The Wheeling Artisan Center in Downtown Wheeling was full of business owners, elected officials, and members of the public on Monday, April 17, in celebration of Wheeling Heritage’s Show of Hands. This event–held multiple times throughout the year–highlights local small businesses during a night of food and fun. People wishing to attend contribute $5 in-person or $10 online for a chance to vote for their favorite participating business, and the money raised is awarded to the winner.
Four businesses competed for the grand prize, totaling over $5,300. Helen Bradley of the IDEA Center, Jay Hercules of Opossum Pouch Soft Goods, Shelley Smedley of Wheeling Coffee & Spice, and Mindi Yarbrough of Wild Heart by Mindi. Each participant had a short video made by the Wheeling Heritage Media Team that was released before the event to show off their business. At the Show of Hands, participants were given four minutes to speak, followed by about four minutes of questions from the audience. Participants had booths set up, as well, giving audience members a chance to see, feel, and sample what each business has to offer.
First to speak was Helen Bradley of the IDEA Center, or the Individual Development and Educational Advancement Center, located in Warwood. The IDEA Center provides tutoring services, STEAM-related programming, and arts and crafts, as well as participating in the HOPE Scholarship Program and a Juvenile Remediation Program for students who have missed school or who are failing.
Bradley empathizes with her students, saying “I started out as a high school drop-out–now I have a Masters.” She has spent decades as a teacher, including with ESL programs, at-risk youth, and for GED programs. Bradley, commenting on the worsening test scores for WV students, said kids “need so much more than a teacher–you need parents, you need community.”
Bradley said she would use the prize money to purchase a 3-D printer so her students could use their creativity in a new way. Currently, Bradley estimates she has the capacity for 10 to 12 students at one time. The IDEA Center charges $25/hour for 1 session a week, $35/hour for 2 sessions a week, and $50/hour for 3 sessions a week. She is assisted in her work by volunteers from Wheeling University and receives funding from the Juvenile Remediation Program.
Jay Hercules of Opossum Pouch Soft Goods said he has been sewing since he was 10 years old, giving him 40 years of experience. He remembered his dad who worked in the coal mines, and who told him when he asked for money that he should make the things he wanted for himself. Hercules described his products as outdoor goods made in a traditional canvas-style, and he prides himself in his “Made in Wheeling, West Virginia” label.
Hercules said Wheeling was missing effective industries that provide jobs, saying the city needs “clean, sufficient, self-sustaining, nimble, agile industries.” He reflected on his humble beginnings–borrowing $350 to attend a craft show, and when asked by his partner how they’d be getting home he replied, “We’ll have to sell something.”
During his speech, Hercules said he would use the money from Show of Hands to bring “90% of production in-house,” with the intention of paying his employee, Ginger, “what she is worth.” To do this, Hercules said he would purchase a clicker-press to help him speed up his production.
While Wheeling Coffee and Spice was first established in 1858–when Wheeling was part of Virginia–Ms Shelley Smedley, the newest owner, said “We’re taking this money home.” Smedley praised the City government–of which Mayor Glenn Elliott and members of the City Council were in attendance–for the work they had done to improve the city, commenting on the Wheeling Streetscape Project.
Smedley moved here from Arkansas in 2020 to take ownership of Wheeling Coffee & Spice, where the company is known for its slow-roasted coffee in roasters installed in 1896–what may be the oldest roasting machine in the United States. Smedley praised the city, saying “Wheeling has the best people–the friendliest people.” She said the most rewarding part of her job was the community, saying it means so much to her.
Smedley shared during her presentation that she hoped to win Show of Hands to help remodel the outdoor and indoor seating areas, as well as purchase a cappuccino machine. She thanked her employees for their work and the many devoted customers who use the coffee shop as a meeting place.
Last to speak was Mindi Yarbrough of Wild Heart by Mindi. A “lifelong artist,” Yarbrough said the only other job she thought of having was, “maybe a mermaid.” She described herself as an “artist, graphic designer, illustrator, muralist.” Yarbrough’s art can be found around Wheeling including at Heritage Port, Center Market, Northwood Health Systems, and the Wheeling Visitor’s Center, and she often has pieces displayed at Clientele Art Studio.
Yarbrough was born and raised in Wheeling, but moved to California as an adult. She decided to come back to Wheeling, saying “I wanted to put roots here” in an attempt to bring amenities that big cities have, but “Wheeling doesn’t have yet.” She says it is her life’s purpose to make and share the arts, and the healing and therapeutic powers they can bring. Reflecting on her upbringing, Yarbrough emotionally said “art has saved me,” and said she wanted to make art accessible to people in Wheeling.
If Wild Heart by Mindi were to win, Yarbrough said the money would be used to purchase supplies for classes she plans to offer for kids, teens, and adults. She said it would also help her find a permanent space, saying that her current studio–her “art garage”–lacked heat, air, water, and restrooms. Yarbrough said art is a way to celebrate ideas, heritage, identity, and the future, and can be used as a way to bridge the mental and physical body.
After each participating business spoke the audience was given the opportunity to cast their vote for who they thought should win the prize. Jay Hercules of Opossum Pouch Soft Goods was declared the winner and presented with an oversized check worth $5,312. In shock, Hercules thanked those in attendance–whether they supported him or not–saying he was honored to have been selected and noting that the competition was tough.
Live music was offered by local guitarist Melody Rae, lead guitarist and singer of a new local band called Stone Campus. Food and drinks were served by River City Restaurant.
At this event, Wheeling Heritage announced several upcoming events, including:
- April 18, Mingle at the Market from 5-8 p.m. at Centre Market
- May 6, FidoFest from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Fitzsimmons Family Dog Park where a public art piece is to be unveiled,
- May 13, Handmade Holiday: Spring Market at the Wheeling Artisan Center from 11 a.m. -4 p.m.,
- May 25, Historic Homes Workshop location TBD
For a full list of Wheeling Heritage events, visit their event calendar.
The next Show of Hands will be on July 26, and the application for interested businesses will be available on Wheeling Heritage’s website in the coming weeks.