A Less Frenzied Pace

I miss Bakers Shoe store. It was one of the many shoe stores that lined Market and Main streets in downtown Wheeling when I was in high school. It had large display windows with shoes propped up on see-through plastic shelf-like things. And the prices, if I recall, were clearly marked under the shoes. Today, many big retailers have self-serve shoe departments.

Since my high school was just a few blocks from the downtown, it was an easy walk to shop at lunchtime or after school. At the shoe store, like at all of the footwear retailers in the town, there were helpful men and women who pulled shoe boxes from backrooms and brought them to the customers. The sales clerks would measure your feet if need be and make some suggestions for certain brands or accessories.

That personalized service was the case at most all of the retailers in downtown Wheeling. A conversation over the Thanksgiving dinner table brought up some of the neat places where you got service with a smile from friendly homegrown folks. Becker’s Hardware Store was a favorite of those around the table. As one put it, “You could get 10-cent seed packets or 50 pounds of cracked corn and they would deliver it to your home.”

In my even younger years, I remember going to town with my mother and sisters to shop. At that time, the town was teeming with baby boomer families and there was not an empty storefront to be seen. Specialty shops sold everything from ladies’ hosiery and handkerchiefs to chocolates and luggage. Each holds special memories of going to town with mom or dad. Wheeling, like many cities, has undergone change, including a drop in population and a decrease in the need for all those specialty services. But what it has not lost is its appeal to those looking for something special.

Today is Small Business Saturday. And there are plenty of opportunities to embrace the memories of yesteryear shopping trips by visiting many of the smaller shops in Wheeling and throughout the Ohio Valley. The names and locations may have changed, but the concept of personalized service is stronger than ever at places such as those interesting shops and restaurants at the Centre Market area, in Elm Grove, in Warwood, at Stratford Springs, at Oglebay, in Moundsville, Martins Ferry, St. Clairsville and so forth.

When you visit a small business, you won’t get lost in the expanse of the store, but in the ambiance of soft music or a lively tune playing in the background. Someone most likely will greet your arrival with a hello. You won’t find shopping carts lined at the door, but that’s OK. You can just hand the clerk your items and she or he will hold them at the register as you continue to browse the store. Take your time. Stop in for a coffee and sit in the window. Watch the less frenzied pace of holiday shopping in small business USA. I’ll see you there.

Heather Ziegler can be reached via email at: hziegler@theintelligencer.net.