Editor’s note: Weelunk updates a story we shared four years ago about a business that ships various tastes of Wheeling that are near and dear to natives’ hearts (and stomachs). Some traditions never grow old, as evidenced by the ongoing demand for Patsy’s Pizza, Coleman’s fish and other reminders of home.

Pssst. You didn’t hear it from Weelunk, but some former Wheeling residents who live in, say, somewhere quite south of here, are in for a tasty Christmas Eve surprise.

Staci Spry, owner of Spry’s Mail Center Plus, will wrap up and ship off a taste of Wheeling, which could involve a 28-slice Patsy’s Pizza to South Carolina, Coleman’s fish to Chicago or a homemade pumpkin roll to Washington state.

Here: Staci Spry is poised to do a Patsy’s Pizza run, wrap up a tray of 28 frozen slices and ship it off in an insulated box. There: One super-sneaky gift-giver will unbox that pie, bake it and serve up a literal taste of home to a handful of unsuspecting guests.

Just imagining their reaction had Spry, owner of Spry’s Mail Center Plus, bubbling over a couple of weeks prior to the big day. Not that it takes much. Home for the Holidays is crooning from the shop radio, and Spry, living up to her name, is already festive in a Santa’s-elf-on-leave-in-Miami kind of way.

“Even if they can’t make it to town, they feel like they have been touched by the Ohio Valley,” Spry said of why a notable number of people opt for long-distance takeout — even at more than $100 an order. “This is a special place.”

ON THE MENU

That taste is often Patsy’s Pizza (formerly DiCarlo’s of Elm Grove).

“We send (that) at least two to three times a week,” said Spry, noting that about two dozen pizzas will go out for Christmas alone. “It goes as far as Washington state and California. I don’t think there’s any state I haven’t hit.”

Also popular, she said, are Coleman’s fish (frozen, breaded cutlets), Jebbia’s fruit baskets, bottles of Figaretti sauce, and salad dressings from Undo’s and Saseen’s.

“Call us, tell us what you want, and I’ll go get it,” Spry said.

She’s not telling tales, but that could include both the holiday stuff and standing orders from, say, professional athletes in, say, Pittsburgh, who really like, say, chips and salsa from Ye Olde Alpha. “So many people want a taste of the valley.”

Not that it’s just a box and snip of tape here and there. Shipping food requires hardcore packing and a plan. Take the Coleman’s fish, for example. “If you send it out … fried, when they get it, it’s mush.”

Spry, who has owned the shipping center since 2007, has wrapped up everything from pizza to pastry made for astronaut John Glenn by local friends to everything needed to set up a nail salon in Africa. Bubble wrap, Styrofoam, cardboard, ice packs and tape make it all work. Here, she prepares a painting of a regional luminary for shipping from one family member to another.

Spry constantly pushes the envelope, though.

Recently, an area couple wanted to ship a home-baked pumpkin roll to the Pacific Northwest, where such desserts are apparently not a thing. She planned, she packed, and the pumpkin roll arrived in perfect condition. The parents will be shipping more.

She gets it, both as an entrepreneur and a local girl, she said with a happy nod.

“When people can’t make it home … they just want the things that they grew up with.”

WHEELING IN A BOX

Food isn’t the only way far-flung natives are getting a touch of the valley this Christmas.

Alex Weld, spokesperson for Weelunk/Wheeling Heritage, said an inaugural issue of Wheeling Boxes went well.

About three dozen such boxes — which included local honey, coffee, a pottery mug, a hand-blown glass ornament and a magnet with the image of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge — sold in recent weeks.

The Wheeling Box

“Some people are shipping these to relatives all over the country. That’s really neat to see,” Weld said, noting the handmade nature of the ornament and mug are extra special. “They’re all a little bit different.”

Weelunk and Wheeling Heritage, which produces this online publication as part of its charge from the National Park Service to interpret and maintain the city’s unique heritage, will offer more such boxes year-round. Items are sourced from the Wheeling Artisan Center in downtown and will be shipped by Wheeling Heritage staff, who will include a personalized note if requested.

THE NAUGHTY LIST

If you’re planning on serving as your own shipping Santa this season, just remember to notify whoever is handling the package if there is anything flammable, perishable, liquid or hazardous inside, warned Ron Burns, postmaster of the downtown Wheeling office of the U.S. Postal Service.

This is true regardless of how or where such items — including potentially flammable perfume or drinks containing alcohol — are shipped, he noted.

Between now and Christmas, boxes will pile high at the Woodsdale neighborhood store in wait for drivers from the U.S. Postal Service, DHL, FedEx and UPS. According to downtown Wheeling Postmaster Ron Burns, the U.S. Postal Service alone will ship more than 800 million packages and 13 billion cards/letters/magazines in December. Dec. 16  — the season’s peak — will see about 8.5 million pieces of U.S. mail on the move.

An example of how badly things can go wrong? Last Christmas, Burns said, a customer in another city brought in a box over the counter that included mercury — a toxic heavy metal — without noting its hazardous contents.

“The package got damaged … and wound up shutting down the (Pittsburgh-area) plant for six weeks,” Burns said. “That cost millions of dollars for the cleanup, and the mail that was in there was delayed for six weeks.”

THE NICE LIST

Just do as Santa would do, Spry suggested as to how to make wise shipping decisions.

She would know. In addition to commercial shippers, elves stop by her shop to collect local children’s Christmas wish lists from a mailbox set up for that purpose just inside her front door.

Sometimes, she noted, they leave behind cookies, egg nog or other tastes of their home — being the North Pole, of course — for her and staff. “I love it,” she said.

• A long-time journalist, Nora Edinger also blogs at noraedinger.com and Facebook and writes books. Her Christian chick lit and faith-related non-fiction are available on Amazon. She lives in Wheeling, where she is part of a three-generation, two-species household.

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