Our Towns

New Shops Rejuvenate Downtown Columbiana

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COLUMBIANA, Ohio – This city’s downtown has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance over the last two or three years. The established stores that offer collectibles and antiques have seen a surge of new businesses open up quickly alongside them.

Things once not even dreamed of in the small city – its population surpassed 5,000 to qualify as a city after the 2000 census – are now among the main draws.

A microbrewery moved in early this year, preceded by an organic vegetarian café and a coffee house. In mid-March, a shop that sells handmade, fair-trade gift items made from recycled materials became the newest addition.

“Once the weather breaks, people are all over down here. We’re out in the country and we’re all looking for something different to do,” says Susan Hall, owner of the newest shop, The Primrose Path, 217 S. Main St. “It’s been a sleepy little town that’s starting to come back.”

Among the first of the new shops is Generations Coffee House, 31 S. Main St., which opened in autumn 2013. After he grew up in Columbiana, Christian Schwartz went to college in Missouri, where he experienced what a downtown could be. As a teen, he says, downtown Columbiana was filled mostly with antique shops and a few restaurants. Since he opened his store, there’s been “a dynamic shift,” he says, in the offerings and clientele downtown.

“I wouldn’t say you’ll see it if you just look at the sidewalks, though. You still see a lot of the same types of people,” he explains. “Business has been increasing here, which means we have a different demographic that I don’t think used to be here.”

As a business owner, what’s encourages Schwartz isn’t that one customer base has replaced another, rather it’s that new customers have been brought into the fold.

Many of them, notes Mayor Bryan Blakeman, are Millennials. Their tastes differ from those of older residents, he observes, which led to the quick change in business in his city.

“Younger people have moved in and they’re looking for their day-to-day needs,” the mayor says. “It’s changing literally by the month. It’s rapidly picking up.”

On average, he says, the Columbiana Planning Commission sees between three and five businesses apply to open each month. Just two years ago, having no commission meetings was common and most months had but one business apply.

The surge in new stores in downtown has also proved a positive for those that have been around for decades, including Vivian’s Antiques & Collectibles, 24 S. Main St., reports manager Linda Seidner. The new stores, spaced out among their older counterparts, have brought a steady flow of foot traffic to Main Street. When people wander, she says, they tend to stop into more places.

“All Good Things, with their organic vegetarian food, has a lot of people coming in here from next door. The coffee shop is busy all day long, which brings people in,” she says. “On Saturdays, when the brewery is open, it gets crazy in here. That’s all good. People are starting to check out the other stores because they’re already coming to the new places.”

Shawn Hogan, owner of Hogan’s Baking Co., is seeing more and more new faces in his bakery. What bodes especially well is that more customers are from out of town.

“We’re seeing a lot of new foot traffic and I attribute it to the new businesses that have come to town. It’s really good for my business,” he says. “It brings new people in to town. We’re a growing town that’s great to live in and great to do business in. We’ve been here eight years and I think that’s a testament to all that.”

Still the downtown has suffered some growing pains along the way. City ordinances needed to be amended, utilities needed to be expanded and upgraded and not everyone in town is happy with the new stores and how municipal government has handled the growth.

Blakeman says some residents were unhappy with the addition of BirdFish Brewing Co. downtown and didn’t want fields once used for farming opened up to commercial development.

“Someone asked me, ‘Why would you waste a perfectly good field?’ ” the mayor says. “People are receptive to it but a little nervous at the same time. This doesn’t feel like the town they know. Some people are upset there’s a microbrewery on Main Street. The flip side is that if you go in there at night, you can hardly get a seat because it’s so busy.”

Last summer, as construction was done on the roundabout in the center of town, the space in front of Jill Eizonas’ Mercantile on the Square, 14 E. Park Ave.,which opened in the fall of 2014, was marked as a no-parking zone. Once construction was complete, she assumed parking would be restored. It wasn’t. The curb in front of her store still bears yellow paint, one of the few such spots in downtown Columbiana.

“I can’t gauge how my business should be because I have a parking impairment in front of my business,” Eizonas says. “I have no idea what I could be doing with that. I thought the spot was charming and had a good central location with storefront parking. Since I’ve been here, it’s been a different story.”

Blakeman agrees that having a no-parking zone in front of any store is bad for business, but adds that he votes only when City Council has a tie vote. In the case of Mercantile on the Square, there wasn’t a tie.

“I’ve worked to get it changed but I don’t see it changing anytime soon,” he says. “It’s not good for business.”

Downtown Columbiana could be in for another growth spurt once a development at the intersection of state routes 7 and 14, Town Center at Firestone Farms, opens. Many downtown business owners expect an uptick in business.

Town Center is designed to attract different types of businesses than those in the downtown, the mayor says. The premise is that the two areas will feed off each other.

“Downtown is small boutique-type shops, which are different than the big box development,” Blakeman says. “If someone comes shopping at Town Center, they might see a need on Main Street as well.”

As Columbiana continues to increase its business districts, many owners see a bright future for their stores and for stores that could join their ranks. Gone, many observe, are the days when it was mostly antique shops and gift stores dominating the downtown.

“It’s evolved into a place comparable to places in bigger cities,” says Primrose Path’s Hall. “People here are friendly and they support their local stores. I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from the locals and they want to see more of this.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.