CANNONSBURG The interior of the old Elder Beerman smells musty, like the old, abandoned house teenagers break inside to smoke cigarettes and drink whiskey away from the watchful eye of mom and dad.

The shelves are bare and room is warm, baked by the scorcher days seen around the Tri-State for the last week, week and a half. The carpet is stained with rust — there’s broken glass and a dead pigeon on the floor.

By Monday, construction crews for the future Malibu Jack’s will be coming in, gutting out the former fairly fashionable department store.

But on Wednesday, there’s a pack of youths inside, boys to be exact. A few are just sprouting their first mustache hairs — most are younger than that.

However, unlike the hooliganism that abandoned buildings tend to attract, these youngsters are here for a good cause — they’re a part of history in the making.

For those living under a rock, less than two weeks ago, the Boyd County Fiscal Court announced Jason Camp — owner of Smokin J’s and the Winchester — bought the former KYOVA Mall, with plans of turning it into an entertainment district.

A sportsplex, a convention center, a farmers market, Malibu Jack’s, a hotel, restaurants and shops — the sky is the limit for the plans Camp, the county and other stakeholders have for what Judge-Executive Eric Chaney has called “the unofficial black cloud of Boyd County.”

Now the dreams have turned into hard work — hence the local students inside the remnants of retail.

Malibu Jack’s — a Kentucky-based indoor fun-land with go-carts, bowling, arcade games and more — hasn’t a need for the shelves that display folded Ralph Lauren oxford shirts and the cases that illuminated watches, earrings and bracelets.

So T.J. Morrison, the economic developer of Boyd County and one of the chief brokers of the $8 million deal, reached out to J.B. Miller with Habitat for Humanity to see if the organization would sell the old shelving at the Restore located on Veteran’s Memorial Boulevard in Huntington.

Miller, who also moonlights as a radio host on 101.5 Big Buck Country, said the shelving was a great fit.

“We’re about repurposing items and giving them a second life,” Miller said. “Rather than throw it in the landfill, it could go to a small restaurant, a coffee shop, or be used as shelving in a guy’s garage.”

Anyone who has ever been to the Restore in Huntington knows you’ll never know what you’ll find — last Friday, they had examination beds from a doctor’s office. It even has VHS tapes for sale.

Of every dollar spent at the Restore, Miller said 88 cents go towards building a local house in the area for those in need.

Needless to say, the shelving is right up Habitat’s alley. The problem is, you need bodies to move it.

That’s where Boyd County’s very own Gen Z stepped up — on Wednesday morning, members of the Boyd County wrestling team came out to start pushing the carts out of the store and onto two Ryder trucks.

In the afternoon, they’d be relieved by the football Tomcats — almost symbolically echoing the phrase uttered by city and county officials “a win for Boyd County is a win for Ashland” (or vice versa).

Boyd County wrestling coach Clayton McClelland said he got the phone call from Morrison to see if his boys could help out. McClelland said he’d round up a few and be down there.

“It’s a huge step for our community, because this is going to be big in the next six months, year, two years,” he said. “It’s good to have them (the teammates) a part of this project, no matter how small.”

The dovetail with charity is just another boost, McClelland said.

“Anytime we can give back and help somebody in need, that’s always something we want to do,” the coach said.

Boyd County freshman John Jackson said he volunteered for the effort to “beat the heat” — he typically works alongside his dad in the summer, who is a contractor. But being a part of a something so big is also an added bonus.

“The sooner we can get it done, the sooner it will hopefully be open and I get to use it,” he said. “It’s exciting this is coming.”

While Jackson is amped up about Malibu Jack’s coming, he is also fairly stoked for having a sportsplex. Right now, the team has to travel to Pikeville and beyond for wrestling invitationals and tournaments.

“Having something like that in your hometown where everyone knows what’s up would be huge for us,” he said.

Walking through the Elder Beerman and into the mall, one of the trees in the pots inside is withered. It’s a time capsule for March 2020, when the mall essentially shuttered due to COVID-19. There’s still free ad-circulars in the racks from that month — a sign advertising Santa coming to the mall in 2019 is still hanging at a kiosk.

While there’s no doubt the mall had gradually emptied over the years, dying in a fashion so many malls like it have across the country, some stores still have inventory inside.

The AARF store sports a piano in the window, Inspire U has prom dresses hanging, ready for a season that never came. Morrison said the owners of these stores have been notified, and management is working with them to get their belongings out.

Inside the former public library branch, men — the tanned, bearded men found on construction sites around the land — were clearing out shelving, prepping for the overhaul to come.

As Morrison walks through the empty food court, he states that’s about where the Malibu Jack’s will extend to.

“It’s going to be their biggest location yet,” he said. “You don’t know how big it’s going to be until you walk it.”

At the movie house, construction crews are busy inside remodeling the lobby.

At the big hoopla on July 16, Jason Camp announced he’d push to get that theater open within three weeks. With his wife Elisabeth spearheading the undertaking — as she puts it, he closes deals but she has an eye for design — crews are working around the clock to get the theater up to snuff in time for last blockbusters of the summer on six screens.

“We’re going for a clean, modern look with lots of black and gray and metal,” Elisabeth Camp said. “We’re renovating the lobby and we’re going to have a small bar for patrons.”

With 16 different local businesses involved in the theater facelift, Elisabeth Camp said six screening rooms will be open and the lobby will be finished by the time moviegoers will come Aug. 6.

“We’ve got paint crews working through the night and multiple shifts of workers to get this up and running,” she said. “I believe this will set the tone for the project.”

Inside, the construction workers are standing on ladders and working drills to get this lobby ready to go. One screening room has the first few planks of rubber flooring getting pieced in.

Water damage from a leaky roof has put the skids on two screening rooms for now — the roof has been fixed, but the interior damage needs remediating. A few black ceiling tiles hang above a contractor’s trash can and a plastic kiddie pool.

Elisabeth Camp said the facelift and repairs aren’t just a “put in the key and open the door” type of project.

Before long, all 10 theaters will be open and the lobby will be serving beer and wine for thirsty audiences looking for something to sip alongside the mainstays of Coke and popcorn.

(606) 326-2653 |

henry@dailyindependent.com

Movie Theater to reopen Aug. 6

The former KYOVA 10 will be reopened Aug. 6 in time for the matinee showings under the banner Camp Theater.

The two movies kicking off the relaunch of the theater will be “The Suicide Squad” and “Jungle Cruise.”

“The Suicide Squad” (Rated R) is a reboot of the 2016 D.C. Comic vehicle starring Margot Robbie, John Cena, Pete Davidson, Idris Elba and Sylvester Stallone. It is directed by James Gunn, best known for the sleeper hit Guardians of the Galaxy. The movie is about a group of D.C. super-villains recruited by the government on a suicide mission — think The Dirty Dozen with superpowers.

“Jungle Cruise” (Rated PG-13) is another film based on a Disney theme park ride (think “Country Bears,” “Haunted Mansion” and a”Pirates of the Caribbean”) starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramirez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons and Paul Giamatti. “Jungle Cruise” features the Rock and Blunt in the quest for a healing tree in the Amazon rainforest.

Ticket prices and showing times have not been released yet, but more information can be found at camplanding.com.

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