Ohio town tests idea of community-owned store

Carey newspaper publisher leads effort


CAREY, Ohio — It’s been a long time since there was a clothing store in Carey.

Steve Zender can’t remember exactly when the last one left — there once were several — but it’s been decades.

“I’m at the age that I’ve watched small towns lose businesses,” Mr. Zender said. “I don’t know if there’s anything we could have done to stop it over the years, but I think we threw up our hands and said [people] are going to go out of town and shop.”

Sure, people are going to go to bigger towns to shop. But if there’s a good reason to shop in Carey, he believes they’ll do it here, too.

And if they own the store, that’s an even better reason to shop there.

Mr. Zender, the owner and publisher of Carey’s Progressor Times newspaper, is leading an effort effort to bring a community-owned department store to Carey’s small downtown.

A board he leads has been selling shares in Carey Mercantile for a little over a year. They've raised about 75 percent of the funding needed to go forward with the store, but time is running out.

“We’ve only got until May 25, so we don’t have much longer,” he said. “We’re not panicking yet, but we definitely need to sell some shares soon.”

Carey is about 60 miles south of Toledo in Wyandot County.

Mr. Zender first got the idea of a community-owned store when he heard about one in Wyoming. Intrigued, he wrote a column about it, and was encouraged by the feedback he received. He moved ahead with the idea, gathering a board, incorporating a company, and getting state approval to sell stock to investors.

To go forward, they need to sell at least 600 shares at $500 each. Mr. Zender said Friday they had sold about 450 shares, split among about 130 investors.

If they don’t raise the necessary funding, money will be returned to investors. If they do, there’s a recently renovated 5,000-square-foot spot on Findlay Street that they’re ready to move into. The store would sell men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing and accessories, along with a special section of items made in the United States, Ohio, and Wyandot County made items.

Carey, home to about 3,600 people, isn’t booming, but it’s far from dead.

“We do have quite a few empty storefronts, but we have the nucleus of something good,” Mr. Zender said.

There’s a grocery store, a pharmacy, two hardwares, a doctor’s office, a couple of chiropractors, and some local restaurants. Mr. Zender hopes a community-owned department store would help anchor that and drive a little more traffic into town. “We have the basics,” he said. “What we want to do is complement those places, not compete with them.”

Mr. Zender said community-owned stores have been successful in the West. The board commissioned a study that found a Carey store could be profitable, he said.

People can find more information about investing in the store on Facebook at facebook.com/CareyMerc, or on the Progressor Times Web site at theprogressortimes.com.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.