Bellefontaine sees boom in downtown shops, expects it to continue

City leaders say several businesses will move to downtown Bellefontaine in 2017 after about a dozen opened there in 2016 and developers continue to renovate historic buildings.

It’s part of a trend of young people wanting to live in walking distance from shops and restaurants, Developer Jason Duff said.

“I, like a lot of my friends, moved away from the community for a number of years and saw a lot of the big box stores come into town,” he said. “And it left our community vacant, empty, kind of sad.”

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That’s why his team decided to buy up some of those vacant properties and renovate them. Small business owners also enjoy greater support from the community in smaller cities, said Duff, an owner of Bellefontaine Ohio Properties.

“A lot of millennials and young people are looking for urban-type housing,” he said. “And we have all these amazing buildings in downtown Bellefontaine where the second and third stories of those buildings have been empty.”

Duff’s team includes four other people, he said, who has renovated several downtown buildings, including loft apartments.

“Now there’s this resurgence of young people that have entrepreneurial ideas, creativity,” he said, “that are becoming investors and owners in the community.”

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In 2016, new businesses moved to downtown, including Native Coffee, City Sweets & Creamery, Peach Tree Boutique and Craft Paper Scissors.

“I’m really optimistic about the local economy,” Duff said.

Multiple businesses have plans to move downtown in 2017, Bellefontaine Mayor Ben Stahler said.

“It’s our hope that it will attract folks from not just our area,” he said.

Many of the new restaurants and bars add a night-life to the area, he said, to keep people in the city all day.

“It brings the social life beyond the retail,” he said.

Native Coffee opened about a month ago, Manager Braydon Campbell said. Its owners couldn’t pass up on the property when it became available in the 200 block of West Columbia Avenue.

“We’re really new in town,” Campbell said. “We’re kind of just bringing in something new to the downtown area.”

The coffee shop uses high quality beans and equipment, he said.

Campbell grew up in Bellefontaine, he said, and that’s where the name Native Coffee came from. Now seemed like the right time to open the business.

“The momentum downtown is huge right now,” he said. “There’s new businesses popping up every single space.”

While the shop has only been open a short time, he’s optimistic it will succeed.

“We’re kind of on the brink of what we can pull out of this town,” Campbell said. “I think the businesses are going to thrive.”

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