The downtown Bellefontaine renaissance of the last six-plus years is no accident.
Instead, it is the intentional work of an entrepreneurial team committed to empowering local business owners, and to creating vibrant downtown experiences for guests who patronize their shops.
Small Nation, a local real estate developer located at 130 S. Main Street, Suite 101B, Bellefontaine, brings business and a bustling downtown environment to Bellefontaine.
Throughout the past six years, Small Nation has renovated 14 abandoned buildings, attracted and launched more than 30 new small businesses and helped create nearly 200 jobs in the Bellefontaine community.
“We were the underrated town. That’s the best position to be in. Your costs are lower. You should be more willing to work with people, and there’s great building stock here,” Small Nation Founder/CEO Jason Duff said.
The entrepreneurial team will continue to offer new opportunities with three notable projects upcoming in 2020.
The Syndicate, an event center, is scheduled to open in downtown Bellefontaine at the 213 S. Main St. lot occupied years ago by Jackson’s News Stand.
It will serve as a boutique event venue and outdoor entertainment destination, specializing in weddings, corporate events and private parties, according to syndicatedowntown.com.
“Whether planning a corporate meeting, your next social gathering or the wedding of your dreams, you’ll enjoy our flexible spaces, experienced staff, and gourmet fresh food,” according to the Web site.
The Flying Pepper Cantina also is slated to open this summer in downtown Bellefontaine, located at 137 W. Columbus Ave. The building was the former site of the House of Szechwan and prior to the Palm Grill.
The restaurant, owned by Humberto Nieto and Laura Haverkos, will offer “authentic Mexican cuisine with a modern twist, alongside (a) beautiful lounge and bar,” according to a release.
The pair founded popular Flying Pepper food truck in 2015, and made regular stops at the Logan County Farmers’ Market and also took part in many events and stops in Urbana, Yellow Springs and Springfield. The Flying Pepper will continue to operate the truck for special events, but plans to make its main focus the new brick and mortar cantina location.
“Local food and farmers will continue to be a cornerstone of our business, “ Humberto said in a release.
“We couldn’t be more pleased and excited to be working with such great operators and a type of food and experience that is missing in our downtown,” Duff said.
“Having a variety of unique tacos, small plate appetizers, tamales and a wide variety of unique cocktails and tequilas will be a welcome and unique addition to the downtown restaurant scene.”
In addition, there are plans for a co-working office space concept for 139 to 141 west Columbus Avenue, with more details to be announced in early 2020.
Some other well-known Small Nation success stories that can be found on its website include:
• Anytime Fitness, 210 W. Columbus Ave., which had been an empty space for 25 years prior to Small Nation’s purchase of the building in 2018 for $21,000 and investment of $1.25 million in renovations;
• City Sweets & Creamery, 222 S. Main Street, which opened in 2015 in what was once an empty storefront for more than eight years prior to Small Nation’s purchase of the building for $40,000 and investment of $300,000 in renovations; and
• Hickory Medical Direct Primary Care, 208 W. Columbus Ave., which is housed in a building that had been vacant for five years, purchased by Small Nation in 2015 for $19,000 and redeveloped into a medical facility over the course of four months costing $275,000.
Small Nation has also assisted in the openings of Brewfontaine, 211 S. Main Street; Bella Vino Events and Wine Room, 112 S. Main Street, Suite 2; and Native Coffee Co., 200 W. Columbus Ave.
With the transformed and thriving downtown business and restaurant scene, downtown Bellefontaine has also earned the reputation as a destination for specialty food, drinks and shopping, with many visitors making more than a 30-minute drive to the city, Small Nation representatives related.
“It’s pretty obvious when you look at how full the streets are and also where the license plates are coming from,” said Hayley Palmer, owner of Peach Tree Boutique. “We love seeing and serving all the new out of town guests and telling them about all of the other places to shop and things to do while they are in town. It’s really working.”
The commitment to help re-invigorate downtown Bellefontaine emerged after years of watching industry and business leave town.
As storefronts were shuttered and young talent moved out-of-town, the Small Nation team engaged their “Hustle Hard Approach. This process involves purchasing and renovating historic buildings; actively recruiting potential tenants for those spaces; partnering with promising suitors as equity partners; and designing and promoting sustainable success strategies for those businesses by creating strong brands, welcoming and engaging interiors and marketing the business offerings through billboards and websites.
“Investing in the buildings is just the first step,” Small Nations representatives said. “Once the buildings are ready, we needed tenants. The big stores won’t come to small towns (and who really wants them anyway, right?) so we actively recruited smart, talented individuals from our small town who are full of ideas and energy.
“They had the ideas and the willingness but didn’t always have the funds, so in order to fill storefronts with quality merchants, we filled the gaps the banks left behind by becoming equity partners with our tenants. We invested our own time, money and energy to help get small businesses off the ground.”
These strategies transcended basic real estate development in order to tap into the potential of downtown.
The Small Nation team also are sharing their Hustle Hard Approach with other small town developers, entrepreneurs and municipalities across the country to help reach the same kind of revitalization success Bellefontaine has achieved, representatives said.
They currently offer the mastermind consulting program for groups, and a Do-It-Yourself online training program called Small B*School, featuring downloadable lessons, videos and workshops designed to help small businesses and small-town entrepreneurs learn how to start, revive, grow and thrive. Additional information is available on the team’s website, https://smallnationstrong.com.