WHEELING – For local leaders, the opening of a Barnes & Noble bookstore inside West Virginia Northern Community College’s new Student Activities Center this morning represents hope for a retail renaissance in downtown Wheeling.

WVNCC officials and city leaders gathered this morning to cut the ribbon inside the new bookstore and Starbucks coffee shop, representing the realization of a vision several years in the making: transform an entire corner of the city previously marked by tired-looking, vacant buildings and replace it with a vibrant, college campus atmosphere that will spread through the downtown.

Mission accomplished, if you ask Mayor Andy McKenzie.

“I think the center of town is clearly 16th and Market streets,” he said, referencing the college’s recent opening of its Applied Technology Center across the street and its existing main campus location inside the old B&O building.

The bookstore’s cafe features wireless Internet access and a variety of baked goods to go with its menu of coffee and specialty beverages. Shelves stocked with school supplies and college-themed gifts and apparel give the place the distinct feel of a campus bookstore, but there are plenty traditional fiction and non-fiction selections available to keep any bookworm’s interest – and WVNCC President Martin Olshinsky wants to welcome the entire community to his school’s new showplace.

“It’s open for everybody – a typical Barnes & Noble operation,” Olshinsky said.

Store hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. It may be open for some special events on Sundays.

Both the new activities center and Applied Technology Center served as car dealerships in their most recent incarnations. Straub moved its Honda and Hyundai dealerships, however, swapping its downtown property with the Ohio County Development Authority for property at The Highlands.

WVNCC purchased both properties for a total of $1.05 million and spent another $4 million or so to renovate the structures.