Our Towns

Pride in Howland Builds, Sustains Businesses

HOWLAND TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Almost as soon as you reach the limits of Howland Township, it’s impossible not to know where you are.

Along state Route 46, heading into the township center, whether from north or south, you see an array of signs in front yards that declare support for the Howland High School football team. At the Route 46-state Route 82 interchange, large, concrete signs simply read “HOWLAND” on both sides of the expressway.

If you come in from the west along East Market Street, you see Howland banners that feature tiger tracks – the tiger is the high school mascot – in black and orange. Black and orange – the school colors – adorn light posts almost the entire way to Howland Corners, the intersection of Market Street and Route 46.

The community obviously has an abundance of pride, which permeates into the businesses that call the township home. For instance, at Baker Bednar Snyder & Associates, an architecture, engineering and design firm, all three principals are graduates of the Howland school system who returned home after college.

“Howland is home. And that means a lot to all of us who have chosen to come back here,” says Andy Bednar. “We’re all very committed to the community. Both Randy [Baker] and Dave [Snyder] are past presidents of the Howland Rotary, so they’ve been very involved philanthropically.”

Bednar also serves as the president of the Howland Community Scholarships Foundation, which last year awarded 52 scholarships that totaled more than $42,000.

The architectural firm has completed several projects in the township, including its government center, the new Akron Children’s Hospital pediatrics unit on Market Street, the Howland Schools athletics complex and the Howland branch of the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library.

“It’s a very rewarding feeling,” Bednar says of the work his firm has done. “With our involvement, we have gotten to know a lot of people and leaders. Because of our reputation of getting things done on time and on budget, that’s where their service comes back to us and where the desire to work with us comes from.”

As a township that experienced most of its growth over the past couple of decades, the small-town atmosphere still holds strong as residents are just as likely to turn to a neighbor’s store as go to a chain.

“We like doing business in Howland. The customers give us a lot of support,” says Stephen Sprague, owner of Sprague’s Vacuum Plus. “Of course, with it being a very local community, we try to help out with kids’ sports and the schools, along with the fire and police departments.

“Both [the police and fire departments] buy some of their equipment from us,” Sprague continues. “The people in this community like to support local businesses and we appreciate that.”

Howland, many others note, has always been receptive to new businesses opening within its boundaries. Almost six years ago, during the Great Recession, Stella Angelo opened The Cake Boutique on North River Road.

Customer response was phenomenal from the beginning, Angelo says. What helped customers and her business was that both had to work within the confines of strained budgets.

“We had to have a budget for everyone, which we still do, and that draws people to us. Starting in the recession taught us how to ride the market,” Angelo says. “I have a little more knowledge and a better feel for what I need to do to keep afloat.”

At the beginning of September, Richard Alberini, owner of the former Alberini’s in Niles, opened Alberini’s Trattoria on Market Street in Howland. Almost instantly, the restaurant was full and has enjoyed steady business since, he says.

“The demographics give us the potential for a lot of carry out,” Alberini says. “There are a lot of school sports and things going on where families can come by and grab a pizza or stop in for some pasta while the parents grab a beer.”

Even better than the foot traffic, he notes, is the relatively low volume of traffic that passes his restaurant. While fewer cars go by, the less daunting traffic attracts more customers.

“The location is much better here than on Route 422 because of the traffic. The accessibility here is wonderful,” he says. “The surrounding rooftops and families are something we really want to appeal to.”

Longtime shops have developed and kept a base of loyal customers over the years. At the intersection of Route 46 and Market Street, Andrews Shopping Center has been a mainstay of Howland since before World War II.

“We’re certainly seeing a new group of people come in, but the old adage of ‘If you can’t find it anywhere, you can find it at Andrews’ is still something I hear from people,” says owner Harmon Andrews.

“The older people in the community like the fact that nothing changes. They can come here and it’s the same as it was 30 years ago.”

With the arrival of big box stores such as Lowe’s and The Home Depot, Andrews has had to adjust to a shrinking customer base. Andrews has become a Lionel model train franchise and it now offers antiques.

“When Lowe’s and Home Depot came in, they took a big piece of the pie, so I started looking at other things to do,” he says.

“I’m not sure that we are as relevant as we once were. It’s basically word of mouth [that keeps us going]. We have a pretty loyal following that’s getting aged, for sure. We’ve got the antiques and other things that give us a pretty nice draw, too.”

Often mentioned as what distinguishes Howland from other communities in Trumbull County is the mix of residential and commercial properties, not just in number but location.

“Part of the difficulty in these developments is that you have homes next to office buildings on the main drag. That’s just the way older communities develop,” says Carter Lewis, CEO of Lewis Construction. “In planned communities, everything is in a proper place. We have a healthy mix; it’s just the nature of being a community that started in the 1800s.”

Lewis is quick to point out that his company often looks to do business with others in the township, a shared value in Howland.

“We make a genuine effort to do business with local companies. The obvious answer is for the convenience,” he relates. “Beyond that, it’s because they’re the people you know outside of work and want to help support. I believe a great deal in reciprocity.”

Among the companies Lewis has worked with is Baker Bednar Snyder. The two have worked together on four projects in Howland, including Akron Children’s Hospital and on the Howland Tiger Pride project. That project renovated several athletics and extracurricular facilities for the school system.

“I’ve always enjoyed being able to give back to the community,” Lewis says. ”It’s probably an overused phrase, but I like to ‘pay it forward.’ Giving back has always been important to us. I didn’t just do it for my kids, I did it for the greater good of the community.”

And that sense of community continues to attract families and help business in Howland, says Baker of Baker Bednar Snyder.

“There are quality schools and a good quality of life to raise our families in. For me, another reason is because of my dad being a contractor in Howland,” Baker says. “That created a familiarity with the contractors, suppliers, subcontractors and other people in the business. So when I graduated and was choosing a location to establish a new firm, Howland just made a lot of sense.”

Pictured: Harmon Andrews, owner of Andrews Shopping Center, 8411 E. Market St., added antiques and became a Lionel model train franchise to augment his hardware store.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.