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Austintown Merchants Prosper with Community Support

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AUSTINTOWN, Ohio – James Miketa, president of Ideal Store Fixtures, 202 N. Meridian Road in Austintown, moved his business from Youngstown to that address 20 years ago.

Now the business is about to move again. This time, Miketa made a strong effort to stay in the township, which he says has been a model of support since his business moved here.

“We moved over this way because a lot of our suppliers are over here,” Miketa says. “Austintown is a great place to do business.”

The Meridian Road corridor is so conducive for his business that Miketa is moving a mere 1,500 feet from where he is today. “Ironically, the place we’re moving to was our second choice when we first came here,” he says.

Ideal Store Fixtures supplies and installs new and used racks, mannequins, display cases and shelving for retail customers, most of them within 250 miles.

Recently, Miketa says, the building he leases was sold so he’s in the middle of moving the operations to 330½ N. Meridian Road, just two doors away.

“This location is close to the interstate and local government cooperation has been great,” Miketa says. “Austintown was our first priority.”

Business is brisk at the moment, Miketa reports, but the nature of the industry has changed since the Great Recession.

“It’s been a rough and rocky road since 2007,” he states. That’s because a large number of small retailers his company supplied have gone out of business, allowing the larger big-box retailers to increase their market share at the expense of the independents.

“The mom-and-pop entrepreneurs have tapered off quite drastically,” he observes. “The majority of our business is still the local market, but it’s not like it used to be.”

Ideal Store Fixtures employs four, and Miketa says that the company is “slowly rebuilding” from the hit it took eight years ago. “We have a couple of major accounts that are doing well,” he says.

Other small businesses across the township say that activity is robust and describe its potential for new development and investment as encouraging.

“Our business is growing by leaps and bounds,” says Thomas Reeveley, president of Team Office Technologies, 118 N. Canfield-Niles Road, or state Route 46.

Team Office employs 24 and Reeveley says his company’s Austintown location is close to business communities throughout the Mahoning Valley.

“They widened Route 46, so there’s better access here,” he says. Several years ago, a traffic study found that some 19,000 vehicles drove the thoroughfare daily, a number that has likely increased since, he notes.

Austintown, Reeveley observes, is growing, and he finds that businesses here have a sense of commitment to the area and enjoy giving back to the community.

Moreover, Reeveley says, ample room for new business development remains, especially north and south along Route 46 and further west along Mahoning Avenue. “Business continues to move west, closer to Meander Reservoir,” he observes. “This is an exceptional area.”

Team Office supplies software solutions, Dell computer products and Toshiba copiers to businesses within 50 miles of the office. Reeveley says, “Our biggest niche is that when customers have technological challenges, we can get it working again with Dell, Toshiba and software with our staff.”

Team Office recently purchased a 1,800-square-foot building next door and expanded its parking and warehouse space. “Business grows every single year. We have 24 employees and half of our staff are technical people,” Reeveley says.

Small-business owners observe that traffic at the intersection of Route 46 and Mahoning Avenue today resembles more of a major anchor retail market much like Boardman rather than a fill market – a term traditionally used to describe middle markets such as Austintown or Liberty Township.

“Austintown is a great growth area,” says Keith Kroehle, who in June purchased The Photo Place at 480 S. Canfield-Niles Road. “The intersection at Mahoning and 46 is as busy as Market Street and [U.S. Route] 224.”

Foot traffic in and out of the business remains very strong, Kroehle says, while Internet sales have helped the company grow. “It’s actually many different businesses under one roof,” he says.

The Photo Place still uses a wet process to develop film, a popular service even in today’s digital age, he says.

“We get hundreds of rolls of film per day,” he elaborates. “We’ve been getting a lot of requests from England and Canada lately.”

But new technology allows the business to expand into other segments of the market, Kroehle notes. “A lot of what we’ve had to do was adapt to technology, and that’s what the previous owner, Chuck Klingensmith, has done here.”

Custom gift mugs, photo books, wall art, restorations, video transfers – are all products and services that the Photo Place provides.

The majority of business is transacted with local customers, Kroehle says. “We’ve done work for General Motors, Mahoning Valley Historical Society and St. Elizabeth’s. Business is doing well. The new casino nearby hasn’t hurt.”

Signs of new business activity are evident along Austintown’s major retail corridor – Mahoning Avenue. Greenwood Chevrolet, for example, is in the midst of a large expansion. And, storefronts vacant for years are starting to fill up.

Last month, Family Farm & Home opened in the former IGA store next to the Kmart on Mahoning Avenue, while a new Pat Catan’s craft store is about to open its doors at the Austintown Plaza.

“Austintown is a growing area,” notes Carol Fye, owner of Advanced Marking Systems in the Mahoning Plaza. “This is a great location because a lot of people don’t want to travel to Boardman or Niles to shop. They prefer to stay on this side of town.”

Advanced Marking is “swamped” as orders for custom print jobs such as invitations, tickets and plaques pour in. “This is a very busy time,” Fye says.

In the Wedgewood section of Austintown – the area around the intersection of New Road and Raccoon Road – small businesses are working hard to thrive in a changing market.

“A lot has changed in this area,” says Ray Harnevious, co-owner of The Meating Place, 4282 New Road. His shop provides a full-line of custom-butchered meats – a business that has seen its market share affected by supermarkets moving into the region, but most of all by younger consumers’ changing preferences.

“A lot of the younger generation doesn’t want to cook,” Harnevious says. “We’ve established a large, faithful clientele here that is, on the average, older. What’s tough is that I don’t know whether the younger generation is going to come back in.”

Harnevious says his business sells some prepared foods, but The Meating Place is mostly a specialty store that can cut special orders.

The Meating Place opened on New Road 33 years ago. At one time, the business operated other shops in Boardman and Poland, but both have since closed.

That hasn’t deterred Harnevious from making his own investment in both the business and in Austintown.

“This shop has always been at the best location,” Harnevious says.

“I’ve worked here since I was 15 and I’m in the process of buying the business.”

Pictured: Jim Miketa owns and operates Ideal Store Fixtures in Austintown.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.