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A Day at the Market: Local Hub On Upswing

By JOSELYN KING Political Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING - Fish sandwiches, Italian wedding soup, fine wines and exquisite antiques are bringing visitors to Wheeling’s Centre Market, and most businesses there are reporting an upswing in sales in recent months.

"What we’ve done here over the last year and a half is focus on aesthetics," said Kurt Zende, Centre Market manager. "We’ve made improvements to (the city-owned) Upper and Lower Centre Market buildings, and encouraged other property owners to consider improvements to their property."

Zende added he also has been working with merchants to coordinate promotional events in the area and "get people interested in coming to Centre Market." The result is that most of the merchants in Centre Market are reporting an increase in business of 30-60 percent over last year, according to Zende.

He noted Coleman’s Fish Market continues to be the business that drives Centre Market.

The establishment - known for its fish sandwiches - has been in business for 98 years, said Joe Coleman, current owner of Coleman’s Fish Market. He took over the business 39 years ago from his father.

"There are more people in Centre Wheeling now than there are in the downtown," Coleman said. "It’s a unique area of its own."

He said after Coleman’s had been in operation for decades, it began serving fish sandwiches in 1946, and since then the store has consistently evolved. More products - such as crabs and oysters - were added over time as advancements allowed Coleman’s to provide them fresh to customers.

"You have to keep changing," Coleman said.

He added the store has even gained an international reputation.

"We had someone come in the other day who was from Spain," he continued. "He told us Coleman’s Fish Market was recommended to him by someone there who had been here before."

Frank Warren, owner of the Soup Shack, has provided soups and sandwiches for sale at Centre Market for three years in the city-owned Upper Market House building.

"Every year, business seems to get better here," he said. "It’s a great place to be - a ’souper’ place to be.

"The overhead is low. The city has to cool and heat and supply the light to the building," he continued. "The rent is inexpensive while the flow of traffic is good."

Warren noted his cabbage and sausage soup is "selling likes there’s no tomorrow," and that his Italian wedding soup and lobster bisque also are popular with customers.

Diane Myers operates both the Casa di Vino wine shop and The Market Vines wine bar and grill in Centre Market.

"A great variety of people come here - both in town and out of town," she said.

The wine shop has been open for about four years, while the restaurant has been serving customers for just over a year, she noted. Business picked up greatly at the restaurant after it recently was named to the list of "101 Great Places to Dine in West Virginia" by the State Department of Commerce.

Wine aficionados can take "wine education" classes at Casa di Vino to learn more about what they drink, while the shops also hosts wine tastings during the city’s "First Friday" events during the warm weather months. Myers said the tastings also are being offered on the third Friday of each month - as Centre Market merchants hope to establish their own monthly program specific to their area of the city. Visitors get to sample "high-end wines" at these tastings, according to Myers.

"This gives people a chance to sample wines that cost $70, $80 or $100 a bottle," she added.

Wendy Polack of Antiques on the Market said the store has been open 28 years and features items from 17 different antique dealers.

"Business was better before eBay, but it’s picking up," she said.

She noted the number of restaurants opening in Centre Market is helping to bring more traffic to the area, and she even welcomes additional antique stores into the neighborhood.

"More businesses bring more people," she noted.

But not every Centre Market merchant said they are experiencing highs in their business.

Robert Yocum, owner of Yocum’s Antiques for more than 40 years, often sits outside his dimly-lit shop containing unusual items that visitors must pick through.

"There ain’t no business," he said. "It’s been terrible for a good while. Years ago it was good, then all at once it dropped off. It probably won’t come back."