‘I would like to be part of that downtown revitalization, and I guess I feel strongly about it,' says Harry Roby, left, owner of Hardware Unlimited, with his son, Ben, in their Secor Road store. ‘I believe in the future of the downtown.'
An aging stretch of buildings targeted for preservation in the downtown Warehouse District is about to get its first tenant: a specialty hardware store now on Secor Road.
Harry Roby, owner of Hardware Unlimited, said he thinks the downtown location is worth taking a chance on. Mr. Roby has signed an agreement to lease a 60-by-60-foot building in St. Clair Village, not far from the new Mud Hens stadium. He expects to move into the renovated building in February.
He plans to close the smaller store, where he sells things like specialty door knobs and drawer pulls, that he now rents in the 5000 block of Secor.
“I would like to be part of that downtown revitalization, and I guess I feel strongly about it,” Mr. Roby said. “I believe in the future of the downtown. It's not just a business decision. If we wait around for someone else, no one would do it.”
When people start checking out the Warehouse District, “they're going to find out that's it's kind of nice down there,” Mr. Roby said.
Right now, there's not much to see, and not much to buy, either.
Neglected over the decades, the five St. Clair Village buildings look as if they are only a few years away from irreversible decay.
Maybe so, said Con Keefer, the construction contractor hired to restore the buildings to some semblance of their century-old status. But he said his workers will clean the brick, replace old double-hung windows on the upper story, and paint and restore the front.
“Because of the historic district, we're required to keep the old molding,” Mr. Keefer said.
“We'll take the 1960s renovated items off. Anything that's not original we'll strip off,” Mr. Keefer said. Among items to be removed is the newer suspended ceiling, which concealed the original stamped tin ceiling that remains intact, albeit covered with rust.
St. Clair Village is a 200-foot strip of connected buildings between Washington and Lafayette streets, inside the St. Clair Historic District, which itself is a relatively small portion of the greater Warehouse District.
Kathy Steingraber, executive director of the Toledo Warehouse District Association, said the project is possible under a partnership of the association and Jimmy Jackson. Mr. Jackson, a graduate of Macomber Vocational High School and a veteran of the National Basketball Association, is investing $400,000 in the St. Clair Village project.
The $2.8 million project also involves a construction loan from KeyBank.
“We are so happy to have Mr. Roby. We're trying to find another couple of like-type businesses,” Mrs. Steingraber said. She said the association has been approached by other businesses, but agreements were not reached because they lacked a business plan or money.
“We don't want someone to come in and spend all their available resources and not have a plan that prevents them from making it beyond the initial year,” she said.
Mr. Roby, who has had his business for three years, said he specializes in decorative hardware, stocking thousands of drawer pulls, electric-switch plates, hinges, cabinetry, towel and bar ensembles, floor heater vent registers, and door knobs and handles.
He believes that his business is unique enough that customers will seek him out in his new location. And he said it fits with other architectural and building-related businesses that can be found in the area.
He said he's receiving no financial incentive, just the cooperation of the Warehouse District. He does have a commitment for the use of on-street parking.
“I've been looking at many sites around Toledo for the last eight to nine months,” Mr. Roby said.
He said he was looking at a site near the main downtown library when he started talking to Warehouse District representatives.
“I hate paving over perfectly good land to put up a strip mall. I kind of like the downtown,” Mr. Roby said. “There's a flavor you can't get with something brand-spanking new. I see this as part of the solution to urban sprawl.”
Mrs. Steingraber said the leasing of space in St. Clair Village doesn't mean zoning issues in the Warehouse District are solved. Efforts to establish a uniform zoning district for the area so far have eluded the many developers and property owners who constitute the district.
“There is a desire to create a single zoning district, and I hope this is the year this happens,” Mrs. Steingraber said. She said she believes the Toledo Lucas County Plan Commission is also beginning to focus more on the zoning problems in the district.