Empty storefronts dotted the downtown landscape in 2003 when Teresa Gilles was hired as director of Main Street Amherst.
Times have changed: “This year, 2017, we will be completely full but for one building,” she told the News-Times.
A used bookstore will soon move into a long-vacant space next to the Quarry Cafe on Park Avenue. And a tattoo shop is expected to open in the coming months next to Sandstone Candleworks down the street.
The candle store, operated by Joni Poli and Jim Jenkins, opened its doors in October, the same month chef Robby Lucas opened Cole’s Public House in the former Cork’s and Stubby’s building at the corner of Park and Main. Lucas plans to expand with the opening of Cork’s Tree Tavern in February.
By this summer, Gilles said the only vacant commercial space in the city’s historical downtown district will be the old Fifth Third Bank building.
It was purchased last year by Chris Russo, who owns the Brew Kettle on Church Street. Gilles said he has been working to find a tenant for the building.
That leaves just one undeveloped lot — the city-owned green space across the street from the Brew Kettle and Amherst Cinema.
“I know we’re going to be full and I know the city is contemplating selling or building something on the green space,” Gilles said. Many years ago, a study done by Main Street Amherst and Kent State University targeted the spot for development; the aim has long been to woo a first-floor retailer and have condos or apartments on the second floor, she said.
Growth downtown has been spurred in the past year by the creation of more parking spaces. The municipal lot between Park and Tenney avenues was reengineered to net more spaces, and dozens were created on empty land on the far side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks.
After-hours networking events by Main Street Amherst and its big bashes — Dancing on Main Street and Miracle on Main Street — have also stoked interest among prospective entrepreneurs, Gilles said.
“They come downtown for our parties, they see what is here, and they say, ‘Why can’t I do this?’ So we’ve worked with them to get here and be successful,” she said.
Much of the development is due to a handful of investors.
Russo and business partner Larry Niehart, owner of Ziggy’s Pub, have been movers-and-shakers. So has Paul Bires, who owns the Cole’s Public House and American Eagle Mortgage properties, operates Giuseppe’s Wine Cellar, and owns the Main Street Marketplace building.
Chiropractor Jeremy Watson is also helping to revitalize the downtown area. Gilles said in addition to moving his practice to Park Avenue, he purchased the space next door to renovate and lease.
Denise and Darrell McCarty, owners of Olde Town Pizza, are another reason the downtown is thriving, she said. When Dairy Mart on Cleveland Avenue closed, they purchased it and made the convenience store flourish again.
Small business owners with drive are the key to the health of the heart of town, said Gilles. “You don’t have to be a person who has a lot of properties, you just have to care,” she said.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Photos by Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times Downtown storefronts will soon be full with the exception of the old Fifth Third Bank building.