Wheeler’s: A Family Affair
The Wheeler family has made a name for itself in Elkins with Wheeler’s Sporting Goods and other successful business ventures.
Jim Wheeler always dreamed of running his own business. In 1972, opportunity came knocking when he learned there was a small sporting goods shop for sale in Elkins. Jim approached the owner, Buck Currence, about purchasing the business. They cut a deal including the upstairs apartment of the store’s building where the Wheeler family would reside and an agreement that Buck would stay for 30 days to teach Jim the ropes. “We didn’t have two pennies to rub together, and we didn’t know a soul in Elkins,” Jim says. “But my lifelong dream was finally coming true and I wasn’t going to fail.” Marlea, Jim’s wife, adds, “Jim was so excited—he ate, slept, and drank that store. Buck was a wonderful mentor for him.”
Jim proved to be a true visionary in the retail business. He saw Elkins as a hub to the outdoor world and envisioned a market where he could sell hunting and fishing supplies on a large scale. His son, Brian, made a commitment to help his father with the family business, and throughout the 1970s and ’80s, Wheeler’s Sporting Goods thrived. By the early ’90s, the store had outgrown its location. Jim bought property on Route 33 East in Elkins, the family sold the original store location and their apartment, and in 1995, Jim built a new 8,000-square-foot, two-story building, which opened in October that year. The 4,000-square-foot main floor served as the store’s showroom full of brand-name hunting and fishing supplies, while the second floor was used for inventory. Shoppers were dazzled when they walked through the front door. “Customers would tell me they felt like kids in a candy store,” Jim says.
Over the years, Wheeler’s best-selling merchandise became black powder products, including pistols, long rifles, black powder, and powder horns. Jim says, “We were the largest Tradition-brand distributor in the state with more than 400 muzzleloaders, 300 powder horns, and 87 varieties of reloading powder on hand.”
In the early 2000s, Wheeler’s expanded again—Jim leased out the building on Route 33 and built a new 12,200-square-foot structure right next to the original Wheeler’s location in Elkins. Since that move and with the addition of new product lines, the sporting goods store has flourished. Jim says, “Eight years ago, Walmart made a corporate decision to stop selling hand guns in its locations nationwide, and a light bulb went off in my head.” He acquired a federal firearms license and ordered 87 pistols and rifles. After selling through that first order, he bought 8,000 pistols, shotguns, and rifles and has sold more than 7,000. They keep 1,400 firearms in stock at all times.
Business sense and entrepreneurial success run in the family. After helping her husband run their sporting goods store for 12 years, Marlea decided to follow her own dreams and opened Marlea’s, a quality ladies’ apparel store in Elkins. Successful from the start, Marlea stocked her small strip-mall space with brand-name clothing such as Columbia, Woolrich, and Tribal, and says, “I had absorbed so much retail knowledge working with Jim that it was easy starting my own shop—no stress, just fun.” Much like Wheeler’s, Marlea’s flourished and soon outgrew its space, so Marlea leased a larger space next door and hired Lynda Stottlemeyer to help run the business. In 2004, Jim told Marlea, “I’m tired of you paying rent.” He built her a two-story, 3,500-square-foot store cattycorner from Wheeler’s that opened for business in 2005 and has thrived in its niche market, offering ladies’ apparel as well as a full line of quality men’s clothing.
This entrepreneurial couple also raised a family with a knack for business. Their son, Brian, who has been helping with the family business since he was a boy, also started a small automobile sound systems business out of his home. As Jim grew more and more impressed with his son’s increasing success, he offered Brian store space in Wheeler’s, and Wheeler’s Audio was established. The business now operates from a showroom space on the store’s main floor and carries top line sound systems such as Rockford, Fosgate, and Memphis Car Radio.
The secret to their success, Jim says, is putting in long hours, paying attention to details, and working hard. He also keeps his suppliers happy, takes advantage of bulk deals and price breaks, and maintains a fully-stocked inventory. He says, “We all love what we’re doing. I am energized every day of my working life, and if or when that ever changes is when we’ll consider hanging it up.”
Wheeler’s, Route 33 East, Elkins, WV 26241; 304.636.3430
Marlea’s, Route 33 East, Elkins, WV 26241; 304.636.2930
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