Co-founders of Lost River Trading Post, Lost River Real Estate, Farms Work Wonders, and Wardensville Garden Market.
Each weekend, people pour over West Virginia’s borders, hoping to enjoy a few days of small-town life before heading back to the big city. No doubt, many dream of escaping the rat race and putting down roots in the Mountain State full-time. Paul Yandura and Donald Hitchcock weren’t satisfied with a dream. They made it into reality. The couple built a cabin in Lost River in 2008. Then they built several businesses aimed at attracting even more people to their adopted hometown, as well as a nonprofit aimed at creating opportunity for their neighbors. We talked with Yandura about why the couple came here and how they’ve made it all work.
Why did you choose to move to West Virginia?
We had visited West Virginia several times and were always blown away by the natural beauty of the state. We bought a weekend cabin in Lost River Valley almost 12 years ago and then about seven years ago started seriously discussing a way to move to the state full-time.
Tell us about the businesses and nonprofits you’ve started since moving to West Virginia.
Over the past six years we have launched three successful and ever-growing ventures in Wardensville. We opened the Lost River Trading Post in 2013 and have watched it grow every year with an impressive 11 percent increase last year. We then opened the Lost River Real Estate – Wardensville Gateway Office and have seen amazing growth in sales, making us top producers in the county. In 2016, we worked with the JDL Foundation to help launch Farms Work Wonders, an umbrella nonprofit social enterprise with a mission to create opportunities for local Appalachian youth. To financially sustain the project, Farms Work Wonders creates connected income-generating social enterprises—market, bakery, farm, restaurant, production kitchen—which also serve as living classrooms.
Our first enterprise was the Wardensville Garden Market, which has created 70 local jobs with over half of those filled by local high school students. At the end of this year we will launch our next enterprise, a restaurant connected to the farm. And, next year we plan on launching a connected production kitchen to create value-added products from our farm produce and other local farms.
The nonprofit social enterprise model allows us to address historically negative economic development in Appalachia—which often only created profits for outside companies—by operating like mini-businesses, harnessing the power of market demand to generate income, 100 percent reinvested locally, while creating positive impact.
How has your community changed since you’ve relocated here? We don’t think the community has changed, but we do believe that diversity has strengthened our town. There was a bit of a battle at the beginning, but I think most folks now see the measurable good we are creating and the fears and rumors have subsided a great deal. We have all learned that we can embrace the historic and old while also creating new opportunities and experiences.
What are the advantages of living in and owning a business in a small town? The pace of life and the commute. We live on Main Street above our real estate office and right next door to the Lost River Trading Post. We can also bike down to the Wardensville Garden Market just a few blocks away. We get to know our customers on a first-name basis and they truly have become our second family. Life is much slower out here, in all the best ways.
What have been the challenges?
Moving to small-town Appalachia from Washington, D.C., was a major lifestyle change, and we’d be lying if we said it was an easy transition. Being outsiders and impatient city dwellers caused major challenges for us. It took time to understand the negative historic impact of economic development in Appalachia that created profits only for outsiders. It was the impetus behind setting up the Wardensville Garden Market as a nonprofit social enterprise that reinvests 100 percent of our profits back into the local community.
How have you overcome adversity?
We left our lives in D.C. and made a full-time commitment to Wardensville. We have immersed ourselves in the small-town culture—we live here, work here, and give back here. It hasn’t always been easy, but we have ignored the background noise and kept doing what we felt was right and think our track record speaks for itself. We have also overcome adversity by taking the time to understand and get to know the locals. We have always had, and continue to have, an open-door policy and have invited anyone who had an issue or question to come and discuss it face to face.
What are your goals for your businesses?
Our goal is to continue growing and inspiring others to open businesses in the area. We want to continue to create opportunities like we see elsewhere in the country and to continue to challenge and change the negative stereotypes that are commonly associated with Appalachia.
What are you most proud of?
We are most proud of the unique and rewarding opportunities for local young people. We have been able to provide good paying jobs, high-quality training, and enrichment activities that will better equip them to achieve their long-term goals. We are so inspired by the young people we get to work with everyday—they are thoughtful, hardworking, and open-minded. Every day they teach us something new, and every time I step foot on the farm and see all of their smiling faces, it’s an amazing day.
Why should someone visit Wardensville?
The natural beauty in West Virginia is amazing and so are the people. Wardensville is rich in history and is dotted with unique shops, galleries, and restaurants. With the town’s proximity to the Cacapon and Lost rivers, George Washington National Forest, and Lost River State Park, it is home to a wide range of outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, climbing, kayaking, and sightseeing. The tranquil setting also makes for the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. We are approximately 90 miles from D.C., but an entire world away.