Businesses Still Struggling 3 Months After Derailment

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – Doyle’s Fresh Meat and Deli used to see a steady stream of customers lining up for the lunchtime special. That has slowed to a trickle.

It has been three months since a Norfolk Southern train derailed on the eastern edge of the village. Less than a mile from the derailment site, Duane Doyle, owner of Doyle’s Fresh Meat and Deli for the past 17 years, had to close up shop for a week immediately following the night on Feb. 3 when 38 train cars went off the tracks and another 12 cars caught fire.

In the days following the derailment, there was an odor in the shop and in the boxes, a smoky smell, and Doyle was forced to throw out products. Doyle lost an employee, who came back after the store reopened but became apprehensive after a day and decided to quit.

He got some reimbursement for the products thrown out from Norfolk Southern, which sends a representative around to talk to business owners and offer assistance. While his employees had to be off because that end of town was in the evacuation area immediately following the derailment, Doyle still paid them, and he got assistance for that.

But the worst part of it, a potential buyer for the business, who had been ready to close the deal at the end of January, backed out following the derailment. At 68, Doyle would like to retire after 51 years working, mostly as a business owner. Three prior deals in the past two years had fallen through for various reasons, despite the business having record sales during COVID-19.

Doyle does not believe the current problem with business is with the derailment itself. It is with the fear people now have in its aftermath, especially from stories being created by unreliable sources.

“The real disaster to the community of East Palestine did not happen on Feb. 3. It happened since then,” Doyle said. “Anytime you pick up your phone, you pick up your iPad or whatever, you get on Facebook or other social media … that’s the real disaster here. All the garbage and the BS that is going around.”

Doyle’s Fresh Meat and Deli will be auctioned off on May 15.

While Doyle won’t say on the record how much his business is off, he will say it has been tough. He used to see numerous customers in the store, but he hasn’t seen some regulars since the derailment. He hopes it is starting to pick up, and he continues to offer the specials and large packages of meat like he always has.

“There’s two ways you can approach this whole deal, and it’s kind of how I approach my life in general. You can either be a pessimist or an optimist, and I choose to be an optimist,” Doyle said. “Sure, there are bad things that could happen. But I’m sure not going to worry about it because worrying don’t change the future – it just changes your present.”

Doyle notes nobody knows the long-term effects of the derailment, and even if they did know 100%, there would still be people around town who wouldn’t believe it. He admits everyone has their own variety of reasons, but there are people who are afraid.

Tom’s Tire

Further away from the derailment site, Harry Jones, the owner of Tom’s Tire, said he usually pulls about half of his customers from outside of town, and his business is down about half. He believes people are afraid to come into town because of the news, social media and misinformation.

“I think to err on the side of caution, a lot of people just choose not to come into town now,” Jones said.

People from Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Mahoning County who used to come to the business seem to be too concerned about the air quality to sit in the waiting room while his employees do their oil change, alignments, brakes or put on new tires. Most jobs take about half an hour, Jones said. He admits some people may be more sensitive to chemical odors that were in town shortly after the derailment, just like some people have allergies. But others may just be looking for money, free water and other things that are being given out.

So far, Tom’s Tire has been able to maintain employees, but lack of business has made things tighter than what Jones would like to see.

“Hopefully, people will kind of see things, get past the stigma the town has, feel safe coming back in and business will pick back up,” Jones said. “I like doing business here. Hopefully we can continue. Hopefully we can make it through this little bit of time and things will get turned around. I think Norfolk wants to do the right thing, and they want to help get the town back up on its feet, so we can just get through until that happens.”

Doyle’s Fresh Meat & Deli Auction

Doyle said he is almost glad the person who had planned to be the owner of his business just before the derailment did not complete the deal. With 17 years at the location, Doyle had the financial resources to withstand a drop in business. But at 5 p.m. May 15, Doyle’s business will be auctioned by Kiko’s at an absolute auction. Doyle plans to even hang around long enough to help the new owner adjust to the operation, if they choose.

If he was younger and in better health, Doyle said he would stick it out himself. He believes business will return.

“Not only are you buying a business, but you’re investing in a community,” Doyle said. “If there wasn’t a need in this community for my store, I wouldn’t have been doing the business I was.”

Pictured at top: Duane Doyle, owner of Doyle’s Fresh Meat and Deli.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.