Music at the Market Creates New Downtown Music Venue
By Jeremy Morris
Mary Blake puts heart and soul into everything she touches. She left a career in early education to help start-up The Public Market downtown because she saw the potential to help shift Wheeling’s thinking about food and culture, and it just sounded like a lot of fun.
Blake looks over her shoulder past the kitchen, past the numerous refrigerators and shelves of organic and vegetarian foods as she reflects on the beginnings of the market. “I have been here since ground zero, when there were wires hanging out of the wall, no merchandise, and we were putting together the shelves. We have come so far since then,”
And indeed, they have come a long way, transforming the former Greyhound bus station into one of the most energetic meet-up spots in Downtown Wheeling.
Creating the Public Market
The Public Market emerged in 2019 as an extension of Grow Ohio Valley (GOV), a non-profit group that puts farmers first and brings local and organic foods to the Ohio Valley. The organization’s earliest beginnings started well over a decade ago when founder Danny Swann began working in neighborhoods and schools building raised bed gardens teaching local families and children how to garden organically.
Step-by-step, they have grown strategically into one of the Valley’s most vibrant community groups. Their talented executive team has won coveted state and federal grants to expand their farming and education operations. These grants created a robust Americorp program that brings volunteers from around the country to our region. The volunteers work the GOV farms, greenhouses, and community education programs, receiving a monthly stipend for living and an education bonus at the end of their service that can pay for student loans or further education.
Food Fresh Ideas
Grow Ohio Valley continually brings fresh ideas to the Valleys’ food system. Throughout the summer months, GOV operates a community-supported agriculture (CSA) basket program putting residents in touch with local farmers and fresh local food weekly. Then there are their youth education programs that operate year-round. In earlier years, they ran a mobile food market that traveled to neighborhoods classified as food deserts. The mobile market gave those neighborhoods access to fresh, locally grown vegetables.
The crown jewel, or at least their most visible success, is The Public Market. The market brings together locally grown meats, eggs, produce, and a wide variety of national brands of vegetarian and vegan products. In addition to the grocery market, they operate a simply stellar kitchen.
The kitchen keeps it simple—the way farming and food are supposed to be. The menu offers up sandwiches, wraps, and daily specials and brings a flare to the average fare. From the pimento cheese-laden Market Burger to the perfectly spiced Vegan Banh Mi (it is deliciously the messiest sandwich in town) to the sweet potato fries with the Comeback Sauce, you can rest assured the ingredients are fresh and made with passion. In a few short years, the market has become one of the hippest little spots in town, which takes us back to Mary.
We are the Musicmakers
Blake’s heart and soul energy goes beyond a love for food and helping others. Mary has another passion—music. When the COVID pandemic arrived, restaurants, music venues, and performing artists were among those that suffered most economically by lockdowns. As we emerged, she saw an opportunity to increase the foot traffic and put music in the air of the market with live performers during the lunch hour.
Music at the Market was born on Good Friday, 2021. Not everyone in GOV was confident it would be successful given the ongoing Covid situation. But Mary persisted and eventually got the opportunity to test the idea. She lined up a rotation of well-known valley musicians to play each Friday during the lunch hour, including Adrian Niles, one of the region’s most respected musicians.
It didn’t take long for Music at the market to gain a following, both from the public and local musicians. It also garnered the attention of the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau, which threw its financial support behind the effort.
The Wheeling CVB has a long history of supporting live, local music in the region. While many think of steel as the backbone of Wheeling’s history and heritage, music has been the thread that has sewn together the community and attracted visitors from far-and-wide.
“Supporting live music continues to be a critical part of our mission as a CVB,” says Frank O’Brien, executive director. O’Brien took over the helm of the CVB in 2005 after a career in television news. His experience brought a different approach to the position. He also wisely surrounded himself with a top-notch staff to expand the branding and promotion of the town.
O’Brien grew up in a musical family, his father was a touring musician that performed with various bands at Downtown Wheeling’s Capitol Theatre, and O’Brien played bass guitar in bands growing up. O’Brien continued the topic of entertainment investment, “from small programmatic investments like Music at the Market to our multi-million-dollar purchase and renovation of the historic Capitol Theatre; our CVB sees the economic impact that music and entertainment have upon Wheeling community.”
When you step up to the kitchen counter of The Public Market, you will likely meet the bright eyes and the smiling face of Mary Blake. That smile makes no doubt she is in the right place, at the center of wholesome food, hip people, and great music.
Music at the Market is into its second year, and Mary shows no sign of slowing down. She is consistently adding new and varied performers—See the lineup below. So, when you visit Wheeling, make the Market your Friday [or any day] lunch spot.
And this Friday, August 5th, Mary takes the mic. Stop in and say hi.