Public Market in Wheeling provides much more than food to the community.
written by Amy Dobkin
photography by nikki bowman mills
Grown from a long-standing mission to create access to fresh, local foods while supporting the livelihood of local farmers, Wheeling’s Public Market is hip and relevant—and, more importantly, impact in action. A product of Grow Ohio Valley and led by Executive Director Danny Swan, the Public Market is a year-round grocery and cafe that features unique, local offerings supporting its mission to bring local, natural foods to downtown Wheeling.
“The market was created really to have two impacts,” says Swan. “One is to help farmers flourish and succeed, and two is to have healthy food access in downtown Wheeling.”
Featuring more than 200 vendors, the market supports a wide range of regional businesses—farmers, bakers, jewelers and artists. Part of the store operates on a consignment model where the majority of the sales dollars go right back to the vendors. “The business model is designed to favor the vendors and the farmers who are bringing products to the store,” Swan explains. “And the store, being a nonprofit model, its charge is to return as much of the sales dollar as it can to the vendor.”
In alignment with its sourcing ethic, the cafe at Public Market is local-food oriented. “If it can be had locally, we buy it locally,” Swan says. “All those burgers, the ground beef is coming from a local farmer. All the vegetables—presuming they are in season and that a local farmer is growing them—they come from a local farm.”
To offer greater access to healthy food options, those receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can receive 50 percent off products that are eligible under SNAP’s guidelines. “We’ve been fighting that fight to get healthy food into low-income communities for years,” Swan says. Grow Ohio Valley has used different models, like a mobile market, that weren’t nearly as successful as the Public Market. “We have more SNAP sales in the market in a week than we would in a whole summer two years back.”
One of the market’s founders captured an essence for the offerings of the store by suggesting a focus on the market as a “cathedral for health.” While stymied by the pandemic, the market has offered cooking classes, fermentation classes, and featured nutritionists to meet its mission to support community education.
With regard to the market’s customer base, “It’s everybody,” Swan says. “It’s wealthy people, it’s not wealthy people, it’s people who live in the suburbs, people who live downtown, farmers coming in with muck boots on. And it’s all in this space. It’s like the melting pot.”
1401 Main Street, Wheeling, 304.238.9522, the publicmarket.org
Pro-tip: Public Market patrons can park for free on the first floor of the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Transportation Center—enter near the intersection of 14th and South streets.