Crain’s Cleveland: Read About Copley’s Small Business Revival

Many thanks to Crain’s Cleveland for describing the small business movement that has been going on Copley Township, including Copley Coffee & Games where you’ll be able to find our farm fresh products in the near future. “Nearly two years after a Better Block event designed to help people imagine all that the Copley Circle business district could become, interest in the area, particularly from small business owners, is on the rise.”

Click here to read the article, or read the text of the article below:

-by Beth Thomas Hertz

Nearly two years after a Better Block event designed to help people imagine all that the Copley Circle business district could become, interest in the area, particularly from small business owners, is on the rise.

A pizza shop that has been vacant for more than a decade is being transformed into a coffee shop scheduled to open in July.

Space just north of the circle that housed both a candy store and ice cream/gift shop now holds a store specializing in fair trade items and another that sells rehabbed furniture.

A local art teacher has launched a crafty store nearby, and a new Dollar General was built a few doors up from an older version.

And the manager of the seasonal Copley Creekside Farmers Market reports that her visitor counts more than doubled last year.

Copley Township Administrator Janice Marshall attributes much of this activity to the Better Block event held in the fall of 2016. Better Blocks are designed to open temporary businesses and install features, such as bike lanes, to help people see all that an area could become with proper development.

“That event gave us an opportunity to visualize what the circle could be and started a conversation about what residents want from the township,” Marshall said. “It showed us that we could have revitalization without losing all of our charm and selling out to big-box stores.”

After the Better Block, the township conducted a survey that found development of the circle was a priority for residents. In response, the township created a Community Improvement Corporation (CIC) to head up strategic initiatives to attract and keep businesses, Marshall said. The CIC can apply for grants, give loans, and buy and sell property in a more streamlined way than the township can.

The CIC is still in its early stages and, therefore, not directly responsible for the current influx in new business, she said, but its existence helps communicate a welcoming attitude that she believes is helpful.

“Businesses are catching on to the township’s enthusiasm in encouraging entrepreneurs. They are finding that now is a good time to move into Copley and catch some of that excitement,” she said.

The new businesses

The coffee shop, Copley Coffee & Games, at 1442 S. Cleveland-Massillon Road, is very much a work in progress. Business owner Jason LittleBear is undertaking major renovations — new plumbing and wiring, new interior walls, new kitchen equipment, updated bathrooms and more — in the building that formerly housed Buon Appetito Pizzeria.

“The to-do list just keeps growing,” LittleBear said.

His motivation for all this work is less financial than emotional. He and his wife, Jennifer, also operate Jacobs Heritage Farm in Copley, but health issues now limit the physical work he can do, so he wanted to take on a new venture.

A coffee shop was a natural choice as he has long wanted to create a place for the community, and especially youngsters, to gather.

“I want to wake up the circle, but I also want our kids to not shoot each other,” said LittleBear, who has a son who attends Copley High School. “Kids today are so desensitized with headphones and video games. They don’t engage and look you in the eye.”

“We have to give them someplace they want to be,” he added.

LittleBear is leasing the building from local businessman Mike Plevris. Plevris, who has purchased a number of commercial properties in Copley recently, said he shares LittleBear’s vision for community transformation.

“Copley has been stagnant a long time, and I’d like to put some life back into it,” he said.

LittleBear hopes to launch a coffee roasting enterprise in the former Copley post office adjacent to the shop in the next year or so. He anticipates ultimately employing about 50 people between the two businesses, he said.

Other businesses that have opened near the circle in the past year include Market Path, a fair trade store that was in Akron’s Highland Square before moving to 1265 S. Cleveland-Massillon Road in August. The shop is operated as a nonprofit outreach by First Grace United Church of Christ in Akron to help artisans locally and around the world earn a fair rate for their work. It offers jewelry, purses, chocolates, decorative items, clothing and more.

“We are still learning what will sell best to the customers at this location, but we are very happy here so far,” church member and store employee Chris Rice said. “It’s been a great move.”

Adjacent to Market Path is Rustewelle and Barker, which sells upcycled home furnishings and accessories. Owner Denise Dale, looking for more space, moved to the location in August after more than two years in Richfield. She said the move has been great for business — she is selling furniture as fast as she can paint it.

The Sassy Sunflower joined the circle in September, in the Walterville complex at 1351 S. Cleveland-Massillon Road. Dubbed a “glam boutique” by owner and art teacher Jodi Crossley, it sells rustic items like furniture and jewelry as well as “project pieces,” such as old ladders, records and shutters that people can repurpose into a masterpiece of their own. She also offers youth art classes and has Copley-themed items.

“I wanted to be in a small town, and I felt like Copley Circle was really growing. I wanted to be part of that growth,” she said.

As happy as Copley officials are about the influx of new business, they are quick to note that many longtime businesses in the circle provide the backbone onto which these new businesses can grow, including Copley Circle AntiquesCopley Feed & Supply Co. and Shisler’s Cheese House. This list also includes Gamauf’s Hardware, a store that has sat on 2 acres on the north side of the circle since 1948 but now is for sale.

The store, once the area’s go-to for hardware, struggled to compete when big-box hardware stores arrived, so it morphed into offering unique items purchased at auctions or other sources, said John Gamauf, 71, and his brother Tom, 68. The duo have been involved in the business their entire lives and have run it since their father, Adam Gamauf, died in 2013.

They know their land is worth more than the building, and they are eager to sell. But the offers over the years have been low or asked the brothers to hold the paper on the loan.

“At our age, why would we want to do that?” John Gamauf asked.

The brothers are waiting for the right opportunity to come along, and in the meantime are working to deplete their massive inventory. A hand-lettered sign out front invites passers-by to partake in a 50% off sale.

Marshall and Matthew Springer, Copley’s director of community and economic development, said they would like to see development at the Gamauf’s site or others that bring businesses that enhance the small-town culture while bringing modern amenities. For example, Springer said, the new Dollar General agreed to put in a nicer facade and signage than it typically does and build a sidewalk after a township request.

“As additional properties are redeveloped in the future, that sidewalk will help people navigate between them,” he said.

Officials acknowledge that adding better street lights, more parking and navigable sidewalks are keys to attracting business. However, as a township, they do not have funds readily available for such amenities.

“We are working to create public and private partnerships to help us improve all of those aspects of the circle in the future,” Marshall said.