The Van Wert County Courthouse

Monday, May. 16, 2022

MSVW honors Ries, downtown businesses

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

Former program manager Adam Ries and several downtown businesses were honored, while the community received tips on downtown development from speaker Jason Duff during Main Street Van Wert’s annual dinner, held Thursday at Elks Lodge 1197.

Former Main Street Van Wert program manager Adam Ries is presented the "Downtown Champion" award by Jana Ringwald of Central Insurance Company. photos by Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent
Former Main Street Van Wert program manager Adam Ries is presented the “Downtown Champion” award by Jana Ringwald of Central Insurance Company. photos by Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent

MSVW Board President Mark Verville emceed the event, and presented Ries, who recently resigned as program manager to take a position with First Federal Savings & Loan in Van Wert, with the newly-created “Downtown Champion” award, which was sponsored by Central Insurance Companies.

Also honored were a number of local businesses and organizations that completed downtown business improvement projects. Those included Kitchen and Bath, Eberle Photography, Elite Interiors, Summit City Vapes, Westwood Behavioral Health Center, Cate’s Diamond Mine Billiards, 133 Bistro, the Warehouse, Pins and Needles, and the Van Wert Area Economic Development Corporation.

The MSVW board also honored businesses and organizations that spent more than $5,000 on improvements since last year’s annual dinner. Those included McCoy’s Flowers, the YWCA of Van Wert County, Sticky Rammel and the VWAEDC, The Salvation Army, Capital Advisory Services, Chet Straley and 540 Martial Arts, Ley Equipment Company, Truly D’vine Bread Company, and First United Methodist Church.

Duff, a downtown developer in Bellefontaine, a city of 13,000 people that Duff said was very similar to Van Wert in demographics, provided a number of examples of how vacant buildings in Bellefontaine were turned into successful businesses and residential space.

Duff used a slide show to show formerly vacant buildings in Bellefontaine and what those buildings look like today.

The Bellefontaine native said that, when he returned to his hometown after college, he saw that that city’s downtown area had suffered from the advent of “big box pharmacies” that had bought out local competitors, as well as the closing of a number of downtown businesses.

“In a period of five years, 40 percent of the retail businesses were gone,” Duff said. “Buildings were boarded up, bricks were falling off buildings, and the common theme was ‘tear them down’.”

But Duff had a different vision of a thriving downtown filled with successful businesses and purchased a downtown building for $1 and began renovating it. He later persuaded a successful pizza restaurant owner in Kenton to open a second location in Bellefontaine. Duff also was involved in bringing a craft beer restaurant, bakery, and other businesses into town, as well as developing new loft apartments that he said have a waiting list of potential renters.

In the past 5½ years, Duff and fellow investors have restored 19 historical buildings, spending between $8 million and $10 million on the projects, and created approximately 130 new jobs in Bellefontaine’s downtown area.

Jason Duff talks about successful development in his hometown of Bellefontaine.
Jason Duff talks about successful development in his hometown of Bellefontaine.

Duff said the projects came about because people came up with good ideas and then put their money into making those ideas happen.

“Some of these ideas are going to fail, but the people on the sidelines are going to watch those fails, and then new things are going to pop up,” Duff noted.

He also advised local business people and investors to be “contrarians” — those who won’t take “no” for an answer when people start saying something can’t be done.

Duff said Van Wert had a number of positives, including its location on the historic Lincoln Highway, as well as U.S. 127 and U.S. 30, and advised those wanting to develop the downtown to visit other communities that are doing the things they want to do and see how it was done.

He noted that Van Wert’s Main Street program was a big plus for the community, while also noting that the city was already further ahead than Bellefontaine was when he began developing the downtown.

“When I look at some of the pieces of the puzzle that you have in place … right here in your own hometown, I’m pretty darn jealous,” Duff said. “Because where my team and I started five years ago, you’re leaps and bounds ahead. …”

Duff went on to say that he had “stalked” a number of local businesses when he came earlier Thursday and liked what he saw here in Van Wert.

“I’ve been stalking some of the incredible businesses that are up here,” he said, citing MOD Boutique, TAG Menswear, Truly D’vine, and the two antique malls as examples. “There are some innovators in this town that are getting attention.”

The next step, he noted, was taking a risk to make an idea a success.

“Stepping out of our comfort zone is going to be that big next step,” Duff told those who attended the dinner.

POSTED: 04/28/17 at 7:52 am. FILED UNDER: News