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Gallery plans to take Stage in Port Clinton

PORT CLINTON - The city may lack the money it needs to complete an ambitious downtown facelift, but officials and shop owners in Port Clinton's main business district say things are looking up anyway.

Most of downtown's shops and restaurants remained open late into the night on New Year's Eve for the city's annual “walleye drop.” Business owners have a lengthy schedule of concerts, festivals, and other events to be staged downtown this year.

And three months after the Stage department store on Madison Street closed, downtown's largest vacant building has a new tenant lined up.

After 10 years in the Knoll Crest Shopping Center at State Rts. 163 and 53, the Gallery on the Lake art studio will move into the Stage building in April, gallery manager Cindy Mozina said.

The move marks a return to downtown for the gallery, which opened 15 years ago in a small shop on Perry Street.

Gallery owners Gary and Marie Perkins decided to move because their lease at the mall is up at the end of this month, and they've been looking for a location with more space, Ms. Mozina said.

The gallery's location has about 3,000 square feet, while the downtown site has about 7,000 square feet.

“We're very excited about being involved in downtown Port Clinton's renovation,” she said. “We've explored some other options, but this was the one that made the most sense to us. It seemed to be the right fit.”

Ms. Mozina said the art studio will have more space to display works and expects to get more walk-in business downtown. The gallery has a loyal customer base, some of who visit from Toledo and other Ohio cities during Lake Erie vacation getaways, she said.

“Located where we are now, there's not too many people walking by,” she said. “We think we can have a lot more of that downtown. It's heading in the right direction. I really believe in it, and I know the owners do too.”

Mayor Tom Brown, who plans tonight to announce a steering committee to work on the downtown revitalization, said the gallery's move is a shot in the arm for the business district.

“We have been looking for a number of retail business,” Mr. Brown said. “They are going to really enhance the downtown, and we're really excited about them being there.”

The mayor said downtown still has some smaller vacant storefronts, such as the former Bergman's men's store next to the Stage building, that need to be filled, ideally with other retailers.

“We certainly could still use a clothing store somewhere in town, because we have none,” he said.

Port Clinton has completed a $2 million revitalization of Perry Street and two other streets along its downtown riverfront. But the city lacks the estimated $1.1 million it needs to add sidewalks, repaved streets, decorative streetlights, and other improvements to the rest of downtown.

Despite the delayed facelift, business owners say the art gallery's move downtown shows that downtown isn't down and out.

“This is a major boost, I think, to the whole development and revitalization idea,” said Mary Snyder, owner of Mary's Blossom Shoppe. “It's a big building to fill. It certainly had to be the right business to go in there.”

Pat Turner, who opened the T-Squared gift shop in April, said the busy calendar of events to be held downtown this year is a testament to the area's vitality.

Business owners are planning and promoting such events as the Memorial Day weekend Walleye Festival, a jazz and rib festival in late June, and a classic car show in August.

“Over the past year, they've done a tremendous amount to draw attention to downtown,” Mrs. Turner said. “Another store is always welcome. As far as it being special, downtown was already on the way up.”

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