Wheeling’s oldest business closing

WHEELING — The owners of Berry Supply — Wheeling’s oldest business — want to retire, and the building facing the Ohio River is up for sale.

Tom and Sue Smith said they are looking to close down their kitchen and bath design shop, which first opened as a rope making business in 1824.

“In another six years, it would have been 200 years,” Tom Smith said. “I don’t know if I could last another six years, but it would have been nice to have a big event for a 200-year-old business.

“As it is, I guess 194 years isn’t too bad for a business,” he said.

Their building at 1230 Water St. sits along Wheeling’s Heritage Port and now is up for sale with Harvey Goodman Realty. With three floors and 14,500 square feet of space, it also is the only building in downtown Wheeling with an entrance facing the river.

The asking price is $495,000.

Tom Smith began with his wife’s family business in 1984 and took over operations in 1995.

He said he now is 70 years old and is growing weary of the long hours he must put into the business.

Smith started most days at the shop by 6 a.m., meeting with installers before they left for job sites. His workday didn’t end until after 4 p.m.

“It gets a little old,” he said.

Tom Smith stopped doing custom designs and installations of kitchens and bathrooms last October, and is beginning to wind down operations at the shop.

The Smith’s three grown children — Heather, Amanda and Andrew — have no interest in continuing the business.

The end is bittersweet for Sue Smith, who retired as a teacher from the Corpus Christi School last year.

“It is heartbreaking to have to sell the business and let go,” she said. “I feel like this has been a part of my entire life.”

She suggested it would be wonderful if the same person who buys the building also wants to continue the business into its bicentennial.

Sue Smith said Berry Supply began in Wheeling in 1824 after John Berry came through the area on a flatboat, and determined it would be a great place to start a rope-making business to service ships traveling the Ohio River.

Berry needed large open spaces to weave 50-foot ropes, and he began operations on Water Street near where the business is today. His son, John, would join him in the business, and they initially sold rope from a shed on 12th and Main streets. They later constructed a building at the business’s current site.

In 1871, the central part of the existing building was destroyed in an arson fire. Two people were killed as they attempted to save pigs that were being kept on a lot to the north side of the building, and the building collapsed upon them, according to Sue Smith.

The Berry family went on to rebuild the structure and continue their business. By this time, they were making and selling oakum, a rope infused with tar use to caulk seams and joints on river barges.

Sue Smith said the Berry children sold the family’s business to her grandfather, G.A. Barrett, in 1945. By the 1950s, Berry Supply was selling metal Youngstown kitchens and plumbing supplies.

Her father, Frank Voitle, took over the business in the early 1980s.

Tom and Sue Smith moved back to Wheeling from Columbus in 1984. Tom Smith had a background as a graphic artist, working for Sun Chemical and the Ohio Association of Public School Employees. He would introduce the computer software design of kitchens and bathrooms to the business.