On the east side of the Centre Market a few retail businesses are intermingled with residential brownstones, and on the west side a few eateries are highlighted with a brewpub, a wine store, and a few specialty shops, too.
In the middle are the historic market houses, in place for more than 100 years and filled with a diverse array of restaurants, shops, an art gallery, ice cream, homemade pies and pastries, and even a home décor business.
But Centre Market is no longer just about the legendary Coleman’s Fish Market or even what is offered along Market Street and the adjacent Lane B because more businesses have located in close proximity to the market houses. While Later Alligator has been open since 2006, Vocelli’s Pizza opened last month next door, and a new craft brewing company, Brew Keepers, began selling growlers last month from its nearby Main Street location.
The growth is real, and there is room for even more within a historic district that has experienced a metamorphosis during the past decade. Once an area riddled with nefarious activities and nighttime crime, it is now an all-year destination location for folks of all ages and has evolved into something of the Friendly City’s unofficial arts district.
“It really has,” agreed Erika Donaughy, the chairperson of the Wheeling Arts and Cultural Commission. “And it’s a busy place every day of the week for lunch except when the businesses are closed on Sundays. And now that there are a few restaurants that remain open during the evenings, you see a lot of people in the area then, too.
“And there’s still a lot of potential because it’s not just limited to Market and Lane B near the actual market houses,” she continued. “I know during our Arts Commission meetings we often discuss how local artists can get even more involved than what we already are.”
Decisions and Diversity
The lunch line can become long at Coleman’s, especially during the Lenten Season, but these days the same can be said for Later Alligator as well as Valley Cheese, the Soup Shack, Osaka Express, Michael’s Beef House, Market Vines, and Centre Cup Coffee, too.
It completely depends on the appetite, and with the addition of Vocelli’s the dining decision became even more difficult.
“Having Vocelli’s move to this area has given Centre Market a destination business that we will always welcome to this area, and attracting that kind of business is a focus for us here,” explained Kurt Zende, the manager of Centre Market and an economic development specialist for the city of Wheeling. “The preservation of that building was a great thing to see happen, and it’s a solid business that attracts a lot of regular customers, and they get a lot of walk-up traffic, too.
“And, to be honest, we could use two or three more eateries in this area because Centre Market is now becoming known for the many different kinds of food offerings that can be purchased here now. From the legendary Coleman’s Fish Market, to Market Vines and the Wheeling Brewing Company, to Michael’s Beef House, the Soup Shack, the new Osaka Express and Valley Cheese, there’s a lot to choose from down here now,” he said. “And if we attract a couple more, that means we will have even more people coming to this area for their lunches and dinners.”
Aside from the new additions Centre Market also has attracted attention because of recent projects organized and conducted by local artists in conjunction with the Arts and Cultural Commission and also because of several special events that have been added by Zende and business owners in the area.
“We are looking for more ideas for the streetscaping in this area to follow what the Wheeling Arts and Cultural Commission has accomplished thus far with the parking meter painting projects that took place last year and is under way right now,” said Zende. “Eventually all of the meters in this area will become a work of art, and that includes the off-streets, too.
“And we would love for that to include the crosswalks,” he continued. “I would like to see that project begin with the crosswalks in the immediate area of our two market houses and then expand from there. I would love to see what our local artists would come up with for those areas of Centre Market.”
Diane and Greg Myers, owners of both Casa de Vino and Market Vines, have a partnership with the proprietors of the Wheeling Brewing Company to offer a Friday Night Concert Series that has featured a plethora of live and local bands.
“Those events have attracted a lot of people to this area, and in some cases it’s the first time those folks have come to Centre Market,” Zende reported. “The Friday night concert series that the owners of Market Vines, Casa de Vino, and the Wheeling Brewing Company have hosted this summer has been a big deal for us. We’ve seen very large crowds down here for those shows, and it’s been great.
“And we’ve also hosted several other special events here like the After Hours gathering for the Chamber of Commerce and the Wheeling Rotary’s ‘Taste of Centre Market’ event,” he continued. “And we would like to do more of those kinds of events, too, that make sense for this area.”
His office is located in the north market house near the Soup Shack, and it may be 16 square feet, but he’s guided this rebirth not by sitting at his desk but by developing relationships with those who lease space from the city of Wheeling or have chosen to open businesses within the district. But Zende admits Centre Market is not perfect and has yet to optimize the possibilities.
“These two buildings are very old and we have worked very hard to improve them the last few years, but we do need new roofs on both of the market houses, and that would take a lot of money to accomplish,” Zende said. “And the restrooms as well as the sidewalks surrounding the market houses are in need of attention, too. Those projects are on our radar; trust me.
“As far as the atmosphere here at Centre Market, I can tell you I would really like to beef up our Christmas season this year,” he said. “I plan to work with Joe and Jody Coleman to make this area something very special this year. I would like for us to light up the trees around the market houses, and I would like to enhance the middle area where the Talking Christmas Tree has been located the past couple of years. I think making it something of a Winter Wonderland would be something everyone would enjoy.”
Zende often ponders what sort of businesses to recruit next for six storefronts currently available in the immediate area of Centre Market. Three are along Market Street within the 2100 block, and three more are closer to the market houses. All six structure are locally owned, and most of them have room for residential above the storefronts.
“We have had a lot of success with recruiting specialty retail businesses the past few years, but we have to be careful not to define this area as just that because there’s so much more than could work here that could go along with what we already have here,” he explained. “And we all know in the end that supply and demand will dictate what fills the areas that we have open right now. That’s how business works, and that will determine what goes into those storefronts next.
“Three of the locations that are open right now have been renovated and are ready for a tenant, and the other three are being worked on as we speak,” Zende reported. “Some get scared away because of the rent in this area now, but the businesses that have moved forward with opening have realized that the traffic is here to be successful. The success really depends on the owner and their business.”
That Magic Wand
Once, Centre Market was known to residents of the Upper Ohio Valley for a pair popular positives and two notorious negatives. For longer than a century Coleman’s has been serving up those famous sandwiches and selling fresh fish and seafood, and since the late 1970s the district has been attracting antique collectors from near and far, but prostitution and drug-trafficking haunted the district for many years.
One business, in fact, that was located across Lane B from one entrance to Coleman’s Fish Market was closed in 2006 after it was deemed a “nuisance” by members of Wheeling Council and then-Mayor Nick Sparachane because of repeated arrests for drug sales. Bud’s Club, once a classic neighborhood watering hole, attracted far too much attention from the Wheeling Police Department and the Ohio Valley Drug Task Force. These days the location houses Market Vines, a restaurant with a menu that features burgers, wraps, salads, and a wide array of beverages, and several more businesses have followed since.
That is why, Zende revealed, Centre Market now realizes a monthly average number of visiting of consumers between 80,000 and 100,000.
“Every business we have here now is doing very well, but you can always do better, and everyone knows that. So when we look at something new for the spaces that we have, part of the process is figuring out what would enhance the customer traffic for the businesses we already have here,” he said. “That has to be part of the thinking process, and in my professional opinion I believe the rent in this area to be very reasonable because of the consumer traffic we’ve been seeing here.
“And marketing is also a part of the puzzle because some businesses are happy to advertise collectively while others prefer to advertise their individual business,” Zende continued. “As far as Centre Market is concerned, I do want to thank Main Street Bank and OVMC/EORH for becoming our sponsors because that has allowed us to implement a very good marketing campaign for this area overall.”
Zende has visions because he has an index of ideas for the future of Centre Market because there exists a renewed spirit of entrepreneurialism in the Wheeling area. Corporate America is not present now within the district, and the market manager realizes there may never be during his tenure.
“But where do we go from here? That’s the big question. We have to ask, ‘What do we want Centre Market to become?’ I know I would like for this area to become a regional terminus, but what business puts on the map as a regional terminus? That’s the answer we need to figure out,” Zende said. “What need to figure out is how to make that happen, and we need to define this area. We already know at Centre Market is a historic district, but how do we grow from there.
“I know I would like to see the gateways to this area be improved, and I can even see arches over the streets that really define it,” he continued. “And, of course, that would include improving some of the buildings in this area, but I also believe we have seen vast improvements in the area thanks to the city of Wheeling and because of the private owners of these buildings. Those owners have taken a lot of pride in their properties and in this area overall because they have seen the progress take place, and they want to be a part of it. It’s finally an opportunity for them, and they are taking advantage of it.”
Although he has played a pivotal role in developing what is now the Centre Market residents of Wheeling know today, Zende is convinced the time has arrived for the public to partake with planning the next phase of additions.
“Right now we are a destination shopping district and a district for eateries, but where do we go from here? If we had a magic wand that would allow us to place anything we wanted into the available storefronts, what would they be? And before marketing this area regionally, I would like to gather some volunteers to offer us some suggestions on how to do that the right way,” he explained. “That way we can make a collective effort to develop the right ways to reach that regional market and also to consider what types of shops would work here in the future.
“What I believe would be great are a few more ‘destination-type’ shops so people will think to themselves that they need to come here because of that shop,” Zende added. “That’s the key, I believe, and that is why I would love to gather a group of interested individuals so we can bounce those types of ideas off each other so we can move forward in the best possible way.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)