Spring Brings Changes to Oberlin Business Scene, Community Events


Abe Frato

The Arb at Tappan Square and Doobies Smoke Shop have recently moved locations.

As Oberlin settles into spring, patrons at local businesses can expect several changes downtown. A new business will open soon in the former Black River Cafe, and The Arb at Tappan Square has changed locations and expanded its menu. 

Joe Waltzer, OC ’98, plans to open a wine bar establishment in the storefront that previously housed the Black River Cafe. Waltzer founded the Black River Cafe in 1998 after graduating from the College. In 2016, he leased the business to Michael Joseph, who ran the cafe until shutting it down in 2020. 

Waltzer’s liquor license application for the new establishment was presented to the Oberlin City Council earlier this month. He plans to open the wine bar once the license is approved, which he hopes will be before Commencement this year. 

“I’m gonna open up in a month or two, doing what will mostly resemble a wine shop where we’ll be having wine to go,” Waltzer said. “We’ll also serve wine by the glass on premise. … My hope is by the end of the summer to have more of a fuller concept of what I’m looking to do. . . . I’m not even sure exactly what it’s gonna look like. I’m giving it space to kind of grow.”

Although he remains uncertain on some details, Waltzer plans for the wine bar to feature local foods and ingredients, starting with lighter items like cheese plates. Later on, he hopes to have a full kitchen staff capable of serving an expanded menu. Waltzer also wants to incorporate his extensive collection of cookbooks into the wine bar to inspire people to cook recipes that would pair well with the wine they purchase or to cook recipes originating from the same region as their wine.

In addition to the arrival of the wine bar, a couple of established Oberlin businesses are moving and expanding. The Arb at Tappan Square and Doobie’s Smoke Shop, both owned by Henry Smith, recently moved locations. The Arb has moved two units down the street into the former location of Agave Burritory, and Doobie’s has moved from the basement to the main floor of the building it formerly shared with The Arb. This change helped facilitate an expansion of The Arb’s dining opportunities.

“The inspiration behind the move for The Arb was because we were limited as far as kitchen space,” Smith said. “Now we have more amenities including a walk-in freezer, a hood with fryers, and a stove.”

Since its move, The Arb has expanded its menu to include french fries, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, and fried chicken, and Smith plans to add weekly menus such as Fish Fridays and Taco Tuesdays later on. Additionally, The Arb has expanded its seating area since the move and is planning on opening an outdoor patio for the summer and hosting live music on the weekends.

“There’s so much talent at the Conservatory [and] at the College, and the kids need another venue to play outside of the College,” Smith said.

Smith hopes that The Arb can serve as a meeting place for students and community members, and he hopes to promote unity and vibrancy within the Oberlin community. 

“I’m from Oberlin and I’m proud to be from Oberlin and I just want to continue to make downtown a more peaceful and presentable place,” he said. “So that’s basically our focus as far as these businesses and Oberlin.”

Oberlin will also offer several community events with the start of the warmer season. During the summer, Second Saturdays will provide music, art, and activities in the park on East College Street. Chalk Walk will allow community members and artists to make art on the sidewalk. Finally, Big Parade is currently scheduled for May 14 and will be opened by National Teacher of the Year Kurt Russell. According to Janet Haar, executive director of the Oberlin Business Partnership, the City wants to invigorate community life to increase engagement with local businesses.

“For the most part, our businesses are doing okay,” Haar said. “You know, it’s gonna take a while for them to completely recover and it has been fairly slow. We’re hoping, because there’s so much planned … in May and June downtown, that it’ll bring more people downtown and they’ll see more business.”