Nenni's Department Store Building
Nenni's Department Store was constructed in 1915 by the Schaeffer Brothers before later being purchased by the Nenni family in 1918. The business was an important location in Matewan, West Virginia, functioning as the town's sole department store for the majority of the latter half of the 20th century. The store opened in 1919 by the Nenni family and though business waned in the latter half of the 20th century it remained open until the early 2000s. The former store is located in the Matewan Historic District, and because of its importance to the town's history, it is recognized as a contributing site. Since its closure the building has become the site of numerous other business, including a tax service, a Mexican restaurant, and a beauty parlor.
Backstory and Context
The shoe repair shop was inspired by John's work in a shop during his time in Michigan shortly after his arrival and Matewan, during which he was able to make $50 a week. After he returned to the town he opened up his own shop, repairing shoes by hand, and eventually picked up a staff of around fifteen repairmen. A few years later, after gaining popularity, the store expanded, with the shoe repair workspace becoming the basement, while the upper floor eventually evolved into a department store that sold a variety of goods. Like the Nenni family, many Italian immigrant families settled in Matewan, and some of these were rumored to have been connected to the mafia. Nel Nenni acknowledged this possibility in an interview with the Matewan Development Center, speculating that Atillio and his father may have used some of the extortion techniques generally associated with the mafia.
The store reached its height during the fifties, a time in which Matewan was referred to as a wide-open town, one with a movie theater, bars, restaurants, and even a hospital. This was not long after Atillio became sick and his son, Eddie Nenni, the man many current Matewan residents associated with the store, was tasked with helping his mom run the business. The business fell into debt but these debts were nearly paid off around the time of the Flood of 1977 which devastated many community businesses. The store reopened after the flood but eventually closed to due to depopulation and the ease of acquiring goods from mail services and chain stores in neighboring communities.
2Nenni, Eddie. Interview by John Hennen. Matewan Oral Hsitory Project Collection, 2 Aug. 1989, http://www.wvculture.org/history/collections/sc2003-135/mdcoralhen29.html. Accessed 20 Sep. 2018.
3Stewart, Bill. Interview by Beck Bailey. Matewan Oral Hsitory Project Collection, 14 June 1989, http://www.wvculture.org/history/collections/sc2003-135/mdcoralbai06.html. Accessed 20 Sep. 2018.
4Nenni, Nel. Interview by John Hennen. Matewan Oral Hsitory Project Collection, 12 July 1989, http://www.wvculture.org/history/collections/sc2003-135/mdcoralhen24.html. Accessed 20 Sep. 2018.
5Nenni, Nel. Interview by John Hennen. Matewan Oral Hsitory Project Collection, 12 July 1989, http://www.wvculture.org/history/collections/sc2003-135/mdcoralhen24.html. Accessed 20 Sep. 2018.