Downtown Storefronts Continue Turnovers


Photo by Pearse Anderson

The former Cowhaus Creamery space, now vacated as the business intends to relocate to the former location of Tree Hugger’s Cafe. Dave’s Cosmic Subs will move into the old Cowhaus space in the coming months.

Eliza Guinn, Copy Editor

The commercial face of East College Street has transformed over the past year — Magpie Pizza was replaced by India Garden last year, Tree Hugger’s Cafe closed last fall and, most recently, Cowhaus Creamery has closed at its former location, soon to be replaced by Dave’s Cosmic Subs.

City Councilmember Bryan Burgess said that turnover for businesses on East College Street is a fairly regular occurrence, estimating that it happens about once or twice per year. Josh Rosen, OC ’01, of the East College Street Project said that one of the major considerations Cowhaus had when they decided to close at its former location was that they wanted a smaller retail space. To meet these needs, Cowhaus is not permanently closing, but is instead moving into the space that was formerly Tree Hugger’s Cafe.

The East College Street Project manages a variety of commercial and residential spaces downtown. They have focused on bringing locally- and regionally-owned retail shops, restaurants and offices to Oberlin.

Dave Lombardi, owner of the Dave’s Cosmic Subs franchise, said that while he is aware of the constant turnover of past businesses on East College, he’s still enthusiastic and thinks that his restaurant will succeed in Oberlin.

“It’s sort of typical — you either work in a school or you don’t work in a school,” he said concerning achieving success as a business in a college town. “I believe we will work [in Oberlin]. It’s the gamble you take in business, but you know, it’s true wherever you go.”

Lombardi added that his franchise has thrived in other college towns and that his rock music-themed restaurant will fit in well with the musical and artistic attitude of the Oberlin community. He intends on having live performances and music nights by local musicians, and he said that in the beginning of the fall semester he intends on holding a two-hour free sub giveaway to establish himself within the community.

As street retail spaces have changed, a law office behind the restaurants moved as well, replaced by a campaign office during the U.S. presidential campaign. Rosen said he is happy that most retail spaces are filled because that makes for a more vibrant downtown.

Janet Haar, director of the Oberlin Business Partnership — which aims “to advance and promote the sustainable growth and prosperity of the Oberlin community” — said that although Cowhaus and Magpie Pizza closed, she was happy that both empty retail spaces were refilled promptly by Dave’s Cosmic Subs and India Garden, respectively.

During the construction of The Hotel at Oberlin, parking on the opposite side of East College was limited. Haar said that this contributed to difficulties faced by businesses during the construction. In 2015, Cowhaus co-owner Josef Bomback, OC ’76 cited that his business experienced a 30 percent decrease in revenue compared to the three prior years. At the time, parking spots had been reduced significantly due to The Hotel at Oberlin’s construction. While some new spots have been made available since initial construction, Haar said that the city has plans to add more parking options across the street, which she hopes will allow for greater traffic to the street’s businesses.

Promises for the new spots have yet to be met, however. Nigin Bhutani of India Garden said that they have been hearing from council that new spots will be added across the street from their restaurant since they moved to their location early last year. The spots have not been added yet.

“Parking has been a major problem here,” Bhutani said. “Parking has been the main problem, and even when [the customers] come to pick up, there are no spots here where they can come pick up their food in five minutes and go.

While businesses on the south side of East College have been coming and going, Burgess, Haar and Rosen all agreed that the new and unfilled retail space that will become available in The Hotel at Oberlin could prove to be a beneficial addition to Oberlin’s commercial activity.

“Shopping districts work better than stand-alone stores, and I expect the new spaces to be a very positive addition to Oberlin’s downtown,” Burgess said.

City Councilmember Linda Slocum added that new businesses in the hotel’s retail spaces would also benefit all of the businesses on East College.

“If the rental spaces in the hotel are filled, it might increase traffic east of Main Street, which could feasibly help the shops in the East College Street Project,” she wrote in an email to the Review.

There are currently no updates about who will occupy the spaces in the hotel or when they will be filled.

Haar noted that community involvement often plays a large role in the success of new storeowners in Oberlin.

“Without doing the research and knowing what to expect, storeowners can get a wakeup call,” Haar said. “It’s important to be engaged and involved in the community and take time to be accepted. People here like to do business with people they know. If storeowners don’t come to realize that, it will be hard for them to be successful here.”