The City of Wheeling is admired for its dedication to businesses, old and new. From restaurants like Later Alligator and Vagabond Kitchen to antique and hobby stores like Shuggy’s and Clutch Gaming, there is simply a lot to keep any person busy. In fact, this bustling history goes so far back that even over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many of Wheeling’s citizens and visitors had plenty of places to spend their days.
Although it has since been acquired by larger companies and replaced by businesses of smaller sizes, one of these places to be in Wheeling was the massive department store known as Stone & Thomas. First opening on Market Street in 1847 and finally closing its doors in 1998, this department store offered its lucky customers entertainment in the form of clothing, jewelry, and even food through the growing popularity of tearooms.
What is a Tearoom?
Much like mall food courts with fast-food chains in the twenty-first century, “tearooms” in large department stores like Stone & Thomas had an innovative idea in mind: give customers another reason to keep shopping. In other words, these stores constructed tearooms like the very one that existed in Wheeling, and they operated as relatively classy restaurants that even went so far as to keep patrons entertained with fashion shows while they took a break from browsing.
Furthermore, such establishments frequently marketed themselves as rather high-end in hopes of drawing in more customers, advertising their fashion shows alongside plenty of details about the stunning materials that went into the restaurants’ construction. Some tearooms emphasized their inviting color palettes of soft pinks and greens, their ambient lighting and wall murals, and even the specific types of wood used to build their furnishings. In addition to their walnut and oak tables, however, some went so far as to polish their own marble fountains to amaze their audiences.2
But, of course, if the privilege to relax in such luxurious spaces was not enough, certainly the tearoom menus would be. From salads piled high with toppings like bacon, cheese, and dressing to soups, sandwiches, fruit pies, kids’ meals, and, of course, tea, there was virtually something for everyone to enjoy.
The Stone & Thomas Tearoom
With Stone & Thomas existing as West Virginia’s largest independent department store from 1847 to 1998 then, such elegant experiences were not far from Wheeling’s residents. In fact, after reaching out to a few of them on the Memories of Wheeling Facebook page, many Wheelingites recalled the fond experiences they had at the Stone & Thomas tearoom:
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Former employee Kathryn E. reflected on working there, stating that “I loved the people there” and “[our] clientele and customers were the best ever.”
Reflecting on childhood shopping trips, Mickey W. commented, “I thought it was so elegant, and for a little girl, it seemed like a taste of the big city.”
And, of course, Wheeling’s residents could not help but remember the tearoom’s elaborate menu with all its delicious food options. It displayed familiar items like steak salads, ham and cheese omelets, and even the infamous Coleman’s fish sandwich that is still sold in Centre Market today, but hungry shoppers might also be surprised by dishes with names such as “banana split salad” or “chicken peach salad.”3
Additionally, once customers finished their meals, they often looked forward to Stone & Thomas’s desserts to wrap up the day. In fact, Mary P. recalled the “Mickey Mouse dessert” with its “scoop of ice cream, sugar cone for the hat, two vanilla wafers for ears, raisins for the eyes and cherry for the mouth,” and Kathryn E. highlighted another big seller: lemon meringue pie.
Although Stone & Thomas has since closed its doors in Wheeling, the impact the store and its tearoom has left on the city is immense. While today’s hungry shoppers might find themselves grabbing lunch at one the smaller cafes instead, they’re still surrounded by the vast food and business history that exists and are never far from the entertainment that Wheeling has to offer.
• Alexis (Alex) Walton was raised across the Ohio River in Martins Ferry, OH. She is currently a senior at West Liberty University with majors in professional writing and literature and a minor in creative writing. She has worked as a writing consultant, proofreader, and bookseller, and is currently interning with Wheeling Heritage and Weelunk. When she’s not busy with academics, she can be found playing video games, watching slasher films, and cuddling with her cat and ball python, Marcy and Jasper.