WARREN, Ohio — Retail growth in Trumbull County is being spurred by the revitalization of downtown Warren, which began its transformation through a homegrown investor who bought and renovated buildings that provided condos and apartments.
Michael Keys, director of the city’s community development department, says the downtown has always had housing on upper floors of many buildings, but building condos and upscale apartments has increased the population who live downtown. “Retail follows money and people,” he says.
Dan Crouse, an agent with Platz Realty, the largest commercial/industrial-only real estate brokerage in Trumbull County, agrees that business is booming in Warren.
“I get calls from companies who want to move into the downtown and there’s nothing really available that isn’t already filled,” he says.
The Eastwood Mall Complex in Niles remains the hub of retail in the county, but renovated condos, entertainment venues, restaurants and specialty shops are making downtown Warren another destination district.
Nicholas Coggins, assistant director of the Trumbull County Planning Commission, says downtown revitalization has been the biggest retail development in the county, but also points to retail clusters creeping out of the city along Parkman and Elm roads and Mahoning Avenue.
The Trumbull Plaza, on Parkman Road Extension on the northwestern side of the city, is one of those retail corridors. According to Keys, the plaza will get new life when Rural King begins construction, hopefully within the year, according to Keys. Rural King is a farm and home store based in Illinois, and it plans to open 10 to 20 stores in the eastern part of the country, and Keys believes Warren is coming up on the list.
The company bought the plaza in 2018 for $1.8 million, Keys says. The plaza has many empty storefronts and has been without an anchor store since Kmart closed. “We have already discussed improvements to lighting and the parking lot, which will be starting and draw some attention,” Keys says.
It’s taken decades of hoping by Warren residents and city leaders for investors to see the downtown as a fixer-upper with the potential to become a destination spot.
Businessman and developer Mark Marvin bought and renovated several buildings, adding condominiums and apartments, restaurants and the Robins Theatre.
“I think revitalization of the downtown is amazing,” says Madison Beauchene, whose parents own Blush Spa and Gift Boutique. “It’s like a little Chagrin Falls with lots of history. And I get to look at the courthouse all day.”
The planning commission’s Coggins says a key to the retail spurt in Warren is its specialty shops with a focus on trends and niche merchandise.
“There are quite a few mom-and- pop-like shops that are locally owned and operated such as Nova Coffee and boutiques that have become successful finding their niche, sticking to it and doing it well,” Coggins says.
Tiffany Stanford works at one of those specialty stores, 5 Grands Fashions, a ladies apparel and accessory boutique on High Street. Stanford is a Warren native who is happy to see growth in her city and how the downtown’s revitalization is allowing people to see the city in a positive way.
The store, owned by Rosalyn Hill, offers high-end clothing, business attire, jackets, jewelry, shoes and purses artistically displayed in the storefront next to a new salon and vintage store with display windows.
“We have a lot of repeat customers and people shopping for weddings or mother-of-the-bride dresses. We’re known for our bling cowboy boots,” Stanford says, pointing to shiny rhinestone-covered boots in several colors.
Nova has an urban feel with a blend of contemporary and historical décor and found its niche with specialty coffee brews, food and freshly made doughnuts.
Jeff and Stephanie Morris of Champion stop at Nova whenever possible, which is often since Stephanie works around the corner at Color3 Embroidery. “We come in for the coffee and doughnuts,” Stephanie Morris says. “I love the environment and the people are extraordinary.”
Jon Mahan wanted to work at Nova since he first patronized the shop, becoming a regular and then an employee.
“I saw something about it on social media and I was intrigued,” says the Hiram College student. “There’s nothing like this around here. I like the environment, the people are friendly and it’s a great location.”
Keys says other investors have seen Marvin’s success and development is moving to the peninsula, just west of Courthouse Square. Marvin purchased the former Scope senior center near the Mahoning River and turned it into a wine bar, CharBenay’s Wine on the River.
The Reeves Building, home to the Packard Apartments, will soon be renovated into upscale apartments with the first floor open to retail spaces.
Keys says revitalizing downtown Warren has been an ongoing effort since he started in 1998.
“It’s been a long struggle,” Keys says. “Warren has never really had much industry, but it’s a place where people came to live and play and it’s nice to see good things happening.”
Coggins says retail corridors on Elm Road and Mahoning Avenue have built up because of destination anchors such as Walmart, Menard’s and Tractor Supply Co.
“Those destinations spur campuslike settings that bring in restaurants and smaller plazas and service-oriented stores that want to pull in foot traffic, which has expanded the definition of retail,” he says.
Crouse says retail development is happening within a half mile of the bypass on the corridors. But beyond that, not much has changed. He points out that downtown Warren has grown organically, which is a key to successful development.
“Warren’s downtown revitalization is a testament to Mark Marvin,” Crouse says. “It was his money and his risk to build and develop the downtown. Retail growth doesn’t happen unless someone forces it.”
Pictured: Downtown Warren storefronts for 5 Grands Fashions and the newly opened Sherry Gordon Salon and Vintage beckon shoppers to the niche retailers.