By Andrew Rudansky
It has been a year and a half since The Whalebone in Noyac has last been open for business. The general store has been closed since February 6, 2009 at 3 p.m. when a drunk driver, heading eastbound down Noyac Road, slammed into the side of the store. The truck destroyed the west wall of the family-owned business, and nearly hit one of the employees working that day. Since the accident, many of The Whalebone regulars had to look elsewhere for their morning papers and chocolates. But come Monday, June 14 at 7 a.m. the Noyac staple will finally reopen its doors, right in time to celebrate their 25th year in business.
“We have been so busy getting back to business,” said Linda Heine, co-owner and manager of the Whalebone.
The work shows, former customers will not recognize the store, complete with a new façade, floors, lighting and layout. The store’s counter, previously in the southwest corner of the building where the truck smashed through, has also been moved for safety reasons. The biggest visible change to the layout, however, is a new wall dividing the store in two sections.
“In 2009 the economy was very questionable, so the building was divided to allow renters to take the space,” said Heine who now says, due to the upswing in the economy, that she plans to use both sections for the store and has no intentions of renting out the other half of the building.
Heine said she initially thought the store would reopen in a matter of months after the accident. However all of the renovations, along with what Heine calls “insurance delays,” had pushed back the reopening date of The Whalebone until next Monday.
“To be honest we were not really ready yet,” said Heine, “I wanted to do this right.” With the setbacks of 2009 behind them, The Whalebone is hoping to come back stronger than ever. Heine is optimistic about the future, she said, “I think we will have more people coming in because it looks more inviting.”
Kristen Churchill, Heine’s daughter, said that despite the numerous changes to the store it “still has the old school general store type of feeling.”
Churchill added that at heart The Whalebone is still a “cozy family-owned store.” Linda Heine, who shares ownership of the store with her husband George J. Heine, her father-in-law George C. Heine and her sister-in-law Cathy Heine, agrees with this sentiment.
“This is not just a business,” said Heine, “The Whalebone is such a social place; it was never just about business.”
Heine spoke of the customers who have become friends, the children who did their first shopping independent of their parents and the outpouring of support from the community when the accident happened a year ago last February.
“People in this community are special like no other place in the world,” said Heine, “they are all wonderful, wonderful people.”
The Whalebone will offer many of the same merchandise that it did before the crash, including newspapers, toys, candy, lottery tickets, wind chimes, signs and pieces of art. The store will now also feature a new garden section, gift section and a larger chocolate counter.
Before the accident, the chocolates at The Whalebone were all made by Linda Heine. However because of her busy schedule she has decided to purchase the chocolates for the store instead. For now The Whalebone is getting its chocolates from Asher’s Chocolates in Pennsylvania and Sweet Shop USA from Texas, but Heine said she is also planning to import other chocolates from Belgium as well. Heine said she is very excited about the new products. She personally recommends candy offerings with names like “Party Hardy,” “White Russian Truffles,” “Fudge Love” and the “Dark Almond Clusters,” but assures they are all delicious.
Emily Jennerich, who was working at The Whalebone on the day of the accident, said she was glad that the store is reopening.
“I say it’s about time,” noted Jennerich. “I’m excited.”
The Whalebone is located at 3495 Noyac Road in Noyac. Call 725-2277 for more information.