Economic Development

Lisbon Merchants See Uptick in Traffic

LISBON, Ohio — Not much separates the Lisbon of today from the Lisbon of 50 or 100 years ago. The Columbiana County Courthouse still sits at the corner of South Market Street and U.S. Route 30, looking the same as in 1934 when it was last fully renovated.

A gazebo still sits on the town square across Market Street, decorated for parades, festivals and football games. The Lincoln Highway – Route 30 through Lisbon and part of the first coast-to-coast road in the country – still carries most of the traffic through town, just as it did when it was built in 1928.

And just down the road from the courthouse, Bye & Bye Hardware still caters to the needs of farmers, shops, industrialists and homeowners.

Some things, however, owner Bob Bye points out, have changed.

“We used to sell dynamite years ago for farmers to blow stumps out. During the ’60s, we discontinued that,” he says. “We used to sell a lot to the mining companies and other businesses. Over the years we’ve gone from heavy industry to being more of a convenience store for when people need general things.”

And over the years, Lisbon too has changed. The population has dropped to 2,821 in 2010 from 3,405 in 1930, just before the courthouse was rebuilt. Heavy industry in the village and surrounding Center Township faded slightly, although it’s seen a resurgence with the arrival of oil and natural gas drilling.

“If you come through town,” says Mayor Dan Bing, “just look at how many trucks there are. There’s a lot of traffic in town and it’s increased by I’d say 100% with all the work going on with shale and oil. There are improvements and things are getting better.”

Even with the increased traffic, Tad Rose, vice president of Ray Lewis & Co., says the small-town atmosphere is still one of his favorite aspects of town, both for its impact on business – his company sells hydraulic hoses, pumps and drainage equipment, so more construction traffic means more opportunities – and on the pace of life.

“You’re not run over by traffic like you would be in Columbus at rush hour. Everything moves a little slower down here and I like that,” Rose says. “You know where everybody is and we have a lot of good people here in Lisbon.”

The lifestyle Lisbon offers has helped his company, Rose says. Because it’s such a small town where everyone knows everyone else and news travels fast, Ray Lewis & Co. has built on its reputation since 1933.

“This is a well-known business that’s been around a long time, which probably gives me a hand, but it can get tough at times,” Rose elaborates. “But we have that good reputation and good employees, so things have stayed pretty steady. This year has dropped off a little bit due to the drop in oil and gas. However, last year was a big year and we’re holding our own.”

Most development in recent years has been north of town, where chain stores such as O’Reilly Auto Parts, Sparkle Market, Dunkin’ Donuts and Rite Aid have moved in.

But it’s downtown, the heart of Lisbon – the Columbiana County seat – where locals are putting up their storefronts.

Around the village square in front of the courthouse, Bing points out, most sidewalks and streetlights have been fixed or replaced, contributing to the beautification of the historic district.

Among the new businesses that Bing looks to as a sign of downtown revitalization are Numbers Brewing Co. and the Courthouse Inn, which will feature a restaurant, piano bar and bed and breakfast when it opens. Renovations to the Courthouse Inn – purported to be Ohio’s first brick building – include a full exterior renovation and rebuilding the original windows, according to co-owners Renee Lewis and Stevie Halverstadt.

“There have been improvements that have made this village not only quaint, but attractive,” Bing says. “People come here for different reasons and everyone I’ve met has enjoyed their visit.”

Among the new businesses is The Paper Rose, co-owned by Kristen Medure and Kristen Huston. Medure and Huston conduct art classes in the shop and sell items local artisans make. In the three months that The Paper Rose has been open, support has been overwhelming, Huston reports.

“Before we even opened, we set up our Facebook page and within a week we had 500 likes. A lot of it was from people who were just friends of friends in Lisbon,” she says. “Everyone’s been supporting us on Facebook and coming in to buy items. Even the football team has been in to buy stuff.”

On the day the store opened, she reports, nearly 200 people came in. In the time since, local artists have filled nearly all the space available in the front half of the store with their items. Huston and Medure approached very few of the artists. Rather, the artists came to them once they heard about what the duo was working on.

Bye & Bye has begun working its way into selling local goods, Bye says, to compete with the other hardware stores in town and the abundance of chain stores within driving distance.

“We try to think up new ideas and find new things to have,” he says. “We have the normal things that you see in other business – you have your general nails and saw blades – but we add on to it from there and end up with this conglomeration.”

It’s the community support that made Mayor Bing love Lisbon. He moved to the village in 1982 and immediately felt at home, he relates.

“I was accepted immediately into the community. They give you the opportunity to be who you want with no questions asked,” he says. “There’s no, ‘Who are you? Where are you from? How have you gotten where you are?’ You become a part of this community right away and they let you be yourself.”

For most business owners, there’s nowhere else they’d rather be. Bye has run the family store more than 40 years. Rose has helped transform his company from a storefront to a large warehouse on the outskirts of town with a second location in Youngstown.

And while The Paper Rose is just starting out, Huston says she sees no reason why her store can’t expand.

“I’m born and raised Lisbon. I never left and I just wanted to have my own business here in Lisbon,” she says. “It’s a typical small town. We all rally with each other and support each other. It’s a cute little town and I could never see myself anywhere else.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.