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A ‘Well-Heeled’ Downtown

It’s no secret that one of the biggest complaints about driving in downtown Wheeling is the deplorable condition of the streets. Main and Market streets have resembled a war zone for more years than I care to count.

Good news came recently when bids went out for the downtown Streetscape project. This long-awaited news brought renewed faith to those who have taken great lengths to avoid traveling on downtown streets.

If you have driven down Main Street in recent months, you have had to be very alert to the ever-changing traffic patterns due to various utility work being done. Then there is the work on the Wheeling Suspension Bridge that adds another layer of detours. Each project brings a new lump in the road.

I am not telling you anything you don’t already know. While it may take a couple of years to complete the downtown streets and sidewalk improvements, it’s at least a positive direction for the city and state.

Despite the state of the streets, people continue to patronize events at the Capitol Theatre on Main Street in downtown Wheeling. And the various festivals and concerts at the waterfront also remain strong attractions to the downtown.

But when there aren’t any events scheduled, Wheeling’s downtown is pretty bare of people. Recently, I had an occasion to visit downtown on an early Tuesday morning. After parking on Main Street, I walked a few blocks to my destination at the Mull Center, encountering only two pedestrians on the way. When my appointment was over, I took a walk along the street that once held wall-to-wall cars and sidewalk crowds.

Even though I am old enough to remember this city in its population hey-day, I still found it cathartic to walk the street and view the remaining buildings and former storefronts. The dust on the doorways and empty windows didn’t make me sad as many profess today. It only gave me an appreciation for how lucky I was to have once known all these stores and restaurants and people who worked there.

I still have boxes with the Stone and Thomas label and notepads from Hornes of Wheeling. The former Stone and Thomas building has been repurposed and saved from an unsavory fate of some of its neighbors. Other structures also have found new occupants and meaning.

The Health Plan building, which is attractive and well maintained, replaced the ghost town that once housed G.C. Murphy’s five and dime.

Additional properties have met the wrecking ball and rightfully so. Perhaps new streets will create an impetus for filling some of the cavities left behind.

My walk ended with something that made me stop and ponder the moment. At the corner of 10th and Main streets, I saw a beautiful black patent leather, gold-trimmed woman’s high-heeled shoe laying in the street amid the detour signs. So many questions popped into my head but all I could do was snap a picture and continue on my way.

I thought perhaps it was left there as a sign of good things to come for a well-heeled downtown.

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

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