The Market

The latest addition to Huntington’s revitalized downtown is an open-air mini-mall with an eclectic mix of retailers and eateries.

By James E. Casto

The Market, the newest addition to Huntington’s revitalized downtown, is proving to be a big hit with diners and shoppers alike. Created by long-time friends and business partners Phil Nelson and Jim Weiler, The Market is an open-air mini-mall with an eclectic mix of eateries and retailers. It’s the final piece in their $7 million redevelopment of four buildings in the 800 block of Third Avenue.

“We started out by drawing up a list of the kinds of businesses we wanted and then we sought out the best in each category,” Nelson said. “We couldn’t be happier with our mix of tenants.”

Now welcoming customers at The Market are:

Butter It Up, a farm-to-table restaurant and cafe.

Wildflower Gift Gallery, which offers a wide variety of gift items and showcases local artists and craftspeople.

The Fuel Counter, a fast-casual eatery serving made-to-order sandwiches, wraps, salads and personal pizzas.

Bottled Up, which retails craft beers, wine and gift baskets.

Austin’s Homemade Ice Cream, long popular at its Ceredo location, now available year-round downtown.

The Hip Eagle, an “urban chic” women’s clothing boutique.

Tulsi, a health and wellness grocery store.

Navarino Bay, a long-awaited Greek restaurant.

All of the businesses are on The Market’s first floor, except Navarino Bay, which is located on the upper level.

“Every one of the shops in The Market is locally owned, with no franchise locations. That’s the way we wanted it,” said Weiler. “We’re thrilled with the way people have bought into our concept of a family-friendly environment where you can eat or shop or both. We have space for only one more shop and we’re currently negotiating with a prospective tenant for it.”

Nelson is retired after 20 years as executive director of Infusion Solutions, a medical infusion company. Weiler is a broker with Remax Realty Consultants. The two partners have an impressive record of downtown development projects. Where others saw vacant buildings, they saw opportunity.

In 2009, they bought the former Dickinson Brothers Furniture Co. building, remodeling it as a new home for the Jenkins Fenstermaker law firm. The next year saw Love Hardware, one of Huntington’s oldest retailers, close its doors. The two men teamed up with Campbell Woods PLLC to turn the three-story building into a new office for the law firm.

In 2013, WOWK-TV decided to close its Huntington studio, consolidating its operations in Charleston. Nelson and Weiler partnered with Kindred Communications to acquire the former TV studio. Kindred moved its radio stations into the building and the rest of the space was rented to a mix of tenants.

“At this point, we noticed how seedy the 800 block of Third Avenue had become,” Nelson said. “We began talking with owner Lake Polan III of Allied Realty and reached an agreement with him that enabled us to acquire four adjacent buildings over a period of time. We figured we could buy one building, rehab and rent it, and then move on to the next.”

“This project would never have happened if Lake hadn’t agreed to stair-step our purchase of the four buildings,” Weiler said.

The building on the southeast corner of Third Avenue and Eighth Street is one of the oldest in downtown Huntington. It was built as the Davis Opera House in 1884, and over the years housed a number of businesses, including Montgomery Ward and The Bazaar discount store. It sat vacant for years until Nelson and Weiler purchased it and gave it a total update.

On the building’s first floor are three restaurants — Peace, Love & Little Donuts of Huntington; Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes & Fries; and Charlie Graingers, a specialty hot dog restaurant — along with The LOST Escape Room, a real-life escape game designed for small groups to work together as a team to escape from a locked room.

On the upper floors is professional office space for such tenants as the Hayflich accounting firm, Ohio Valley Physicians, the Arias Agency and Linchpin Integrated Media LLC.

The building next door — once home to a succession of bars, including Robby’s, The Wild Dawg, Banana Joe’s and Whiskey Rocks — was gutted to provide space for The Market. A broad doorway links the corner building and The Market.

Moving east, the next building, another former bar, has been demolished to make way for a new pedestrian walkway linking Third Avenue with an 86-space parking lot on Fourth Avenue, across the alley from the complex. The city, which owned the parking lot, sold it to the developers.

Nelson said the outdoor space is about 25 feet wide, providing ample space for people to make their way from or to the parking lot and leaving room for customers to take their food and beverages outside, where they can sit and enjoy them.

“We have tables and chairs, a fire pit, games like cornhole and a giant Jenga, plus a stage area for live music,” Nelson explained.

Steptoe & Johnson, a national law firm with 13 offices in six states, has moved into two upstairs floors of the fourth building. Taste of Asia, a Japanese steak house and grill, continues to occupy the ground floor. The building once housed a J.C. Penney store before Penney’s moved to the Huntington Mall.

“Renovating old buildings can be challenging but also rewarding when you accomplish your goals,” Weiler said.

“The development that’s taken place on the corner of Eighth Street and Third Avenue is emblematic of much of the transformation we are seeing in Huntington’s downtown,” said Bill Bissett, president & CEO of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce. “While new business locations and office space are needed, the addition of new restaurants and shopping venues creates a further vibrancy beyond the 9-to-5 workweek. We thank Phil and Jim for their continued investment and belief in our community, which gives us one more reason why this region is a great place to live, work, visit, eat and shop.”

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams also voiced strong praise for the new Third Avenue project.

“Phil and Jim aren’t coming from some far-off area and buying a property for investment purposes and then depreciating it,” he said. “These are Huntington leaders that are investing in their community. That’s the best compliment that can be made for the future of our downtown.”

The two developers are by no means through, already targeting their next project. They’ve purchased a four-floor building on the southeast corner of Fourth Avenue and Eighth Street.

“It’s badly outdated and needs work,” Nelson said. “We’ve already put a new roof on it. We plan to have commercial space on the first floor and loft-style apartments on the upper floors. The building’s windows are huge and provide a really great view of the courthouse and its grounds. What motivates us more than anything else is the simple fact that Huntington is our hometown.We want it to be as great as it can be.”

 

JAMES E. CASTO is the retired associate editor of The Herald-Dispatch and the author of a number of books on local and regional history.

 

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