Glenn Elliott is aware of the challenge that lies ahead of him. Driving up and down Market Street in Wheeling, WV, it doesn’t take long to see why so many still hold out their optimism for a new downtown Wheeling despite the progress that has been made, progress that no one thought possible. There are still beautiful historic buildings falling into disrepair, collections of people gather outside of bars and the 7-11 at noon on a weekday, and there is a noticeable lack of street traffic after 5pm.
The Market Street Now Vision
The thing about Glenn Elliott that you figure out very quickly when talking to him is that he is not oblivious to the challenges. He doesn’t sugar-coat them. He doesn’t avoid them or underestimate them in his entrepreneurial passion. He simply believes that they are a speed bump in the much longer picture of Wheeling’s history. He embraces those challenges as opportunities.
“The reason I named my company Market Street Now is that I’m tired of hearing about what Wheeling was. Before I bought the building, I talked to to my dad a lot. He knows a lot of people in the construction industry. Almost to the person, they were down on downtown Wheeling. Almost, without a doubt, they talked about Wheeling in the 50s and 60s and said, ‘Ah, you know, it was great back then.’ And I just got mad, you know, I’m tired of hearing about back then. Wheeling used to be something. It’s not that something anymore. Let’s make it what it [could be] now. I’m not talking about what it used to be. I’m talking about it now.
For too many years, Wheeling has been defined by many of its residents as a city that used to be something special. The phrase ‘Back in the day’ has almost become cliché here. I get that. Wheeling’s history is impressive. But I am tired of thinking about Wheeling as a place that used to be anything. I’m tired of our fixation on the past. I put the word Now in my company’s name to remind myself every day that the future of this city will not be determined by what happened here in the 1950s. It will be determined by what we do today.”
And keeping with that theme of now, Elliott has been actively doing his own part in moving the Market Street section of downtown Wheeling into something that young entrepreneurs and residents want to be a part of.
Elliott purchased the Professional Building, an historic building that has long been associated with the main thoroughfare, in the fall of last year and has been busy making it something young movers and shakers want to be a part of.
“My first focus was getting the first floor ready to rent out, and I did that. I had the whole thing easily rented in less than two months to exactly the kind of professionals I was hoping for, so I know there is demand for this kind of space no matter what people around here might say.”
Challenges and Opportunities
With the first floor ready to go, Elliott is moving onto the other floors, including living on the street side of the second floor in a modest studio apartment and office proving that living in downtown is possible while acknowledging that even with all the progress being made, there are still opportunities to be had.
“I know that one of the things downtown needs to be viable is legitimate residential housing options, and I would really like to be able to offer that here. I think this is a prime space for that, but honestly, I need to find a solution to the parking situation. Unlike a New York City or Chicago, people in Wheeling aren’t yet willing to walk a lot to get places, and there isn’t the supporting businesses to do so just yet.”
A Reality of Hope and Vision
But even in his pragmatic realism, it is obvious that Glenn Elliott has looked at the larger picture and came away firmly believing that Wheeling will realize greater things than it has ever known.
“We have a long way to go. But I moved in here a year ago, and the prospects and feeling surrounding downtown Wheeling is so much different even now than it was then. I think we are experiencing the tipping point in the community. For a long time there was a back-and-forth, but suddenly there is a feeling that even though we have a long way to go, we are definitely going to be able to look back five, ten years from now and see a community that looks completely different than what we are currently experiencing, and that is a really exciting thing to be a part of — to have a hand in building.”
But what is the next step in moving the revitalization forward? Elliott thinks the trickiest part of urban renewal is the old chicken-and-egg scenario.
“I hear two things all the time. One, you have to have restaurants and other things downtown before people will move from the suburbs back down here. But the other thing I hear is that you have to have people living downtown to support those small businesses in order for them to survive, and both are probably true. They probably need to happen at the same time, and I think you’re starting to see that finally. You’re seeing a younger generation coming back to the downtown area and making it their home and small businesses run by community-minded people coming as well.”
“I can’t succeed in a vacuum. It doesn’t do me any good to buy this beautiful building and invest money to restore it if others around me don’t invest in downtown as well. It doesn’t do any good to have a restored building if all of the other historic buildings remain abandoned and falling apart.”
That, Elliott said, is why places like the Vagabond Kitchen are so important.
“You know, as someone who lives down here, I can tell you that there aren’t a lot of places to eat — not if you want to eat a nice dinner. River City is alright. I like it well enough. You know, the [Metropolitan] is fine or whatever, but it is a little more pricey, especially for dinner. So, there just aren’t a lot of places to go. Matt and Katie opened their restaurant, and it really fills a need. It brings people downtown.
I think their current situation is a great opportunity, but I’d really love to see them as one of those people that are able to get their own building. What they are doing now is great for now, but it would be really great for them to be able to get a space that they could really make their own, build it to suit their own personality and needs. But, in the end, they have a great product. They serve amazing food. That’s really important.”
You can follow what is happening with Glenn and the Professional Building at @elliott1971 or on facebook at www.facebook.com/professionalbuilding or www.facebook.com/elliott1971.