Reader response to a recent Tribune Chronicle story provides some encouraging, anecdotal evidence that there is a future for local mom-and-pop businesses in Trumbull County's small towns.
Twenty-one businesses on Route 7, between Interstate-80 and Lake Erie, have organized the Tour Route 7 co-op to entice travelers to skip Route 11 in Ohio and Route 79 in Pennsylvania. Before those major freeways existed, Route 7 was the main north-south thoroughfare in Trumbull and Ashtabula counties. The promotional efforts include a brochure and website that already has attracted a noticeable increase in visitors.
The Route 7 businesses are nothing like those found in the popular, suburban malls and strip plazas. These are in quaint communities like Andover, historic centers like Kinsman and nostalgic downtowns like Hubbard.
For example, the Market Square store in Kinsman is the largest used bookstore between Columbus and Buffalo. It houses one of the last working soda fountains in Ohio.
Another example is the Alcraft Egg Artistry in Brookfield, the only place from here to the East Coast where customers can purchase Faberge-style eggs.
There's also the Sisters of the Heart Gift Shop in Burghill, a tiny, fragrant house where candles, handmade rugs and purses and red-white-and-blue home decor are sold.
The Downtown Coffee Cafe in Hubbard is a place that provides a family room atmosphere for customers to sip drinks, eat a meal if they wish, and hold quiet conversation.
Despite the popularity of chain stores, the Tribune Chronicle's Route 7 story generated an unusually high number of reader responses, all of it favorable. People had this to say:
I can not wait to go see all of it.
Nice story, I am going to stop in . . .
Maybe we'll have to take a trip out there. Cool article, change of pace around these parts.
I'd much rather the money I spend stay in the local community and benefit honest hard working folks trying to earn a living and support their families. If my business can help provide a job for someone else, so much the better. Main Street America can be the best investment any of us can make. Let's get Main Street open again!
I am going to find one of those brochures and take a road trip!!!
I am glad the Trib ran this article, maybe it will do some good for the small towns.
There's a lesson here for others, especially the aesthetically striking downtown Warren. These readers' comments reflect a nationwide sentiment, and a nationwide movement. It falls under a specialized field called placemaking. Bruce Katz, founding director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, recently told the New York Times that placemaking is happening across the country.
These business owners have made Route 7 a place, a destination, an attraction, much like those who promote the River Rock at the Amp concert series are trying to make downtown Warren a place.
But in both instances, more can be done. Many Route 7 businesses opted to not participate in Tour Route 7. Many downtown Warren businesses close their doors before the throngs scurry to the Saturday night rock concerts.
People support small-town America. They support family-owned businesses. They have an affinity for nostalgia. Route 7 is proof.