7 Sees: Businesses breathe new life into downtown Bellefontaine

7 Sees: Bellefontaine

BELLEFONTAINE — If you go back just one decade, Bellefontaine dealt with the struggles many small towns experience. Vacant buildings and empty shops painted a grim picture of the downtown.

That all changed when Jason Duff, and his team at Small Nation, set out to create Ohio’s most lovable downtown.

Duff felt bringing life back into the heart of Bellefontaine would start with a restaurant, so he pursued a nearby pizzeria. Brittany Paxton, the current owner of Six Hundred Downtown, and the original owner, Michael Shepherd, took a risk that has had a big payout for the community.

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“When we pulled in I kind of questioned what we were doing here because the town was a lot more desolate than it is now,” Paxton said.

The risk would pay off.

Once the dining culture was established the expansion and growth began. 38 historic buildings were renovated into upscale lofts and penthouses as well as new spaces for future businesses. When they couldn’t recruit tenants, Duff explains, “We started the businesses ourselves.”

Craft beer was something Duff felt was missing in the area. Enter Brewfontaine, the 4-time top rated craft beer bar in Ohio. By investing in themselves, other entrepreneurs began noticing. Now downtown Bellefontaine is home to 30 specialty retail stores and over 24 newly renovated upper floor lofts.

Even with the challenges of a global pandemic, new businesses continue flocking to this vibrant local economy. The owners of Brewfontaine opened an upscale restaurant called The Syndicate this summer. Other businesses owners like Sammie Ropp and Melanie Hancock plan to open their doors to their smoothie shop, Hi-Point Nutrition soon.

“I’m super proud and it’s really a team effort,” says the Mayor of Bellefontaine, Ben Stahler.

Duff adds, “That energy, that life, that passion... It started with renovated the historic buildings, but now there’s a whole ecosystem of entrepreneurs doing amazing things.”