Wheeling, West Virginia and Birmingham, Alabama have at least a two things in common besides their connection with the yesteryear of country music. First off, they are officially places that Joy Williams has lived and called home. Secondly, they are evidently places that are taken for granted if you’re from there.
“One thing I can definitely tell you is that I think I see Wheeling differently than people who were born and raised around here. If you just stop and look around, between the river and Oglebay Park, quality educational institutions, and a rapidly growing arts and culture scene, Wheeling has everything you could want in a city. Plus, it still has the close-knit feel of a smaller community. But I get it. People who come to Birmingham are always gushing over it, and I’m much more critical because that’s where I’m from. It’s just Birmingham. Wheeling is good though, and it’s getting better.”
Speaking to Williams, you can’t help but be infected by her love and optimism for Wheeling’s future, so it’s a little ironic (the real type of irony, not the ironic stylings popularized by Alanis Morissette) that it is Wheeling’s past that brought her here.
Williams originally went to school to be an interior designer, but decided her senior year of her undergrad at the University of Alabama that it was historical preservation and restoration that was her passion. She pursued that in graduate school and then found herself working at a credit union for four years after graduation.
“Historical preservation and restoration is a difficult field to break into, so when I saw the opportunity with Americorps to come work with the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation, I gave it a shot. I went through the interviews, was offered the job, and around August of last year, I moved up to Wheeling.”
While she has had to get used to things like snow-filled winters and even the very real issue of seasonal depression, she said she has grown to love the city.
“It really grows on you, the city of Wheeling and West Virginia as a whole. The people are so nice, welcoming, and supportive, and there is so much to do that no one thinks about. If you want to go to a nice restaurant on the weekend, you can do that. If you want to see a play, you can do that. If you want to go out and hear live music, that’s available. It’s all here. People just forget about it or don’t think it’s there. But that is wherever you live.”
Williams said she loves working at the Vagabond Kitchen. “When I met Matt and Katie as they were getting everything together at the beginning, I told him, ‘When you get this thing going, I’ll come wait tables for you.’ I mean, I’ve been waiting tables forever, and I wanted a second, part-time job. I’d rather work for someone that wants to do something beyond just make money, because that kind of stuff is important to me too.”
She also believes that The Kitchen has an important part to play in Wheeling’s revitalization efforts. “When big industry moves out like it has here, it’s difficult sometimes for communities to find a new identity, a new industry. What Matt and Katie are doing with The Vagabond Kitchen is showing the community that new businesses can move into downtown and flourish. Sure, it takes a few months for word to get out in a smaller city, but once it catches on and you offer a quality product like they do, people come out and support it. The Vagabond Kitchen is proving that downtown is once again a desirable place to open and run a business, and they have provided good jobs.
Williams said that she misses home sometimes, and she doesn’t get back as often as she likes because of the distance. However, even though she’ll always yell, “Roll, Tide!” on Saturdays, Wheeling, West Virginia is quickly becoming home too. We’re happy to have her.