By Linda Dillman
Business may be booming on Gender Road in Canal Winchester, but east of that busy commercial area, the city’s historic downtown core is just as busy with a near zero commercial vacancy rate.
According to Canal Winchester Development Director Lucas Haire, there are between 90 to 100 businesses located within the Old Town area.
“The only space that is currently vacant being marketed for sale or lease is the former McDorman Museum,” said Haire. “This is a very large space so it would skew the number significantly if you were to base this number on square footage, which is common. However in my opinion the occupancy rate for downtown is very high and demand is strong.
“The only space currently available for a new business is the space that was recently vacated by Studio 7.5,” added Haire. “Dagger Law of Lancaster has applied to locate a law practice within this space.”
Haire said Old Town Canal Winchester continues to change and is part of the reason the city undertook creation of an Old Town Plan last year.
Nine new businesses opened in the Old Town area in 2017-18.
“The neighborhood is successful and we are seeing significant investment in both residential and commercial projects. However, with this success will come change as building owners attempt to capitalize on that success,” said Haire. “There will always be some level of turnover due to the nature of retail and food service establishments. It is not a concern as long as the demand remains high. I have been working with the four artists who own Studio 7.5 on finding other space in the community.”
Carm Smith, co-owner of CornerSmiths along with her daughter, Kendra Ryan, moved to Canal Winchester 32 years ago. Smith and her husband purchased the High Street building when Bristol Pharmacy closed. Smith’s daughter wanted to start a small business. After asking her mother to join her in the retail operation, CornerSmiths opened, helping to spark a downtown renaissance.
“All of a sudden, downtown was sprinkled with momentum,” said Smith. “People had more of a reason to come downtown and open small businesses. There’s something special about a downtown—our downtown—that’s able to beat the odds of competing with a vast commercial corridor. We’ve gone against the odds and what happens in other small towns to thrive and be successful.”
Smith said she’d like to see at least five to six more small retailers open stores in downtown Canal Winchester.
“There are so many opportunities right now for people to shop and dine downtown. More would even be better. What keeps me downtown is the community and the relationships we form with people and the customers that come in our door,” said Smith. “There’s so much happening downtown and I love being a part of Canal Winchester.”
A market study was completed in 2004 and while Haire said it contained good recommendations, conditions changed considerably since the plan was created.
Many items recommended in the study—including attracting more restaurants like Harvest Moon and Village Wines; arts and crafts; specialty antique dealers such as Georgie Emerson, Sticks & Stones, Corners Smith and programing events in the yet-to-be developed Stradley Place, like Music and Art in the Park—were completed.
“The reason we undertook the Old Town Plan in 2016-17 was to update the overall strategy for this area of the community and to encourage additional investment in the area,” Haire said. “I try to keep an open dialogue with the Old Town business owners and discuss ideas, challenges, etc. on a regular basis. I always keep up with building owners on space that may be available and generally have a list of prospective tenants for when space becomes available.”