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Clingman's Market

By Belinda Anderson

Clingman's Market is easily overlooked among the fine galleries and shops lining Lewisburg's Washington Street. It's not particularly impressive inside, either. A few plain tables and chairs accommodate customers. There's no decorating scheme — just old scales, shelves of ceramic cooking pots, and six-pound cans of fancy whole beets and other vegetables.

Gwen Clingman
Gwen Clingman has operated Clingman's Market since 1945 making it the oldest continuing business in Lewsiburg. Photo by Michael Keller.

"It's a dump," proprietor 86-year-old Gwen Clingman says. Gwen, white-haired, maybe five feet tall, wearing an apron smock covering her blouse and pants, doesn't try to impress. "It's just an eating place."

Her customers, from around the globe as well as West Virginia, will argue that Clingman's Market is much more than an eating place. "There's only one other place to get food like this — my grandmother!," one man wrote in the guest register. Customers walk to the back of the establishment, peer inside the kitchen and point to what they'd like to have. Once, they could help themselves to the pots on the stove, but government health standards now prohibit that practice.

Clingman and her helpers are rustling up breakfast as early as 5:30 a.m., fixing apples, grits, sausage gravy, ham, bacon, eggs, biscuits, and more. For lunch, they prepare from scratch as many as 15 vegetables a day — cabbage, greens, carrots, broccoli, mashed potatoes, and more. Customers are welcome to any of the vegetables of the day, plus rolls, and can add a meat for a grand total of about three dollars. A lot of folks ask for plates to go, while others take a seat at one of the tables, greeting those they know, or striking up conversations with those they don't.

"It's a place where people come, not only for the nourishment of the food, but for the nourishment of friendships," says Alice Hollingsworth, one of Clingman's daughters.

You can read the rest of this article in the Spring 1999 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.