When GenOn Energy's coal-fired power station here on the Monongahela River closed last year, Joan Godzak, a clerk at a local Sunoco gas station, assumed the second plant in the 5,000-person Washington County township would be safe.
Yet this month, with no advance notice to the community, FirstEnergy announced it would deactivate its Mitchell power station four miles down the river by Oct. 9.
"It just doesn't make any sense to me," said Ms. Godzak, 49, of Finleyville. "Everyone in the area is going to be affected."
A total of 380 FirstEnergy employees will lose their jobs because of the Akron, Ohio-based company's planned closures -- 77 at the Mitchell station, 174 at the larger Hatfield's Ferry plant in Masontown, Greene County, and 129 serving as support personnel in the region.
But the impact likely will extend beyond the direct job cuts and spread throughout the surrounding business community.
Glen Petticord, mayor of New Eagle, a borough directly south of Union Township on the river, said the closures will affect all parts of the coal trade -- from the mines that sell the coal to the local businesses such as gasoline stations and grocery stores that depend on the economic activity.
Mike Monahan, president of the Houston, Pa.-based marine service company Campbell Transportation, said every dollar spent at power plants like FirstEnergy's has a tremendous economic impact on other revenue streams in the region.
"There's a ripple effect to all of this," Mr. Monahan said.
Campbell Transportation contracts with FirstEnergy to bring tons of coal by barges to the two power plants along the Monongahela. Mr. Monahan said Campbell is currently working to determine how it will be able to reallocate its equipment to find replacement tonnage, potentially by moving other products or operating farther down the river.
He said it is too early to know what the direct effect of the closures will be on Campbell's employees, though he added that the company is looking for a way to minimize the impact.
Elrama Tavern in Union Township provides about 100 meals a week to workers at the Mitchell station, said its owner, Susie Grimm -- "a big deal for a small place like us." Ms. Grimm said she can only hope that something productive is done with the 394-acre FirstEnergy site now that the plant, which was built after World War II, is slated for deactivation.
"We don't know what's going to happen," she said. "That could just sit there for the next 50 years and be a huge eyesore."
In Masontown, a 3,600-person borough more than 30 miles south of Union Township, residents expect the closure of the 1,710-megawatt Hatfield's plant to leave the already deteriorating community in even worse shape.
Melissa DiNunno, owner of Paesano Italian Cusine and of Welby's gym in Masontown, said that over the past decade, the borough has lost a bakery, care homes, a flower shop, multiple restaurants, a pharmacy and a laundromat due to the depressed economy.
"This is going to be a ghost town. All we're missing is the tumbleweeds," Ms. DiNunno said.
David Howard, owner of Howard's Market, opened by his grandfather in 1929 and up the street from Paesano, said the loss of revenue from men who work at the power plant and often buy his steaks can have a large impact on small businesses.
"Back in the days of coal, when they first built Hatfield's, you couldn't find a corner to sleep in Masontown. This place was booming," Mr. Howard said.
"This area, southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia, we make power," he said. "If we don't need power anymore, you might as well just cut us out of the country."
Some of the region's displaced workers and businesses might find new opportunities in an expanding natural gas industry in the years ahead. But residents of communities shaken by the pending plant closures remain concerned for the future.
Valerie Nagel of Union Township, a firefighter, said she watched steel mills close when she was growing up in Pittsburgh's South Side. It took a good 25 years for things to turn around there, she said, and she worries the region's coal communities could be on a similar trajectory.
"I just really wish that the people who make these drastic decisions lived in our communities for a while," Ms. Nagel said.
Gavan Gideon: email@example.com or 412-263-4910. Jessica Contrera contributed.