Coleman’s Fish Still Swimming After 100 Years in Wheeling

WHEELING – When Joe and Nellie Coleman started their fish business in 1914, they could buy fresh fish, delivered, for 3 cents per pound. They began selling fish sandwiches in 1940 for 5 cents each.

Prices have since changed with the times, but the Coleman brand has endured for 100 years.

On Tuesday, the company held a 100th birthday bash, complete with live music, a cake, prizes and a special promotion that had customers lining up the length of Centre Market and out the door. Face painters and balloon artists joined the party.

For the past 40 years, the business has been owned by Joe Coleman and his sister, Mary Rich. Jodi Carder, Joe’s daughter and heir apparent, has been office manager for four years.

Joe and Mary’s grandparents, Joe and Nellie, started the business as The Union Fish Market on Short Market Street between 10th and 11th streets. In 1920, they moved to Center Wheeling’s Fifth Ward Upper Market House Stall 50.

Ray and his wife, Maria Coleman, took over the reins until 1973 when they passed them to Joe and Mary.

Wheeling author and historian John Bowman, who compiled historical facts about the business, remembers a conversation he and his wife, Glinda, had with Maria Coleman.

“My father’s name was Joseph Wiethe,” she told them. “He was in the produce business. He sold produce in the Lower Market building. I have been involved in the Market all my life. I married a fish man.”

Following her husband’s death, Maria worked with Joe in the business until she retired in 2003.

Bowman said Coleman’s fish sandwiches are known in every state and have been eaten by U.S. senators, congressmen and governors.

“The business has been written about in books, magazines and newspapers,” he said.

While the fish sandwhich – golden, fried fish between two slices of white bread – continues to be the restaurant’s most famous option, more products, such as crabs and oysters, have been added over time as advancements allowed Coleman’s to provide them fresh to customers. Still, the sandwhich is what customers are after, as evidenced by the line outside the restaurant Tuesday.

“We’ll probably go through 15,000 pounds of fish (Tuesday),” Joe Coleman said. “That is roughly four times more than we sell on a typical Tuesday and a little more than a normal Friday.”