VOLANT, Pa. – If location is a key to business success, it might be hard to find one better positioned than Neshannock Creek Fly Shop, owner Mark Collier says.
Collier bought the shop, a popular destination for anglers and situated for more than 30 years on the banks of Neshannock Creek in Volant, Pa., from its previous owner about four years ago. That was around the time his landscape supply business didn’t work out.
Collier, who fished on the nearby creek and was a frequent visitor to the shop, spoke with the shop’s owner. He sensed the owner was ready to let it go and reached an agreement to acquire it.
“This is a transitory thing to retirement. I call it semi-retirement,” he says. “It’s too much fun to call work.”
The fishing supply store is among the many small shops that dot this tiny Lawrence County borough. Volant is just an eighth of a mile long and has a resident population of around 125, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. More than 25 shops and restaurants are within walking distance.
“There is such a mix of shops you might not find anywhere else,” Janet Falotico, executive director of Visit Lawrence County, says.
Merchants in the borough include a cigar shop and a distillery located inside a set of railroad cars, a winery, a boutique clothing store and several gift shops that offer antiques and handcrafted goods including primitives and soaps.
Collier describes business as “really good.” Under his ownership, the shop has added inventory and expanded online sales. The pandemic provided a “big boost” as well. “A lot of people had time and money.”
The borough draws visitors primarily from Pittsburgh, Erie and Cleveland, according to local businesswoman and property owner Cheryl Geidner. Many visitors come to see the New Wilmington Amish community that surrounds Volant. Once they discover the borough, it becomes an annual destination.
“The hub of town has always been the mill,” Geidner says. “Since it was built in 1812, it’s always been the center.”
The mill building, 550 Main St., which last ground grain for dog food before ceasing operations in 1966, was converted several years ago into retail space, Geidner says. Today it’s owned by Volant Community Development Corp. It houses Volant Mills, a consignment shop Geidner oversees that has some 20 vendors. She also relocated her gift shop, 1906 Mercantile Co., which she opened in 1997, into the building.
“It’s somewhat of a business incubator,” she says. “It gives people an opportunity at a reasonable cost to start a business.”
Geidner also helps to organize the various events that businesses stage to help drive traffic. These include the recent Rescue Me Paw-Looza in April, Strawberry Social and Flower Power in June, a Harry Potter-themed event in July and Pumpkin Fest and Witches Night Out in September.
Volant is “a little hidden gem,” Wendy Morris says. She has been an employee in various Volant shops for some 30 years.
When her last employers closed their store, Morris took the opportunity to rent the building and open her own shop. Intertwined Designs offers a mix of items including vintage goods, homemade candy, loose-leaf tea, jewelry, baby clothes and handmade shelves and small tables.
“I’ve always done this. I love talking to the customers,” she says. Once the main tourist season hits, she sees customers from all over, even if the borough might not be their main destination.
“If they’re traveling, they seem to find Volant and make that a stopping point,” she says. “We’ve had people from London and Switzerland.”
Karen Wensel opened her shop, Hope Valley Soapworks, about four years ago. The store’s handcrafted items include soap, bath products and home décor.
Wensel recalls visiting Volant in the 1980s and 1990s, abandoning what she described as “the hubbub of the city life.” She enjoyed seeing the Amish and experiencing the “hometown feel” of Volant, where she could find gifts in its shops that she couldn’t find elsewhere.
When she opened a shop of her own, Wensel came to Volant and found an available space to rent.
“It’s going good,” she says. “It’s a little slow right now but we’re just hitting our busy season.”
Aaron Kudamik is one of Volant’s newer entrepreneurs. He has operated Volant Pizzeria and Volant Candy and Snack for about a year.
“We’ve had a pretty decent year one,” he says.
He bought the building where the two businesses are housed as an investment property in 2021. The former tenants gradually left and when the pizza ship operator expressed interest in leaving, he made an offer on the equipment.
Around the time Kudamik was getting the pizzeria ready for the health department inspection, the candy store operator texted that he wasn’t going to renew his lease. “So we opened up this doorway and decided we were going to operate the candy store,” he says.
In addition to getting traffic from Pittsburgh – “a little surprisingly,” as he puts it – the shops see patrons from Buffalo, elsewhere in New York, and Canada. “We’ve also met families from Virginia, Texas, pretty much all over,” Kudamik says.
Incoming businesses include a canine grooming shop and a day care center for dogs.
“It’s the little town that could,” the tourism bureau’s Falotico says. “They keep coming back and reinventing.”
Pictured at top: Mark Collier’s Neshannock Creek Fly Shop is near the creek of the same name.