Wheeling’s Beloved Science Center Is On The Move!

If you’re familiar with Centre Market, then you’ve probably paid a visit to Libby and Robert Strong at the SMART Centre Market to check out their impressive collection of fossils, telescopes, and other interactive science offerings. Since 2010, The SMART Centre has been a staple in the Centre Market neighborhood since it relocated from its original space inside the former Warwood High School. And now, The SMART Centre is on the move again!

Back in September, Robert and Libby Strong purchased the former Goodwin Drug Co. building, located at 1410 Main St. in downtown Wheeling. Over the past several weeks, they have been in the process of renovating the in preparation for their next relocation which is tentatively slated for January 2023.

  • The future home of the SMART Centre Market is located at 1410 Main Street in Downtown Wheeling. (Photo courtesy of Wheeling Heritage Media).

“Since the new building we are moving into is four stories, we plan to have our retail space on the first floor; the second floor will house the science center. We are also planning on continuing to sell Kirke’s ice cream at our new location as well,” said Libby, co-owner of the SMART Centre Market.

With the new location comes new neighbors, and the Strongs are already planning on working with nearby organizations to enhance the positive momentum in Downtown Wheeling. “We hope to partner with the Wheeling Artisan Center, Wheeling Heritage Port, and the Wesbanco Arena on future projects since we will be closer in proximity to them,” said Libby.

Robert and Libby Strong.

It shouldn’t be hard to forge these new partnerships, as the Strongs already collaborate with local entities to offer fun and educational programs to the people in our community. “We do a community Star Watch at Brooke Hills Park from February through October on the third Saturday of every month,” said Robert Strong, co-owner of the SMART Centre Market. Robert notes that they also host Star Watches year-round at the nearby Grand Vue Park in Moundsville.

How did the Strongs get into this business? Both Robert and Libby Strong are science and math educators and former classroom teachers with Master’s degrees. They’ve made it their mission to share their passion for science education with the community.

“We work closely with the five counties of the Northern panhandle of W.Va. and we do most of their programs. We also do programs for W.Va. Science Teachers Association and W.Va. NASA Space Grant Consortium (WVSGC). We have also presented at both the state and National Science Teacher Conferences. We also just got back from Houston, Texas from the National Conference on Science Education and they did a lot of different activities there,” said Libby.

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You never know what you’ll find at the SMART Centre. Libby Strong poses with a dinosaur tooth inside the Smart Centre Market. (Photo courtesy of Wheeling Heritage Media).

According to Robert, his interest in providing comprehensive, community-based science programs began when he was in college. “I attended college at West Virginia Wesleyan College and I remember at one time in both my science and social studies classes we were talking about the exact same thing and that was around 1978. That made me think what if you combined science, history, math, and art, and what if you thought them through enough and you were to weave them together so they were more than just math, science, and art individually. After college, I joined the Peace Corps in Africa and I thought it was interesting how the French and English systems work and the languages sort of combine together. Being in a foreign land makes you think that maybe you should be doing all of the subjects at once.”

After Robert returned to America after serving in the Peace Corps, his vision for what would become the SMART Centre Market truly took off. “I thought that you could apply everything that you learn in things like technology along with science and math and so that’s how I came up with the name for the SMART Centre because the initials S.M.A.R.T. of the SMART Centre stand for science, mathematics, art reading, and technology,” said Robert.

“Children who visit the store always have some interesting questions to ask about their world. One thing we always find delightful is when kids come into the store and ask questions about science, the store, or fossils and even the adults that come into the store always will always have questions too. We have also been judges for the local science fairs since the 1990s and sometimes when students are wondering what to do for the science fair sometimes they have come into SMART Centre Market and we have helped them come up with ideas for their projects,” said Libby Strong.

As the Strong’s prepare for their move from Centre Market to Downtown Wheeling, they are grateful for the experience they’ve had. “The Centre Market area is not just a bunch of stores it’s more of a community. The various shops and stores and restaurants in this area all work together and try to make Centre Market not just an experience to shop and eat so it’s a really unique experience for anyone who decides to visit,” said Robert Strong.

The SMART Centre Market is still operating out of the shop at 30 22nd Street through the holidays, so be sure to stop in and see them to find a special holiday gift or just to say hello! “Every year we most look forward to the holiday shopping season because people will come in not really knowing exactly what they’re looking for so it’s always fun helping them find things,” said Libby

The SMART Centre Market is open from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. You can learn more information about SMART Centre Market by visiting their website or by visiting their Facebook page.

• Hanna Perry graduated in May 2022 from West Liberty University with a degree in journalism and
photography. She is also a resident of Wheeling, West Virginia.