Front & Centre: Wheeling’s historic market district comes full circle

Wheeling’s historic Centre Market, filled with an eclectic mix of shops and vendors, is looking up – literally.

Kurt Zende, a city economic development specialist and Centre Market manager, told members of the Wheeling Rotary Club on Tuesday that plans are in place to revamp the outdoor seating area between the Upper and Lower market buildings. Those plans include adding a large canopy to provide shade and respite from the elements.

He said the sprucing up will be made possible by a donation from Chesapeake Energy and will provide seating for up to 46 people. A wrought iron fence, keeping with the Greek Revival style of the market houses, will be installed along the patio’s perimeter.

Zende also is working to initiate a farmers’ market to have in place next summer. He is looking for a farmers’ co-op to take part but has not been able to finalize that just yet.

As for Centre Market’s wish list, Zende seeks to have the bell placed back into the bell tower and to see more growth in the surrounding Center Wheeling area.

“When I took over as manager at the Centre Market in 2010, there were 15 (business) vacancies. Today, we are down to three vacancies,” Zende said. “It’s a very satisfying job. One day I’m contracting with Santa Claus and the next day talking with the governor.”

Zende is not afraid of the physical work as he and fellow city worker Anthony Wells recently painted the Lower Market building.

He said he would like to see some additional businesses that “cater to visitors” come into the area to go along with the book store, antique shops, bakeries and other distinctive businesses already in place.

Zende also provided a detailed history of the Centre Market houses, from the purchase of the land by the city of Wheeling to the construction and opening of the first market house in 1853. He explained how the neighborhood was originally steeped in German heritage. The Germans had erected three churches, banks and other buildings in the early days. World War I brought the Germans into the spotlight, “and all German symbols were removed from banks, churches and others buildings at that time,” Zende noted.

As Wheeling’s population grew, the Center Wheeling area became the hub of the town with shops and residences, churches and schools.

In more modern times, the YMCA, Wheeling High School and the Ohio County Public Library graced the neighborhood. In 1988, the Centre Market received a facelift and has kept pace with development in the area.

“Joe Coleman (Coleman’s Fish Market owner) commented to me that this is the best the Centre Market has looked in all the years he’s been here,” Zende said.

City Manager Robert Herron, a Rotary member, said the Centre Market has emerged from a dormant period to a bustling center of activity once again.

“The Centre Market today is kind of like it was in the 1850s. It has come full circle,” Herron said. “What has happened is a partnership with the city. Businesses have been willing to work together and it’s a happening place.”