Couple Investing in Their Community

WHEELING – Jim and Deby Medovic Smith always imagined they would work hard throughout their lives and then retire to South Carolina.

However, their love of Wheeling, family and friends are keeping them in the Friendly City where they are focusing on putting their talents to work by adding to the Washington Avenue business climate.

The Smiths are the new owners of the Washington Avenue Plaza, an already successful strip mall owned by Deby’s family before she and her husband acquired full ownership earlier this month. While the face of the plaza has changed since the days of the Golden Dawn grocery store and True Value Hardware, the site continues to evolve.

In addition to the Convenient Food Mart, the plaza now houses Greco’s restaurant, Kumon math and reading facility, Candy Bouquet, Newbrough Photo and the UPS store, which the Smiths also operate.

With the longtime hardware store recently closing, the Smiths have procured a new retailer for the site. Late this summer, the plaza will become home to a Dollar General store, the first dollar store in the Washington Avenue area.

“We are excited about the Dollar General store. We think it’s a good fit for the area with the high-rises, college and residential neighborhoods,” Deby said.

The couple is not going into this venture without business experience. Both hold down management positions outside of the plaza commitment. Deby is area vice president of sales for Open Solutions Inc. while Jim is an executive with Pepsi.

Previously, Deby served as controller for Convenient Food Marts and worked in finance at WesBanco in Wheeling.

Jim noted that the pair tried to keep the hardware business open, “but it was not feasible. I solicited a number of national chains and Dollar General came in with a proposal that felt right for this area.”

The Smiths have been working to prepare the exterior of the store and will turn it over to the Dollar General contractors on Wednesday to complete the interior. They have used local companies, including Erb Electric, H. E. Neumann and others for the work.

The Smiths also plan to “spruce up” the plaza with some exterior facelifts and other aesthetics. With the inclusion of Dollar General, all storefronts at the plaza will be filled, Deby noted.

Together the couple has formed M&S Rentals, as they also own the former dance studio building located across the street from the plaza. They have spent many hours working to put a fresh face on the structure that now houses a beauty salon on one side and upscale apartments – still to be completed – in the rest of the building.

“I like to rehab things but before we even bought the building we brought the city out here to look it over,” Jim said. “Tom Connelly (assistant director of the city’s economic and community development department) was great to work with.”

The couple said they are not moving lightly into these developments and have solicited advice from business people in the community, including Gary Glessner, Bruce Wilson, Harry and Bill Buch, Jerry Kopyar and John Gompers.

Deby noted that the Washington Avenue-National Road area is quickly renewing itself with a number of new businesses complimenting the already established retailers.

In addition to the offerings at the plaza, and the adjacent beauty salon and apartments, Deby pointed out the addition of Avenue Eats restaurant, a State Farm insurance office and the expansion of Nau’s Heating and Plumbing, which now includes hardware items.

Facing the challenges of operating a store, holding down full-time jobs and overseeing the Washington Avenue Plaza businesses, the Smiths said they are enjoying the experience.

“We’re still learning as we go. We’re having fun …it’s the best partnership I’ve ever been in, ” Deby added.