STRUTHERS – A longstanding eyesore in downtown Struthers is being transformed into a center for art, performance and business.
The former Eagles building, a hulking two-story commercial structure that housed a five and dime store in its early days, at 118 S. Bridge St., is undergoing renovation. When complete, it will be renamed the Struthers Mercantile Building – which was its original name.
The building will house the new Sage Gallery, an art gallery, on its ground floor, and also a store where local artisans and makers can sell their products.
The basement is being subdivided into studios that will be available to rent. A performance space will be on the second floor.
Spearheading the $250,000 project is the ownership team of Kevin Walsh, Daniel Rauschenbach and his brother, Eric Rauschenbach.
The 15,000 square-foot building has been gutted down to the studs and exterior walls and will get a complete interior rebuild.
It will have up to 15 studio units of varying sizes – some as small as 120 square feet – available to rent, as well as kiosk space, for artists, makers and woodworkers.
“Maybe someone who makes jam, or candles, or artists, would rent one,” Walsh says. “It could also be a professional [with an at-home business] who is looking for space outside of his house.”
The new owners paid only a few thousand dollars for the structure, which was being used as a warehouse and was in poor condition.
It will open, at least partially, by October, they say.
Daniel Rauschenbach is a co-founder of Soap Gallery in downtown Youngstown. He and co-founder Steve Poullas will permanently close Soap Gallery, 117 S. Champion St., at the end of April. They had been leasing the ground floor of the building, which was purchased by Mahoning Valley restaurateur and investor Tim Huber last year.
The final event at Soap Gallery will be a concert featuring JD Eicher and Jann Klose on April 29, although Soap will present pop-up shows at other sites during the spring and summer.
Rauschenbach will manage the Sage Gallery in the Struthers building, which, he says, will offer a supportive environment for artists and artisans.
“There will be a focus on attracting artists from the entire Eastern seaboard as a way to bring inspiration to the artists who will be working in the building,” he says.
The ownership team’s Walsh is a Struthers native who lives in Florida but spends a good bit of time in the Mahoning Valley. Walsh, an insurance risk consultant and Rauschenbach’s uncle, says he wants to be part of his hometown’s revival.
The South Bridge Street building was full of useless items and machinery that had to be removed before work could begin. Rauschenbach says 130 roll-off dumpster loads of refuse were removed from the structure.
The project is part of an ongoing revitalization effort taking root downtown by private owners.
It is next to another abandoned building at 126 S. Bridge St. that was purchased last year by Brian Palumbo and Jeffrey Chann, co-owners of neighboring Selah Restaurant. The restaurateurs plan to rehab the building into a catering hall, with rental apartments on the top floor. The building is currently being emptied of its contents to prepare for renovations.
Palumbo and Chann also purchased an empty building at 170 S. Bridge St. last year that has several storefronts. They have been renovating it and the first tenant, a dress shop, has already moved in.
“We are now working on finishing up the drywall and painting in [another storefront in the building] that will become a costume shop,” Palumbo says. “Then we will move forward with the rest of the building. We hope to have the entire building complete within six months.”
A NEW BEGINNING
The owners of the Struthers Mercantile Building say it will be a destination that will bring people to downtown Struthers and will hopefully spur further private investment.
In addition to Selah, South Bridge Street has another draw – Donavito’s Restaurant.
But Walsh would like to see diners linger downtown after they eat.
He also points to nearby Bob Cene Park, a baseball stadium that hosts traveling and local teams, as another people magnet in downtown Struthers. Fans, players and their families attend games at Cene Park but Walsh says they have nowhere to go after or between games.
Walsh sees other reasons why downtown Struthers could become a destination – most notably, its proximity to the Stavich Bicycle Trail trailhead, and the Struthers Community River Launch. Both are roughly a mile away from South Bridge Street.
Walsh, a Struthers High School graduate, is optimistic.
“When I left Ohio, my impression was there was no money here,” he says. “No one spends any money, and no one has any money.”
But after spending time away, he began to see the area in a different light.
“You come back and visit, go to Boardman, and realize there are a lot of people who have money here,” he says.
His goal is to give those who come to downtown Struthers to eat at a restaurant, watch a baseball game or go kayaking or bicycling, reasons to linger.
Walsh’s mother once owned an antiques store downtown, which was an impetus for his plan.
“I said, ‘What if we create a local art scene?’ Art comes in many forms, and we can have more than one gallery,” he says. “It’s a reason to bring people downtown, and once you have them here, they might stop at a café or a bakery or a sandwich shop or for ice cream.”
Pictured at top: This long vacant building at 218 S. Bridge St. in downtown Struthers will become the Struthers Mercantile Building once renovated. It formerly housed a five and ten, an Eagles club, and a warehouse.