After years of decline, Bellefontaine, Ohio is looking good.
Ohio is speckled with small towns, many of which contain single stoplights. Many Ohioans call these places “home.” Despite the size of these small destinations to an outsider’s eye, the history runs deep, and the communities are tight. For Bellefontaine, Ohio, the community is tighter thanks to revitalization efforts that are making the downtown come alive.
Bellefontaine is less than an hour’s drive northwest of the state’s capital of Columbus. Home to more than 13,000 people, it sits nestled in Logan County. The city’s main street was reeling from a slow death, much like many other small towns across the United States. People move away from small towns, and empty storefronts follow.
Luckily for Bellefontaine, a small team of people saw great promise in those empty storefronts.
Small Nation, a group headed up by Bellefontaine native Jason Duff, saw the devastating effects that a dying main street can have on a small town. Just eight years ago, more than 70 percent of the first-floor spaces were vacant. The group decided to make a change and invested in their town. That move sparked a revitalization effort that turned Bellefontaine into more than just another dot on the map.
In less than a decade, the main street of Bellefontaine is no longer full of empty storefronts that reflect days gone by. Instead, it has become a bustling town center with destinations that have a draw for both visitors and locals alike. The town’s history is not lost, but given a second chance. The character of the buildings that have seen tremendous change over the last several decades is maintained in the facades and stamped-tin ceilings found throughout many of the businesses there.
A quick scan of Main Street shows popular restaurants, boutiques, an antique mall and many more offerings that will intrigue visitors. Twenty-seven spaces that were abandoned have been renovated to date, turning a tired Bellefontaine downtown into a bustling spot for locals and visitors alike.
One of the biggest draws for visitors is the famed pizzeria, Six Hundred Downtown. Founded by world-renowned pizza champion, Michael Shepherd, the pizzeria is a hotspot where it can be hard to get a table on the weekends. It was Duff, CEO of Small Nation, who convinced Shepherd to give Bellefontaine a chance. The thinking behind the development of the pizzeria was to draw satisfied customers into the neighborhoods, and in turn, build a community.
Six Hundred Downtown owner Brittany Saxton has been recognized nationally for her pizza-making skills. Saxton received national acclaim when she competed on the Food Network television show “Guy’s Grocery Games: Pizza Masters,” bringing attention to Six Hundred Downtown and to Bellefontaine. She also received national recognition at the White House in the spring of 2018 when she was invited to speak on the effect that tax cuts had on her business and other small businesses across the country.
Just across the street from Six Hundred Downtown is McKinley Street – both the oldest concrete street in America and also the country’s shortest street. McKinley Street runs right next to the Logan County Courthouse, which has seen its own amazing revitalization over recent years. The courthouse has undergone renovation to maintain its history for generations to come.
Great pizza is not all that Bellefontaine has to offer. The town is home to Brewfontaine, voted the number-one craft beer bar in Ohio two years in a row. Small Nation members Jeramy Fitzpatrick and Adam Rammell built Brewfontaine to bring craft beer to a town that didn’t have the same opportunities as larger craft beer cities. This unique setting offers craft beer and eclectic food options that are sure to delight.
Bellefontaine has also seen growth in downtown housing for those seeking smaller spaces than the big land plots that come to mind with small Ohio towns. More than 24 loft apartments have seen development and renovation in recent years, thanks to Small Nation and its passion to grow the downtown of Bellefontaine. Rivaling the amenities found in luxury apartments, these lofts maintain the charm of living in a town that knows its roots, with the conveniences of living in a small downtown.
Luxury living is not complete without shopping destinations within walking distance. There are several boutiques and shops, with more opening soon, to be found in the heart of the downtown area. These shops vary from fashion boutiques to antique shops and an educational store.
Local business in general has thrived in downtown Bellefontaine, with coming soon signs and new signage throughout Main Street. Each corner has a sign directing visitors to the many businesses found throughout town, declaring their presence in a way that invites exploration.
Just around the corner from Main Street on Columbus Avenue is Native Coffee Company, a coffee shop with an eye-catching wall mural. Founded by Braydon Campbell, Native Coffee was another brainchild of Duff. Native Coffee offers more than coffee, however, as it serves as a center for two other businesses – an accounting firm and, on the second floor, a yoga studio.
As the efforts of Duff and Small Nation continue, Bellefontaine is sure to continue to see growth. The historic Canby building is one of the latest to be undergoing renovations, promising to bring even more life into what was, until very recently, a very tired downtown.