GASSAWAY, W.Va.— Is West Virginia monster lore going corporate? A new commercial app that features the Mountain State's most famous monsters suggests it could become big business.
Long the subject of campfire stories, the monsters that allegedly haunt the West Virginia hills may have gone fully mainstream with a new rewards system instituted by GoMart, which operates 122 stores across Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.
The ultimate goal of a new rewards program featuring seven West Virginia monsters, also known as cryptids, is designed to encourage customers to explore the beauty of the state and learn more about its iconic folklore and legends.
But long-time purveyors of monster lore, such as Andrew Smith, executive director of the Braxton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which operates the Flatwoods Monster Museum, says there may be more going on than a fun promotion.
West Virginia lore, notably monster lore, is entering the mainstream as the Mountain State grows more famous as a destination for vacationing and residency.
"I think West Virginia cryptids are continuing to become popular," Smith says. "The fact that Gassaway's own GoMart is utilizing them in their most recent campaign shows how mainstream they are becoming, especially in West Virginia."
GoMart Stores marketing director Ian Stewart says the Summer Cryptid Quest campaign, which runs through the end of July 2023, has been a fun campaign but also served the purpose of creating more interest in West Virginia communities.
“We encourage all to learn about each cryptid, and we promise you will find even more amazing people and local businesses in those towns as well,” Stewart says.
“Our stores are part of the communities we do business in, and we celebrate what makes each area special,” Stewart says. “We just wanted to shine a light on some of those more unique characters this summer.
“We feel like it not only gives customers a reason to try some new and exciting products, but it also creates a fun scavenger hunt type feel to celebrate our local folklore.”
Seven cryptids—including Bigfoot, Mothman, the Flatwoods Monster, and the Grafton Monster—are now featured on GoMart store items like snacks and drinks.
Stewart says that customers who use their GoMart rewards card to purchase these items will be awarded a cryptid token.
“Anyone that collects all seven tokens will be awarded 5,000 bonus points toward our rewards program,” he says. “It is only playable for rewards members, but we have multiple ways to get a customer signed up on-site. No one has to wait to enjoy the fun.”
Reward members earn points with the purchase of specially marked products, which can be redeemed for extra savings on gas.
GoMart is also spreading the word on some lesser-known Mountain State monsters, and a complete description of each cryptid featured in the quest can now be found on the company’s website, which also includes information on festivals that celebrate the cryptids.
These include the Mothman Festival at Point Pleasant and the Cryptid Halloween Festival in Ranson, which celebrates cryptids like the Ogua River Monster, said to dwell in the Monongahela River.
The contest also spotlights the White Thing, a creature believed to wander in remote wooded areas near Charleston, West Virginia, and the Snarly Yow, a large dog that's haunted the woods near Hagerstown, Maryland, since the mid-1800s.
“We tried to make sure we hit all the communities we do business in,” Stewart says.
“We have the heavy hitters like Mothman and Flatwoods, but we included some maybe lesser known cryptids as well. We want people to explore as well as learn the awesome stories behind each one.”
Smith says that the quaint town of Sutton, which is now home to the West Virginia Bigfoot Museum as well as the Flatwoods Monster Museum, continues to derive profit from banking on lore.
"I think enough folks have made a go of doing something with cryptids and being successful," he said.
"All these things have legitimized the subjects and proven their value. So why wouldn't anyone watching join in?"
Why is West Virginia lore so replete with monsters? "I don't know for sure that West Virginia produces more monsters than any other state, but it sure feels like it," Smith says.
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