The conversation started right after this past Labor Day weekend, and looking back I’m still not quite sure if I was being serious.
“What if we moved to Wheeling?”
Ten years ago, I hadn’t even heard of Wheeling. My knowledge of West Virginia was mostly through a close friend that I met in Philadelphia and the Mountaineers basketball team. I didn’t get too deep into the atlas beyond that. But little did I know that the woman I met in a neighborhood just beyond the University of Pennsylvania would expose me to the Wheeling Feeling and all that comes with it. My wife Michelle is from Wheeling, and most of her family is still here, which meant we would regularly make trips across the PA Turnpike for holidays or birthdays or concerts at the Capitol. And it was lovely every time. But living there? Me, a guy born and raised in Philadelphia? No, that’s just silly.
Of course, last year changed a lot of preconceived notions for a lot of people. Things that seemed important to everyday life suddenly were not, and you adapt. As a couple that already worked remotely before the pandemic, we have always been lucky enough to not be saddled with living near our offices. But what was that freedom getting us in the fall of 2020? Restaurants and bars that we regularly went to were closed, sometimes permanently. Friends that moved away were much easier to keep in touch with via Zoom versus a long, traffic-heavy drive. Outdoor space became far more important than my city-living brain ever imagined. The next thing I knew, I was getting Trulia emails about rentals for the 26003 zip code.
Once we decided we weren’t getting the bang for our buck in Philly anymore, the thought of heading west made sense. There’s family out here, and Pittsburgh is a city we both liked with friends already there. But the conversation took us a bit further down I-70 than I expected. Soon after that Labor Day exchange, every afterwork conversation we had was some version of “Did you see that place on Main Street” or “How far from the coffee shop is that condo?” The next thing I knew, we were getting virtual tours from realtors and having wonderful email conversations with every apartment complex manager in the Northern Panhandle.
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We finally pulled the trigger right after Christmas, ending up in Triadelphia near the Highlands. When 2020 started, I certainly didn’t expect it to end with me signing a lease to move from Philadelphia to Triadelphia. Of course, I didn’t expect to get married in West Virginia either, so I’ve learned to just stop predicting life events because I’m clearly terrible at it.My in laws live three minutes away, which I know because they timed it after we told them we were coming back. That’s the kind of in-laws you can move three minutes away from and not regret it. (Not yet at least – hi Dave!).
Family was always a top reason for moving here, but in the two months since we arrived, I’m starting to discover all the other things on that list. The incredible outdoors, the revitalization going on downtown, even the weather – which I’ve been told several times not to get used to. I love being able to get a great brunch at Sarah’s on Main, finish a coffee at the waterfront and then walk around to Brew Keepers for a few adult beverages. Honestly, what more do you really need?
West Virginia sees the opportunity to bring remote workers into the state through programs like Ascend West Virginia. As someone who doesn’t drive, the efforts Wheeling is currently making in regards to becoming more pedestrian-friendly are almost as good an incentive as the $12,000 offered by Brad and Alys Smith. The working world has obviously changed over the last year, and people’s priorities may change with it, giving places like Wheeling the perfect opportunity to welcome back those who left, welcome in those who’ve never been, and a warm welcome at least one person who blindly has found his way into the Wheeling Feeling for all the best reasons.
• Michael Robertson is new to the area, having recently moved from his hometown of Philadelphia with his wife to hers. When not out engaging in all Wheeling has to offer, Mike enjoys reading, a nice adult beverage and rooting for the perpetually disappointing sports teams back home.