BOWLING GREEN -- The butcher-block table in the cutting room of Belleville Meat Market bows in the middle.
The nearly century-old table has been worn down by three generations of the Belleville family. The steel rods that reinforce it protrude slightly at the end, displaying the table's strength and ability to endure.
Although it has taken a few knocks along the away, the table stands as a symbol of the market's staying power.
"Maybe it doesn't seem like a lot, but it's taken us generations to put together," said James Belleville, who owns the market with his brother.
The market, which opened in 1912, turns 100 this year. It has remained in the Belleville family the whole time. If all goes according to plan, it will remain in the family for another generation, said Mr. Belleville, 65.
"It's with the family's interest that the business is allowed to expand and grow," he said.
The market's storefront at 239 S. Main St. bustled with activity on Thursday morning, and Mr. Belleville greeted most of the customers by name as they eyed cuts of pork and beef. His clients include generations of families who reside in the area.
The store is a monument to Mr. Belleville's family history -- photos of his grandfather in the original Bowling Green store hang behind the meat counter -- as well as the business savvy it takes to survive in different eras and economies. Mr. Belleville said the secret to success is understanding things are going to change. If business owners don't comprehend that and are unable to adapt, they'll fail, he said.
Since taking the store over in 1974 after his father's sudden death, almost everything has changed, Mr. Belleville said. The meat counter was expanded, and a refrigeration room was added on to the building.
The family business also now includes a slaughter house in North Baltimore and manages about 150 cattle at any given time. Those decisions were crucial to growing the business in the past 30 years, Mr. Belleville said.
Mr. Belleville, who got his start carrying groceries to the cars of customers, didn't always intend to work at the market. He was a high school music teacher for six years but stepped in to help the store after his father died.
"My dad started bringing us up here to help when we were like 10 to 12 years old," he said.
The Belleville family owns about 900 acres in Wood County and prides itself on selling "low-mileage" cattle. They acquire the cows from a cattle broker in southern Ohio then raise them on the Belleville family's land, feeding them corn that's also grown by the family. The process is very precise, Mr. Belleville said.
"What makes us unique is that we get cattle in when they weigh 500 to 700 pounds and then we feed them out and we finish them," he said. "We also raise the corn and hay. Our quality stays very consistent because they are all handled basically the same.
"I think in today's terms you'd say we have a niche market."
Tim Brown, a Wood County commissioner, has shopped at the market for more than 20 years and said it's unique. The market allows him to spend money locally while supporting Ohio agriculture.
"The thing I find most appealing about it is it is a local business and it means quality local foods," he said. "I think in terms of benefiting our local economy and local agricultural industry, that's a way to do that, shopping at a local market like this."
Michael Belleville, James' 67-year-old brother, has spent his life working at and running the market and said maintaining a family business isn't easy. The challenges of keeping up with big-box stores and other competitors are just the beginning.
"It takes a lot of give and take, and not everybody is always on the same page," he said.
Still, the market is a way of life and a tradition for the Belleville family.
Ivan Belleville, Michael's son, said he's proud to carry on the work that was started by his great-grandfather. Ivan, who runs the slaughterhouse, is slated to take over the business with his cousin Bruce Belleville, who works on the family farms.
"It presents its own challenges, but at the same time, it's kind of rewarding because the people before you, their work is still viable," Ivan Belleville said. "Their efforts are still being realized."
Contact Kris Turner at: email@example.com or 419-724-6103.41.37038 -83.6504
Belleville family of butchers on cutting edge for a century.