PHOTO BY CLARENCE MADISON (Plain Press Archives)
July 1985; Lorain Avenue: Tina Gayer, co-chair of the Lorain Avenue Business Association, sees crime prevention as the highest priority. In this photo from the Plain Pressarchives, Gayer is standing in front of a car lot on W 47thand Lorain Avenue. In the background behind her you can see a sign for a 5 & 10 store and Gerst Tax Services on the north side of Lorain Avenue, and Arrow International’s sign, a company that made bingo and charity supplies, appearing on the south side.
WHAT IS HAPPENING TO LORAIN AVENUE
by Alix Walker
(Plain Press, September 2019) Editor’s Note:This article by Alix Walker, from the Plain Pressarchives, first appeared in the July 23-August 5, 1985 issue of the Plain Press. The Plain Pressis publishing a series of articles on main streets in its circulation area as it approaches its 50thAnniversary in 2021.
For the past decade, Lorain Avenue, between West 25thand W. 65th, has been experiencing transitional shock. Recession, population outflux, crime, and the traffic drain-off created by the opening of I-90 ten years ago have all combined to force this once-prosperous business district into a state of decline.
As a result, there is a high turnover of new businesses, while established businesses often have to struggle to remain solvent. Vacant lots and closed storefronts abound.
It is also difficult to attract the larger chain enterprises – such as McDonald’s and Woolworth’s – because Lorain Avenue is looked upon as a bad investment area. The vacant “Chuckie’s Chicken” building near West 50thand Lorain, which for two years has sported an “opening soon” sign, has almost become a symbol for the area.
The reputation is not a very fair one, however, because Lorain is still a major traffic route and it has enormous potential. The question is, how to develop it?
One school of thought is to bring in small businesses that can serve the local population. “We’ve got to get more practical concerns,” said Brad Shimp, who until recently was the commercial coordinator of the Ohio City Redevelopment Association (OCRA). “Because most people around Lorain rely on low and fixed incomes, Lorain should have more grocery stores, laundromats, and clothing stores. Something big like K-Mart could never make it here because this area hasn’t the money to offset constructions costs.”
The other school of thought is to bring in businesses that attract high volumes of consumers from the suburbs with more money to spend. Movie theatres, restaurants, department stores, entertainment businesses, and imported goods stores are examples.
Joseph Miller, an optometrist at 2620 Lorain says that such draws will inevitably spur local economic growth. “Antique shops were the main attraction in the 1970s. Now Lorain needs an entertainment area to attract a bigger draw from the surrounding suburbs,” he said.
The two approaches do not necessarily conflict, since there is room for both kinds of development. But the problem remains in attracting businesses and keeping them afloat once they move in.
The area could be made more attractive by cleaning up the litter and vandalism evident along the street. Grassroots efforts can do the job there, according to Councilwoman Helen K. Smith. “The lot on W. 41stand Randall used to be an eyesore. But the neighbors in the area joined efforts and put in shrubbery and landscaped it,” she said.
Furthermore, there are government programs available to small businesses for renovation, Smith said. Up to $7,500 in low interest loans are available for painting and window replacement. “Lorain between West 25thand West 45this part of an OCRA target area,” she said. “Money is available for anyone who needs it.”
Lorain Avenue is a depressed area, yet it has enormous potential.
Such self-help has gradually had its effect over the last few years. “We’ve had some luck,” Shimp says. “When I first came to OCRA there were one or two calls a month for new business entries. Now we’re having two or three a week.”
Ideally, Lorain Avenue merchants would work together to keep the street clean, form a crime watch program, lobby the city government to address their needs (such as more police protection), coordinate renovation, and do special street projects like holiday decorations. But organizing efforts have had only limited success. For starters, small business entrepreneurs are notoriously difficult to organize.
“Most businesses are already doing all they can to survive. They don’t have time to give and it’s hard to coordinate meetings at times when everyone can come,” said Tina Gayer, who runs Gayer’s Flower Emporium and who is also co-chair of the Lorain Avenue Business Association (LABA) along with Paul Fridrich of Fridrich’s Bicycle Shop.
LABA was started two years ago when the job coordinator at the West Side Multi-Service Center sought to help local businesses provide more jobs. Under the leadership of Edda Incarnacion, who pounded the pavement and did much outreach work to merchants, LABA at first did well, bringing 10-15 people into its weekly meetings.
Unfortunately, LABA was a social service virtually programmed to fail. Only enough block grant money was provided to make the job coordinator position a part-time job, and only half of that time was spent coordinating LABA. After two years, the funding ran out. LABA is currently in limbo, without an organizer.
It takes a lot more to pull together a successful business coalition. Both OCRA and the Tremont Area Business Association (TABA) have full time staff coordinators. They became such active organizations because they were spearheaded by a few merchants who devoted energy and enthusiasm. They offer crime prevention and storefront renovation programs, organize festivals, and act as advocacy groups for the merchants.
Councilwoman Smith suggests that LABA was not needed so much because it duplicated OCRA’s work. But even OCRA’s future is now in doubt, even though it just held its biggest annual event, Sunday at the Market. Shimp quit last month because future funding for his job was in doubt, and the one other staff-person, Lois Davis, leaves July 31. OCRA is in limbo because there are no plans to replace them.
It may be left up to the Lorain Ave. merchants to organize themselves, if any have the time and energy to pull the others together.
Certainly, crime is an issue to begin organizing around: Gayer says her shop was broken into 15 times last year. She is thankful for the police, who caught most of the thieves, but a preventive crime program is needed.
“Consumer and merchant security are needed if Lorain is to attract outside traffic,” Helen Smith said. “People have to know their cars will be safe in Lorain’s parking lots and that they won’t be held up.”
In the meantime, merchants are mixed in their feelings on Lorain Avenue’s future. Some express satisfaction with the way things are: “We’re making a living, and we’re happy with the area. It doesn’t need any changes,” one told the Plain Press. “I don’t care if a whorehouse moves in across the street as long as I make money,” said another. A longtime merchant, who has seen prosperity come and go, commented, “When you’ve been here 50 years there’s no way you run away. You’ve got to roll with the punches.”