Downtown Kendallville blossoms with businesses
By Alaina Stellwagen | KPC Media - The News Sun
Though the buildings themselves haven’t changed much in decades, downtown Kendallville continues to evolve with the flowering vines of small businesses.
Several new businesses have opened recently along Main St., including Pure Dream, CBD Oils, Hemp Clothing and M Y Games. Rudy’s Bar & Grill and Paul’s Pub are currently being remodeled, and This and That retail store will be opening soon as well.
Downtown, which includes the three blocks of Main Street and the surrounding State and Orchard Streets, has been under constant renovation since 2012-2013, according to Mayor Suzanne Handshoe.
“We had paid for a downtown study and they gave us a task list of what to do. A lot of people take those suggestions and put them on a shelf, but we have really aggressively went after them,” Handshoe said.
The preservation of the Strand Theater was one of those suggestions and helped anchor the downtown.
For Kendallville Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lynette Leamon, downtown Kendallville is very much a living, breathing entity that requires constant care.
“There’s always an evolution. These are all unique ma and pop shops that are typically run and managed by the owner,” she said. “The challenge is for these unique stores to sustain themselves. The challenge is always the turnover. It’s nothing different than other downtowns.”
Though there are some downtown storefronts physically empty, Leamon said most of these spaces are actually purchased.
“Most of the buildings downtown have already been purchased, but the business hasn’t finished with whatever their idea was. There are some big spaces that are not finished. A challenge for the owner is once they purchase it, they have to make an investment in it to bring it up to speed and open it,” she said.
Leamon is also the president of the Experience the Heart of Kendallville group, which recently combined with the Main Street Business Association and works to improve downtown.
In order to entice small businesses, downtown Kendallville has a commercial facade grant, which helps eligible businesses improve the appearance of their buildings. This program provides a 50 percent matching grant for work such as brick repairs, window replacements or roof work.
In addition, downtown is part of a tax increment financing, or TIF, district, which collects property taxes and sets them aside for projects such as the facade grants. Downtown is also an economic improvement district, or EID, which is a voluntary tax that is used for maintenance and amenities.
Including the new shops, downtown will continue to be transformed.
“We’re going for our fourth application for the Main Street grant and we’re hopeful this year will be the charm. It’s over a $1 million project that will put in all new sidewalks and curbs. That will change aesthetically how downtown looks,” said Handshoe.
Additionally, a parklet, a modern gathering space in a parking space, will be completed in front of the Chamber by the end of June.
Dave Christianson, former owner of Christianson’s Jewelry, Inc. who has worked downtown since 1975, has seen Main Street grow and develop over the years.
“The downtown looks nice. We have a lot of our customers come from out of town, and everybody who comes in comments on how nice the downtown looks,” Christianson said.
Christianson has noticed the new businesses popping up along Main Street.
“There are changes. I keep a running list of the different shops downtown and there seems to be more shops opening this year than there have been in the past several years. We see continued potential in downtown Kendallville,” he said.
Leamon and Handshoe see that same potential and work hard to make it come to life. They, however, aren’t the only ones who can help.
“I would hope that small businesses would reconsider using the facade grant to just paint the front of their building. And I would hope that citizens would support businesses downtown,” Handshoe said.
Though there is always work to be done, Leamon is happy with what has been accomplished so far.
“When you think about it, we do have a lot of things to offer. We have ice cream, Pizza Forum, WhatchamaCAKES, Jeny’s Tacos, That BBQ Place and The Strand. We already have a lot, but we just need more to make it a destination to get people,” she said.