved family staples. “Unless it breaks, it’s probably going to be passed on for generations.”
That’s what you can really look forward to at Buck & Bette—something to pass on. The shop wouldn’t exist without stories about Buck and Bette, the inspirations behind it all, and, with each customer who walks through the doors, a new story is poised to unfurl. “I like inviting people into their story,” Cleve Persinger says. “And I want to feel like I’m contributing to your story.”
Yes, you’ll find something amazing on the shelves of the store. But what’s more than that, you’ll find something to share with your friends and family. You’ll find something that sits for years on the mantle of the home you make your life in. You’ll make a memory with one of the store owners or a neighbor you haven’t seen in a while. You’ll gain something that might become part of your family history—something that finds its way into the stories your grandchildren lovingly tell about you after you’re gone.
READ MORE ARTICLES FROM WV LIVING’S SPRING 2022 ISSUE
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