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Family businesses serve both sides of the Ohio River

Bob’s Market and Greenhouse was started by the Barnitz family in Mason, W.Va. 50 years ago and now has several locations including Belpre. (Photo Provided)

BELPRE — A number of family-owned businesses operated by multiple generations of the same family have roots or locations on both sides of the Ohio River in Belpre and Parkersburg — not just in different communities but in different states.

For those mainly offering products, the divide between the two cities may not be very noticeable, but for those offering services, the differences can be larger, offering both challenges and opportunities.

Scott Barnitz is vice president of Bob’s Market and Greenhouse Inc., which is in its 50th year in business. It was started in 1970 in Mason, W.Va. — where the company is still headquartered — by his father and mother, Bob and Corena Barnitz.

It later expanded to other locations, including Belpre. There are also company facilities in Gallipolis, Atlanta, Ga., and Pittsburgh, Pa.

Barnitz is the third of five sons in business with their father, along with grandchildren and other family members.

Stephen and Jon Leavitt are co-owners of Leavitt’s Funeral Home with locations in Parkersburg and Belpre. The family-owned business faces extra challenges operating on both sides of a river that also serves as a state border. (Photo by Jess Mancini)

That is one of the reasons that within the company, everyone is treated like family, he said. That also makes it more of a family-oriented business, which helps with customer and community relations.

“We want our staff to truly get to know our customers and to truly serve them,” he said.

Barnitz said anyone can go to the big box stores or franchises and find what they want, sometimes at a lower price. With Bob’s Market, however, the staff and owners want to focus on a deeper level of support by sharing knowledge, experience and expertise.

“We’re not successful if our customers aren’t successful,” he said.

F or Barnitz, doing business in border communities like Belpre and Parkersburg doesn’t have challenges or liabilities. The company looks at everyone in the Mid-Ohio Valley as the same, as a neighbor, fellow gardener and a friend, he said.

Bob’s Market and Greenhouse in Belpre offers a variety of plants, products and services for home gardeners. (Photo P­rovided)

Before expanding the Belpre location three years ago, Bob’s Market had a smaller facility there and one in south Parkersburg under the same management. With the Belpre expansion, the Parkersburg location closed but there was no loss of customers because they all came to the larger Belpre site.

“We love the Mid-Ohio Valley,” he said. “We have been very well supported by both sides.”

Leavitt Funeral Home is another business with long ties to both Parkersburg and Belpre, according to Jon Leavitt, co-owner and funeral director for Leavitt Funeral Home in Parkersburg and Belpre.

With family business roots going back to 1865 as a cooperage and general store, the Leavitt family began its foray into the funeral business in 1882. The funeral business continued to grow as the family moved into what is now downtown Parkersburg around the turn of the century, finally building the current Seventh Street facility in 1924.

The Leavitt family has been operating Leavitt Funeral Home in Parkersburg since the 1920s and opened the Belpre location in 1983.

“I think it brings a whole different aspect,” Leavitt said of the company as a family-owned business and the multiple generations involved, and the effect that has on their role in the communities of Parkersburg and Belpre.

“You have roots in here when serving families for generations. You hear stories and connections just having one interaction can’t fulfill. I hear stories all of the time about my grandfather, my great-grandfather — and even my dad obviously — and the impact they had on (people’s) lives and serving their families,” Leavitt said.

“We just have a vested interest because we want to make sure this community thrives,” he said.

As a company policy and practice, he said Leavitt’s always tries to obtain goods, services and products from other local businesses wherever possible.

“That’s who supports us and we want to support them,” he said.

Leavitt said being a border business, with facilities across the Ohio River from each other in two different states, can present some obstacles for a business like theirs, which must operate under a larger regulatory burden than some other types of businesses.

West Virginia and Ohio have different licensing requirements for funeral homes and their personnel. Leavitt said the business has six funeral directors licensed separately in both states. Ohio requires a four-year college degree and another two years of apprenticeship and schooling, while West Virginia requires a two-year college degree along with the two additional years.

There are also two sets of laws and guidelines to know regarding other aspects of funeral home operation, from pre-arrangements to funding and other issues, he said.

Despite those challenges, the closeness of the two communities is also an advantage for Leavitt’s, he said. The proximity of the two facilities in Parkersburg and Belpre makes it very convenient in terms of management and operations.

“We treat people the way we want to be treated … This is a business about taking care of people first. We’ve just had a tradition of doing that as you put people first, the rest will come,” Leavitt said.

While it has been in operation for years, Exit Riverbend Realty is an example of a younger family-owned business.

Marian DuVall is owner-operator of Exit Riverbend, with its main office on Main Street in Belpre and another in downtown Parkersburg.

While she previously worked in other fields, DuVall got involved in the real estate business about 21 years ago in Belpre and about two years into that, she was joined by her daughter, Donna Winslow. They soon decided to go out on their own and start their own business. Since that time, DuVall said her grandson — Winslow’s son –is also working to become part of the business.

DuVall herself stands as the first generation in the family-owned multi-generational business that is Exit Riverbend, which she feels helps to create a legacy moving forward.

“That makes me feel very good, that all of the work that I’ve done they will benefit from,” she said.

DuVall said the communities of Parkersburg and Belpre, along with the Mid-Ohio Valley in general, have been faithful to the company.

“I think they like the small-town businesses, too,” she said. “It makes you feel really a part of something, when you work really hard they recognize it, they participate in it. There’s really no other way I would want to be in business … They belong to us and we belong to them.”

DuVall said she is continuing a family tradition, since her parents were business owners in a small town themselves.

“There’s something unique about being a family in business together. There’s a safety in that because we all know who we are and we can help each other grow into a business that is more meaningful. When it’s a family, it’s not about numbers. It really is about our character, our integrity, what does our name mean. That passes on from generation to generation,” DuVall said.

“It really brings a family, I think, together in a greater measure,” she said.

DuVall said there are challenges to operating a real estate firm in two separate states, across a river and a border. Separate offices must be maintained in each state and there are a number of licensing, continuing education, financing and operational issues to be considered, along with different standards and requirements.

One shortcut is to focus on which state has the harder or higher requirements for a particular area and work to meet those, which helps ensure the other state’s requirements are met or exceeded, she said.

“It’s double the book-keeping, double the classes for our continuing education, there’s more licenses that have to be had because you have to take the same tests in different states and pay all of those fees all over again. There is a lot more expense to being a business on both sides of the river,” she said.

Despite the border challenge, there are also advantages to being a cross-border business. There are different programs and resources in each state, and often in local communities and municipalities. As an example, she said West Virginia has some loans available that aren’t available in Ohio.

Wayne Towner can be reached at wtowner@newsandsentinel.com.

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