A lot of my father’s side of the family is from West Virginia. Both my Grandfather and Grandmother immigrated from Russia in the 1920’s. They didn’t talk about it much to my father, so that part of my history is unavailable, but he suspected they landed in the US in Baltimore. They must have wandered westward from Baltimore, thus settling in West Virginia.
Both my mother and father were raised in Wheeling, West Virginia, and I had aunts and uncles in Charleston, Beckley, and other towns in the region. I grew up for the first ten years in Wellsburg, living in the country a few miles from town. Our street was fairly new, with lots of building going on. New houses were great places to play when we didn’t get kicked out by the construction people. The street had only one entrance from Washington Pike and we knew everyone. And there were the times when I got into trouble up the street and my Mom knew about it well before I arrived at home.
Wellsburg, like many towns in the “Steel Valley”, was booming in those years. The steel mills were working, as were the coal mines. People had all kinds of money and were comfortable spending it. My father had a men’s clothing store at 709 Charles Street, called Watzman’s, where he did quite well in supporting all of us. Business was good, and the fact that my father knew just about everyone in the town helped significantly. Seemed like everyone knew Sandy, and when you needed a suit for a wedding or funeral, that’s where you went.
I worked in the store for my father all through high school, summers in college, and after I graduated. I learned a lot working with my father, especially about the value of treating people honestly and with a smile. He taught and expected good customer service, which, in my opinion is something we don’t see much of today.
Those times are gone for the Steel Valley. The days of the busy Saturday morning streets and the small retail establishments are seemingly forever ended, replaced by the large chain and shopping mall with indifferent service. Last Friday when I passed through downtown Wellsburg, the streets were empty, as were most of the storefronts. Watzman’s is now a carpentry shop and many other shops boarded shut. The town was quiet and empty. Many of the business people like my father, have passed on, their good works, community spirit, and energy only a memory in those of us able to recall.