breaking news

Death of Huber Heights man found in Springfield park ruled a homicide

Xenia businesses struggle to bring life to downtown

For every step toward a more vibrant downtown area in the city of Xenia, there seems to be setbacks that keep retailers struggling and lease signs posted in storefronts.

City officials are working to make changes to the downtown area to make it more of a destination spot for area residents and out-of-town visitors. Work paid for through grant funding is underway, under the supervision of the Ohio Department of Transportation, to make safer pathways for pedestrians and bicyclists, including creating a bike lane in southbound Detroit Street.

STAY CONNECTED: Greene County News on Facebook

The latest setback? The impending closure of Blue Jacket Books, an independent bookseller and anchor tenant in a group of businesses on South Detroit Street.

Citing dismal sales through the holidays and this month being “our worst month ever,” Blue Jacket Books Co-owner Lawrence Hammar announced the closure on Facebook.

“In-store sales have always been disappointingly slow, given that Xenia is a county seat and at the hub of three rural highways,” Hammar wrote. “In brief, we’ve lost our shirts but wish to keep our pants.”

This would have been the independent bookseller’s 11th year in business, operating at its current location, 30 S. Detroit St., since 2013.

MORE: Greene County shelter to be featured on Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl

The store is a hub of activity in the community, in large part because of the adjoining cafe, Table of Contents, which is run by Hammar’s wife and co-owner Cassandra Lee. Hammar said there are no plans to close the cafe.

The location is also home to other businesses, including Our Family Soap, Yellow Dogs Pet Supplies and an eBay seller.

The businesses are all under one roof and the owners share the costs of utilities and rent. That’s made possible by the landlord, Greg Bernitt, who takes an innovative, community-minded approach to managing his three downtown buildings.

Bernitt said he has invested more than he anticipated in renovating some of the historic structures that define the downtown area. He is currently renovating second floor space above Blue Jacket Books that he envisions as artist studios.

“One thing we know for sure is that we can’t rely on someone else to do it. We have to do it ourselves, whether it’s through Gofundme pages or raising money through events such as First Fridays,” Bernitt said of efforts to revitalize Xenia’s downtown. “We need to do something to change the attitudes of derelict property owners or buy those properties away from them … We have to somehow get both the county and the city working toward common goals, which is related to not only bringing good business to downtown Xenia but to other communities as well.”

Bernitt said the reality is, people who are investing in the downtown area right now can’t rely on a tax base or grant funding to make the necessary changes.

MORE: Daytime heist foiled in Huber Heights: 5 things to know

“We have to do it ourselves. We have to be willing to make the sacrifices that I think will then reap rewards, longer term,” he said. “The city is understaffed, underbudgeted in my mind. We have to step forward.”

Now is the time to go into business in downtown Xenia, according to Troy Beck, owner of Rusty N Chippy’s Vintage Boutique on South Detroit Street.

“We’ve been here almost five years. We moved from California and we’ve been watching Xenia slowly grow and revitalize. It’s just a really exciting time right now,” Beck said.

Bernitt and other stakeholders are involved in discussions and planning special events, such as First Fridays, an occassional event that offers family activities downtown while stores stay open longer and business owners work to draw in customers.

Bernitt is currently rehabilitating the former JC Penney’s building on East Main Street. The first floor offers two suites, and both will be occupied when the work is done. On the right will be the new headquarters for the Greene County Republican Party. On the left will be Anew Exchange, a furniture and home decor shop that is being relocated from its former location on South Detroit Street.

Bernitt and Anew Exchange owner Dwaine Evans recently sat down for an interview about the state of business affairs in downtown Xenia. The conversation took place in Parker’s General Store, a shop that calls to mind the small town five-and-dimes of the mid-20th century.

Evans said he nearly decided to close the business for good because of low sales, but he’s willing to give it one more try on East Main Street.

“Xenia really needs to put themselves out there as a city that is making strides and efforts to improving … I don’t think the communications of what’s going on in the city and the city itself is very clear because there are things going on that people never heard of,” Evans said. “I think there’s too many chips left on the table … where we’re not picking them up and sharing the wealth. Best kept secrets are not best kept when you only keep them for yourself.”

Some of Bernitt’s and Evans’ frustrations are shared by Mary Crockett, the city’s community development and downtown coordinator. Crockett points to some positives that are making a difference, such as the line of stores opening along East Main by Coffee Hub and Parker’s General Store.

“The city and the county do not own much of the downtown, and there are a number of different owners, all with different profit motives, different life cycles and different visions of their property for the future,” Crockett said. “There are often gaps between the costs of bringing these historic buildings up to today’s standards, and the amount of income that tenants … can bring to defray the costs and make appropriate returns to owners and businesses.”

As for the future of the Blue Jacket Books store space, Hammar said they are open to suggestions.

“We’ll think of creative ways to use space in the building, and we’re open to suggestions so long as they nurture creativity, surround the cafe with even more love and art, and keep their eyes on the prize of peace and social justice,” he said.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Local woman could win $1 million on ‘Survivor’ season finale tonight 
Local woman could win $1 million on ‘Survivor’ season finale tonight 

A local woman could land $1 million tonight if she wins the finale of “Survivor: Ghost Island.” The season finale will air on Wednesday, May 23 at 8/7c on CBS. The castaways have been narrowed down to  Domenick, Wendell, Laurel, Angela, Donathan, and Sebastian. Angela Perkins, a Mason resident, will compete...
‘No, not this again’: Grandmother’s death in drive-by shooting reminds of 2006 incident just 3 doors away
‘No, not this again’: Grandmother’s death in drive-by shooting reminds of 2006 incident just 3 doors away

The May 19 fatal drive-by shooting of a 62-year-old grandmother — which has Dayton police asking for help before the trail goes cold — is similar to a 2006 incident that also happened on North Euclid Avenue. The story is all too familiar to one area man’s memories of his aunt’s death. Sherrell V. Wheatley died last Saturday...
2 Franklin men arrested in stabbing incident
2 Franklin men arrested in stabbing incident

Two Franklin men involved in a late night fight that resulted in a stabbing have been arrested. Franklin police charged Timothy Tinch, 32, with one count of assault, a second-degree misdemeanor, and Christian Vick, 34, with felonious assault, a second-degree felony. MORE: These Butler, Warren businesses want to become medical marijuana stores Vick...
Daytonian of the Week: Tom Helbig, founder of Tomfoolery Outdoors
Daytonian of the Week: Tom Helbig, founder of Tomfoolery Outdoors

As of this morning, Tom Helbig is cruising on his bicycle through reportedly, 68 degree and sunny Portland, Maine, en route to Canada, craving a Dayton craft beer and some Taqueria Mixteca.  His East Coast cycling trip began in February in Key West, Florida and will wrap at the end of June when he returns to Dayton to resume organizing and planning ...
Here’s how Luke Kennard is thanking his hometown for their support
Here’s how Luke Kennard is thanking his hometown for their support

Luke Kennard is returning to the area this summer to pay back those who supported him throughout his illustrious basketball career at Franklin High School. After a press conference at Atrium Medical Center where it was announced that Premier Health is partnering with Kennard and Win The Next One to present the Luke Kennard Overnight Basketball Camp...
More Stories