Our Towns

Hubbard Merchants Set Out Their Welcome Mats

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HUBBARD, Ohio – There’s something about Hubbard that helps small businesses succeed in its core business district.

Things like Interstate 80 just north of city limits, the recent surge of niche shops and even Hubbard’s reputation as a quiet suburb.

With a population of 7,800 or so, Hubbard has maintained its small-town feel. More often than not, neighbors and neighborhoods are willing to help each other and, business owners say, that spirit carries over into the business climate.

“If you have a community like Hubbard that is so supportive of each other, then they naturally are supportive of the businesses in the community,” says Marissa Devantier, owner of The Shop on Liberty Street and Vintie Design Co. “The business structure of The Shop at Liberty Street is only enhanced by the fact that people here in Hubbard want to support actual people.”

The Shop, 20 W. Liberty St., provides space for 35 artists, including seven from Hubbard, to display and sell their works. The only charge to artists is the rental fee, the owner notes.

The store opened last summer with some fanfare, followed by a lull, Devantier says, but traffic has picked up again.

Part of the challenge, she continues, is that while the downtown has become less of a drive-thru business district, few shoppers still take the time to walk from store to store.

“To frequent a mom-and-pop store, you have to slow yourself down, park in a place you’re not used to, walk into the store, walk out and go to the next one,” Devantier says. “You need to change your mode of being a consumer.”

Around the corner and down Main Street, Dave Madeline, owner of The Village Goldsmith, 48 N. Main St., says he’s seen considerable improvements in the downtown culture since he opened his jewelry store in 1994. Foot traffic was rare back then, but has increased as more shops and restaurants open their doors and improved their appearances.

“There are people walking around the city and stopping in our stores. We’ve got whatever you can name in this little area and it’s turned into a bustling area compared to what it was,” Madeline says. “It’s a big improvement for this town.”

Madeline sees the diversity of downtown Hubbard as one of its best assets. There’s one of everything, it seems – a bookstore, a furniture shop, a men and boy’s haberdashery, a yoga studio, a candy shop, a florist and more – all within two blocks of each other.

Madeline isn’t alone in enjoying the diverse businesses. Others like Devantier and Kathleen Abend, owner of Flutterby Books, 39 N. Main St., say they patronize shops and restaurants in downtown Hubbard as often as they can.

“I don’t like going to the mall,” Abend says. “If I need flowers, I go across the street. If I need lunch, I go next door. If I want candies, I go down the street. You can do everything you need to do right here.”

The largest stretch of the business district extends eastward on Liberty Street and north along Main Street toward Interstate 80. The interstate has been the most visible source of growth and while it passes through Hubbard Township, it’s still a boon for the city, Mayor John Darko says, because it brings in some tax money as the result of a joint economic development district between the city and township.

“We’re landlocked here as far as expanding any more. The industrial section on Myron Street is filled,” the mayor says. “The only place for expansion that we see is where we have our electric and sewer lines [near the interstate]. We planned years ago to do that, to have them out there to be ready when someone decided to come.”

Within the city itself, most infrastructure projects completed over the past several years were undertaken with businesses in mind. Last year, the city repaved West Liberty and Main streets and along its corridors installed LED streetlights, which are expected to keep rates low for the municipally owned power station.

“We didn’t like the thought of people avoiding our town because the roads were so bad. We knew it was
important for our small businesses so we went on that mission,” the mayor says.

The paving work on Main Street was tough on her business, Flutterby Books’ Abend says, but she’s benefited since it was completed.

“There was a short time while they were paving that it hurt business because no one could get in,” she says, “but since then, it’s made it easier for people to come through and stop.”

Getting people to stop in their stores is the challenge merchants share, the three storeowners note, and each has taken a different approach.

Madeline has turned his attention more toward jewelry repair than sales. Devantier is adding a coffee bar that she expects to open in April. And Abend has established her shop as a niche spot for book lovers.

“[Patrons] like the customer service of suggesting books or helping them find similar authors. They just want to talk about books,” she says. “There’s still a huge faction of people who want to hold books and be around them in the atmosphere of a bookstore.”

Also helping are business passport programs, where shoppers pick up a booklet and get it stamped at area stores for rewards, and a districtwide open house for businesses.

But what will do wonders, Abend says, is adding to downtown and filling the few vacant storefronts. What will help do that, Devantier adds, is low overhead in downtown.

“Vacant properties are available at affordable rates for people in startups,” she says. “There’s room to grow your business here.”

Madeline owns the building that houses The Village Goldsmith and rents out the other two storefronts to Green’s Floral Shop and Hubbard Computers.

“I’m trying to keep their overhead down, just like my overhead was low when I started,” Madeline says. “That was a big plus for me and allowed me to make it. If you have a big idea and want to open a business, the worst thing that can happen is not being able to afford the rent.”

With approaches like that, combined with the arrival of small businesses in a broad spectrum of industries – from yoga to art to food – the business owners see downtown Hubbard as a destination that can draw in customers.

“It’s quaint and charming,” Abend says. “If people give it a chance, people will see that and hopefully start coming around more often. It’s a great place to take some time off on a Saturday afternoon.”

Pictured: Since moving into downtown Hubbard in 1994, The Village Goldsmith owner Dave Madeline says he’s seen an increase in foot traffic through the district.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.