Our Towns

Small Businesses Carve Out Footholds in Lordstown

LORDSTOWN, Ohio — Since General Motors opened its Lordstown Assembly complex 50 years ago, the village has been known primarily for the automobile industry. But with new and diverse industry arriving, small businesses are gaining a foothold and beginning to transform the economic landscape.

Most small businesses are clustered around the intersection of Salt Springs Road and state Route 45, the village’s main corridors. The sole gas station sits on the northeastern corner.

Just east on Salt Springs Road is a hair salon and a diner, while a dance studio, restaurant and car wash are the main commercial attractions on the southern side.

As you head north along Route 45, you see a plaza that’s home to two chain restaurants, a dollar store and a veterinary clinic.

“This is a great place to have a business. The community is strongly supportive,” says Denise Moss, owner of Nese’s Country Café, 1500 Salt Springs Road. “We’re central between Austintown and Warren, so people could go anywhere. They will choose the smaller businesses rather than going farther away for the chains.”

Moss moved to Lords-town three years ago with the intention of retiring, she says, then opened her restaurant in 2014.

Her decision to come out of retirement was based on filling a need. Aside from the Dairy Queen and chains in the Lordstown Village Plaza, “there wasn’t anywhere to eat. I wanted to fill that gap,” she says.

In the time since, Nese’s Country Café has steadily grown. Moss and her employees are on a first-name basis with the regulars and serve a growing number of new customers.

Lisa Mark, a native of the village, moved Momentum Dance, 6749 Tod Ave., to Lordstown in 2009. Growing up, she recalls, the conventional wisdom she heard was that when a new business opened, it wouldn’t last. That’s no longer the case. Today Mark sees Lordstown businesses successfully drawing customers from outside the village.

“The fact that we travel outside of Lordstown to do our dance performances tells people that we’re here,” she says.

For most of the small businesses in Lordstown, industry provides the vital customer base. As such, Nese’s makes meal-time deliveries.

A few years ago, when an influx of employees transferred to GM Lords-town, Mark saw a rise in new students as parents wanted to keep their kids involved in hobbies they started elsewhere.

Likewise, at the Lordstown Speed Check, 6565 Tod Ave., owner Yasser Alsadi says a majority of customers are employees at nearby manufacturers.

“Many are from GM, but even the smaller ones like Matalco and Anderson-Dubose help us, too,” he says. “Even if they just have three employees, they’re still coming here. For me, it’s gotten better because there’s more around.”

Much of the commercial sector results from the industrial businesses that have flocked here over the years, affirms Arno Hill, the village mayor, and as traffic increases, he expects to see more open.

“I don’t know if we’d have a credit union branch if we didn’t have General Motors. The restaurants do a lot of
carryout and [the industries] keep us going,” he says. “We’d like to add a grocery store. People would like to have a couple more restaurants. Those things come along when you have more traffic coming through your community and more residents.”

After a recent land transfer, talks increased about a third restaurant coming to town later this year or early next. A parcel on the south side is “the perfect space … to have a shopping complex come in,” Hill adds.

With the population of Lordstown aging along with the rest of the Mahoning Valley, Hill projects that residents will soon look for services here that they now go elsewhere to get.

“Before, we were transient and went [elsewhere] to the grocery store or the doctor. Now, people want those things here,” he says.

Still, Lordstown remains a mostly rural community. It’s one aspect of why many residents chose to move here, Hill says. With that comes farmland, which also plays a role in the economy.

On the eastern side of the village, along Highland Avenue, the fourth-generation Kibler Farms keeps hundreds of heads of cattle for dairy production, along with acres of fields where grain is grown to feed them.

Co-owner Gary Kibler Jr. says he sees the city atmosphere closing in, making it tougher to get the needed farmland. Even so, manufacturing hasn’t had much of an impact, he adds, because it’s contained to the main corridor.

“It’d be tough for someone else to come in and start farming in this area with the city as close as it is,” he says. “We’re hoping that new power plant [See story page 8] will save us some money on energy costs.”

In her two years as a business owner here, Moss says she’s seen the town grow – “I see more new faces in my restaurant than I did before,” she says – but it still keeps a rural vibe.

“Everyone’s friendly,” she says. “No one’s mean. They’re laid back and not in a big-city hurry.”

Mark, the dance studio operator, observes that many who move here adapt quickly to the pace of life and settle in to the village’s routines.

“I haven’t noticed too much of a change and I hope it doesn’t change too much,” she says.

“As long as you have the people that remember a different time, I think it’ll stay that way.”

MORE:
June 6, 2016:
‘Surplus Utilities’ Fuel Prosperity in Lordstown

VIDEO:
Rural Lordstown Embraces Industry

Pictured above: When it opened two years ago, Nese’s Country Cafe was well-received by the community, says owner Denise Moss, second from right. Regulars, many from Lordstown manufacturers, have a good rapport with employees, she adds. Pictured with Moss are MiMi Mihalov, Salvatore Adonetto Jr., Maggie Kihel, Tom Gilmartin and Robert Sherosky.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.