It is a small area of Wheeling that now receives rave reviews, but Centre Market once was a problem for the antique storeowners, the area’s residents, and for law enforcement because of drug dealing and prostitution.
Those issues, though, did not stop Theresa Childers and her husband, Jim, from buying property in the district. Don’s Corner Market, a store where many of the ingredients for Asian food could be purchased, was located in the three-story building on the corner of Lane B and 22nd St. at the time of the purchase, and for a few years longer the grocery continued to operate.
But then came the coffee house, and with it arrived the first interior and exterior renovations to occur to properties surrounding the two market houses in nearly 30 years. Theresa was a stay-at-home mother who began investing in real estate once her daughter (Brandi) and son (Benji) went off to college, and Jim, known as “Chili” to friends and his coal mine co-workers, was employed by the industry for 42 years. The couple now owns an impressive portfolio of commercial and residential properties in Wheeling and St. Clairsville, and the Childers considered retirement and relocation to Florida.
Ultimately, though, they made the decision to remain and to invest further in the Upper Ohio Valley.
“My daughter wanted us to open our coffee house in Florida because during college she met a man from Fort Lauderdale, married him, and then moved to that area,” explained Theresa Childers, a 1975 graduate of Bellaire High School. “That was 10 years ago, and I went down there, did our research, and spent a lot of time, but we couldn’t find our niche down there. The warmth just wasn’t there.
“Then we came home for Christmas in 2004, and I told my daughter that Jim and I were going to continue working until the spring, and then we were going to open our coffee house in our Centre Market property,” she continued. “So we went to work, and the place wasn’t in the best condition. When I told the contractor that we wanted to be in by Christmas, he immediately asked, ‘What Christmas?’ But we did it, and we opened two weeks before Christmas 2005.”
The building has four apartments above Centre Cup Coffee, and those units have yet to be renovated and remain empty for now. There is also a large basement that is used for storage, but on street level Centre Cup offers a wide variety of coffee blends and expresso drinks as well as green tea smoothies and frappes. The coffee house also offers sandwiches, wraps, soups, and salads, and a large conference room is also available for meetings and parties.
“When we first opened, we were just a coffee house, but we did have a lot of customers suggest to us adding sandwiches and some soups. That’s why we now sell chicken salad and egg salad sandwiches and a few others and why we have a few different salads and soups,” Childers said. “People seem to love the Tomato Bisque, so we have that one most often, but we also have a potato and a chicken noodle.
“It’s all homemade and produced right here by me or one of my two employees, so our customers can be sure that it’s fresh and made daily,” she said. “We didn’t know how popular those items would be at first but I’m really happy that we listened to our customers and added them. That’s an important part of being in business.”
She admitted though that when she and her husband made the decision to re-develop the Centre Market structure, they were unaware of the issues surrounding the market houses. Historic, yes, but this district was only a popular destination for law-abiding residents when visiting Coleman’s Fish Market and Saseen’s Restaurant.
Otherwise, Childers said, it was bit seedy and shady.
“I didn’t know much about Wheeling when I purchased this building,” Childers admitted. “But it seemed like a great investment, and it’s turned out to be. But, at the time I purchased it, the Centre Market area was in pretty bad shape.
“The trees were so overgrown you couldn’t look down the sidewalk and see the other end. When I called the city about it, Beckett’s Landscaping was here the very next day, and they did a wonderful job. They really did,” she continued. “It was like a new haircut. It really did wonders for this area. That’s when I started a little group known as, ‘The Friends of Centre Market,’ and we made a lot of progress. That’s when my daughter decided to invest in and renovate a few properties down Market Street from Centre Cup Coffee, so today we have properties that have four storefronts that are occupied.”
That’s today, but that wasn’t the case in 2005.
“In the beginning there were some things that I wasn’t very familiar with that we had to deal with immediately, and those things involved prostitution and drug dealing,” Childers reported. “All day and all night these things were going on. I used to tell them that I was calling the police all of the time.
“I literally chased them away all day long because they were approaching my customers, and they approached my contractors, my husband, and my son, but I worked very hard, and eventually I got rid of them,” she continued. “And the Wheeling Police Department was great to work with. Those officers were on it.”
Since then the manager of Centre Market, Kurt Zende, has guided a resurrection inside two market houses, and now there are bakeries, an art gallery, and a home interior design company along with, of course, Coleman’s, Michael’s Beef House, Osaka Express, Valley Cheese, and the Soup Shack. These additions then spawned development along the surrounding streets with the openings of Case de Vino, Market Vines, and the Wheeling Brewing Company that complemented the sprinkled antique shops.
Childers was embarrassed when told Zende recognized her as, “one of the first to take the dive” in Centre Market and, “very instrumental with pushing for the revitalization of the district.”
“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I believe we were leaders in the revitalization here at Centre Market,” Childers said humbly. “We worked very hard with bringing new people down here for the right reasons, and we worked diligently to keep out the people who were coming here for the wrong reasons.
“I can’t even tell you how many times people asked us why we were doing what we were going down here,” she said. “Some people thought we won the lottery or something, but that’s not why we did what we did. We took a chance, yes, but we believed it would work if we did what we did. There were a lot of naysayers in the beginning, but I feel that warmth now.”
But Centre Cup Coffee is not her only success story. She and her daughter decided three years ago to get into the cookie business when the pair purchased the Giorgio Cookie Company located on the outskirts of Bellaire. Today, her biscotti biscuits are distributed to retailers in 43 states and a few lines of cookies, too, will soon be sold nationally.
“When we got into the cookie business with my daughter, we started going to a lot of trade shows across the country to promote our biscotti, and now, just a few years later, that biscotti is sold in 43 different states,” Childers explained. “Soon we will launch the distribution of our cookies with the Home Shopping Network and with the Kroger Co.
“They are both great companies, and we’re looking forward to working with them,” she continued. “The cookie company currently has five employees, so we are hoping for continued growth so that number can increase in the future.”
What the future holds for the Childers family, she does not know, but she is confident that even more opportunities for both businesses will be involved.
“I love Centre Market and all of the beautification that has taken place by the city and by the other building owners on both sides of the market houses,” Childers said. “This is where my heart is, and it will always be the place where we started, but we’re looking to a lot of progress this year.
“We have a lot of avenues in front of us right now with the cookie company, so there’s no telling where it’s headed,” she added. “But what I can tell you is that it’s a very exciting time for both Centre Cup Coffee and for the Giorgio Cookie Company.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)