Local officials preserve the city’s small-town feel as more chain businesses move in


Graphic by Allison Struck.

Simon Husted

Businesses moving into Fairmont properties

A total of 14 businesses are slated to open at the AMETEK and Davey Tree building this year. Three are new, 10 are chain businesses, and one space has yet to officially assign a lease. Below is a breakdown of who is moving in.

1. Panini’s Bar and Grill – 18 locations, all spread across Northeast Ohio.

2. Market Path – One other location, in Akron.

3. Insomnia Cookies – 22 locations

across eight Northeastern states.

4. Newdle Bar – New business by

Northeastern Ohio entrepreneur.

5. Yogurt Vi – Seven locations in Ohio and one in Virginia.

6. Dave’s Cosmic Subs – 14 locations

in Northeast Ohio and one in Atlanta.

7. Dino Palmieri Salon & Spa – Eight locations in Northeast Ohio.

8. Fresco Mexican Grill & Salsa Bar – New business by Ohio entrepreneur.

9. UniversiTees – 12 locations scattered across six Midwestern states.

10. Gracy Lane – Four locations in Northeast Ohio.

11. Georgio’s Oven Fresh Pizza – 41 locations in Ohio and one in Florida.

12. Bar 145 – One other location, in Toledo.

13. Carnaby Street Style – New business by Northeast Ohio entrepreneur.

*Number of locations includes Kent.

It’s nowhere near the Applebees, GameStops or Dollar Trees people find in Cuyahoga Falls or Stow, but more chain stores than ever are popping up in downtown Kent this year.

For decades, locally and independently owned businesses have defined the storefronts downtown — businesses like Pufferbelly, Last Exit Books and Franklin Square Deli. Even most of the businesses in Acorn Alley that opened in the last few years are independent shops and stores. That trend will soon steer in a different direction as stores and eateries owned by bigger companies move into Kent’s two newest buildings this semester.

Fairmount Properties has so far signed leases for all but one storefront out of the AMETEK and Davey Tree buildings on the corner of Haymaker Parkway and Water Street. Ten of the 13 leases have gone to chain businesses and are slated to open by early November. Adam Branscomb, the project manager at Fairmount Properties, said he expects these bigger shops and stores will have a positive effect on downtown Kent.

“Something we take very seriously at our company is finding the right mix of merchants for a downtown district,” he said. “You won’t find any national tenants in this development. They’re all local and regional based.”

And for the most part, it’s true. Almost all of the chains are exclusive to Northern Ohio. Even Insomnia Cookies, which has locations as far east as Connecticut and as far South as South Carolina, arguably is not a national chain. And most of the tenants moving in are based somewhere in Northeast Ohio.

The closer a business is based, the more economic benefits it offers. A 2003 study by Civic Economics claims that 68 cents of every dollar spent at a locally owned store stays in the community. At the average big chain, it is 43 cents for every dollar.

Those figures have proliferated over time among community groups and are even printed on some of Main Street Kent’s pamphlets. But Heather Malarcik, executive director of Main Street Kent, a nonprofit organization focused on improving downtown, isn’t necessarily concerned about big chain businesses taking dollars away from Kent. Her real concern is how big businesses may change downtown Kent’s character.

“This town just isn’t a cookie cutter,” Malarcik said. “There isn’t anything cookie cutter about Kent.”

Douglas Fuller, an architect who has worked in downtown for 20 years and is on the city Architecture Review Board, agrees. In fact, out of all the changes happening downtown, his biggest concern is national chains moving downtown.

“I would be very disappointed if Kent, over the next few years, became totally corporate,” Fuller said. Despite that, he said Kent is so far moving in the right direction.

Courtney McDonald, a senior health promotion education major, said she feels indifferent about whether a business downtown is local, regional or national — as long as Kent has places worth exploring.

“I think there is room for national chains downtown,” McDonald said.

Jacob Williams, a senior computer animation major, said he prefers local stores and eateries, but he isn’t bothered by chains moving downtown — as long as the businesses offer something unique to the area.

“I don’t want to drive downtown and have the same exact place five minutes away,” Williams said.

Nathan Hooks, a senior architecture major graduating in December, said he hopes Kent can maintain its small-town feel. Growing up in Columbus, Hooks said it was the city’s rural quaintness that lured him to Kent State.

“I have mixed feelings about it,” Hooks said, adding that he likes Jimmy John’s recent move downtown even though the sandwich shop is a large national chain. “I think it can be fun, but I think it can take away from Kent’s personality.”

More retail and eateries are expected to move downtown even after space fills up at the AMETEK and Davey Tree buildings. Branscomb said Fairmount Properties is designing a five-story building that will sit at the north corner of the block along South Depeyster Street. Bricco, an Italian-style restaurant, is already leased to anchor the building. Branscomb said the development company is also considering a fourth building on the last corner of the block.

Contact Simon Husted at [email protected].

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