You know, it’s easy to talk down on a city that has so many vacant lots, crumbling buildings, empty store fronts, and roads that will knock your muffler off twice in one year. From the outside looking in; whether that be driving passed the city on interstate roads that are a force to be reckoned with, or reviewing the comment sections of our local news outlets, or not even acknowledging our city as you turn on your blinders until you get to The Highlands… I get it. Man, do I get it!
As a 5 year citizen of Wheeling, I ask you to do this - Take a closer look. Really get in there, now. Don’t be shy. What you’ll find is a tightly knit community, where you’ll see local businesses backing other local businesses, good people supporting other good people, and relationships amongst us that aren’t commonly found anywhere else. Folks are out here building greatness in our city. And Chances are, is if you know one person, you know about 10 more. It’s like ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’, but with a Wheeling cityscape in the background, and the movie playing is Super 8. Go out and see for yourself, because it’s a sight to see.
I grew up in probably the last honest decade of growth in our city, you know, before vacancy signs were hung in almost every window. Looking back, it was bliss. Christmas parades, Tom’s Pizza, boarding the ‘Valley Voyager’ from the Wheeling wharf, and getting my first pet bird at age 6, from Murphy’s. I can still recall the first time I was taken to Dad’s Sweet-tooth after watching Monster Trucks at the Wheeling Civic Arena. In reference to Christmas parades and Tom’s pizza, that memory is up there for me. It was 1986, and we had just moved back from Tyler TX. I was 5, and I really had no recollection of what winter even was because we had left the area when I was 1. Good Lord, it was cold. I was sitting on my Father’s shoulders, watching the Christmas parade directly in front of Tom’s Pizza. I still remember how it looked with their windows completely fogged up to the point where I couldn’t see what was going on inside, with no chance of being able to read his bright red window sign. But man, that smell! The smell of wondrous square pizza roaming out every time a person would go in our out was enough for me to ask my Dad if we can go in and get warm. It may have been the best decision I’ve ever made. We grabbed a seat on what looked like concrete ashtrays, at a table right next to the window, and he ordered us a slice or two. Square pizza, and cold cheese. I think it’s fair to say that my pupils dilated upon my very first bite. You see, that’s the good stuff, but that was also almost 40 years ago. Eesh… I’m getting old.
Let’s fast forward a little bit. Having originally moved away to study art, coming back, and moving away again to further my career as an artist and designer, Wheeling was and is the only place to give me a genuine opportunity.
Being in my field, and wearing the independent design hat, you get to meet a ton of people. People with ideas, business owners, organization heads, and people in passing. You get to really see what goes on from the inside. The sincerity of our local idea people is untouchable, and It has always inspired me. There are seriously just people in our city that do things to better our surroundings without expecting anything in return. We aren’t talking a handful, we are talking hundreds, if not more. Folks on the frontlines, rebuilding our town’s beautiful face. Being so inspired from these individuals eventually led me to do the same. I wanted to take more responsibility to help polish this gem. I wanted to help, so I do just that. And again, only a place like Wheeling allowed that to happen.
I am constantly surprised by this city, and something that truly stands out to me was the fundraiser for The Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling, in late 2017, featuring my artwork of Charles Waldrum, stating “Wheeling State of Mind”. I feel like so many came together to support this, and who could have seen that coming? With raising over $6,000 for the Soup Kitchen in a little over a month… Selling T-shirts, of all things. WHAT? HOW??? That’s that tightly knit community that I had mentioned earlier. We have it here, and it’s amazingly special. That’s actually how it led me to starting Wheeling threads! If it weren’t for our community, I would have never thought to have the idea. And well, only in Wheeling could something like that have happened.
Honestly, my career choice allows me to be able to pick and choose where I’d like to plant my feet, and I’ve even tried before. But truth be told, my roots are deep into Wheeling’s soil. They are firm and strong because I’ve taken the time to get out there, get to know people, talk to business owners, be part of events, bump elbows with people who I’d have never thought possible. That’s what it takes. As said, it’s easy to talk down on something when you only see it with a knee jerk reaction. Wheeling is one of the most unique towns I’ve ever seen and it has it all. All it takes is getting out there and finding it. This city has allowed me to do such amazing things, grow as Father, an artist, and a designer. I have met and become friends with the absolute best people, and was given a chance to authentically get to know how to fall back into love with something. Only in Wheeling has that happened, because I’ve tried the very same in other cities.
Between you and me, there was a time in my life where I was absolutely down and out. I could have easily been left for dead, as divorces will do that to a person. I had seriously lost it all, and the people of my city helped me regroup, trusting me with projects in all forms. Wheeling was still knocking on my door. There would be no survival without my community and opportunity, so I kept building from that. That’s just the kind of folks we have in Wheeling. It’s a group effort, and looking back it always has been. It’s not one person building a home, it’s a group or people building a community. That’s exactly why I feel like it's my responsibility to give that back to my city. Be here for her, love her for who she is and who she is becoming. Only in a place like Wheeling can you have a feeling of mutual support and love like this. After all, we ARE ‘The Friendly City’.
Again, it’s easy to talk down about Wheeling, but if you aren’t trying to get to know her, you should at least say hello. She might answer back. Take a closer look. Give her the justice that she deserves. The community and business stance in Wheeling is truly something to write home about. Go ahead, send your out of town friends and family a text, and tell them about it. Let them know that we’re in the middle of a GLOW UP!
My city inspires me, and keeps the fire going. Again, for the last time, Wheeling was and is the only place to give me a genuine opportunity. So, I wanted to thank her personally.
Thank you, Wheeling - I owe ya one.
- Daniel Finsley