Five years ago, Herbie Dotson and Eric Simon were strangers, but they had a lot in common.
After Dotson paid a quick visit to Simon's office, the pair quickly bonded over their mutual love for Appalachian history and their shared passion for digging for historical relics. Now, they co-own the Appalachian Lost and Found Museum and Artisan Shop in downtown Matewan,
"It was the bond that brought us together," Dotson said with a laugh.
Dotson and Simon were determined to create a space for local artisans to share their skills and make a profit. In October 2017, the Appalachian Lost and Found Museum and Artisan Shop became a reality. The space houses handmade and local goods from 30 to 35 regional artists.
"Herbie knew there was a lot of talent back in these hills," Simon said. "They just do things for themselves, or maybe a few of their neighbors know about what they do. We wanted to create a venue for them to sell their stuff."
The shop's name was derived from Simon's personal Facebook page, on which he shares photographs and stories of each artifact he finds while digging.
The partners are both from the area, and Simon's family is credited with founding the town.
"The name 'Mate' in 'Matewan' comes from my fourth-great-grandfather's dog," Simon said. "The original name [of the city] was Ferrellton, from my momma's family. In the late 1790s, he and Mate, his hunting companion, used to hunt around here. Mate was killed around one of the creeks by a black bear, so Richard named it Mate Creek after his best friend. This is still Mate Street out here."
The storefront painting pays homage to Mate, with the canine lunging forward, overlooking the main street. For the partners, it's a reminder of their regional roots and their commitment to the area that's shifted physically and economically over the last few decades.
Dotson said their primary goal in the process was to bring a new kind of job to the area and reinvest in the local vendors and, by proxy, economy.
"Ultimately what we want to do is drive tourism," Dotson said. "We want to give the area new things and opportunities. We know there's a transition [happening], and eventually, fossil fuel is going to leave the area. We hope tourism will slide in and become the primary benefactor of that."
In terms of tourism, the regional Hatfield-McCoy ATV riding trails that span the southern portions of West Virginia attract thousands of visitors annually, many of whom stop by the shop during their visits.
"We want to be a light to people and encourage other entrepreneurs and help guide them and help them create something," Simon said. "If enough of us do that, then this tourism industry's going to pick up and we can sustain."
"We repurposed just about everything In here," Herbie added.
"We try to teach [entrepreneurs] that there's not a lot in here as far as startup costs," Simon said. "This here [desk] is homemade. It was three windows someone threw away at his car wash. Those cabinets are homemade, the shelves are homemade, the wood on the wall are [Mingo County] hemlock trees I cut myself."
Dotson added that he hoped they could serve as a "light" and source of encouragement to others who wish to pursue similar goals.
Dotson and Simon said they haven't taken any of the profit from the local artisans, and in the future, they're hoping to build enough revenue to branch into other buildings or help other local businesses do the same.
"I woke up one day and got tired of people saying, 'Why don't they do this?' or 'Why don't they do that?' or 'Why can't we have this?'" Dotson said. "I said, 'Who are these theys?' and they said, 'You know, them, the people with money.' I said, 'If you're waiting on that, you're going to wait until the day you die.' I try to teach people that this 'they' they talk about is actually you. Anybody can do anything they want any time they want. That's one of the big things we push here."
The Appalachian Lost and Found Museum and Artisan Shop is open on weekends and is closed in the winter.