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Hilltop Business Association Board Members Featured in Dispatch

October 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Featured, Local News, Uncategorized

Retail still missing on Hilltop

Rich Riley has cut hair on the Hilltop for four decades. He grew up there, graduated from West High School and still lives in the Westgate neighborhood.

“I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I wouldn’t work anywhere else,” said Riley, 59, who runs Style Quarters on W. Broad Street.

But what about attracting new businesses to the area? That has been a problem for the Hilltop for years.

A Family Dollar is going up on W. Broad, but no full-service grocery stores are in the works. Dirty Frank’s opened this year just west of Hague Avenue. But that’s about it for new restaurants.

That’s why the Hilltop Business Association recently hosted a meeting with experts to talk about ways to bring in businesses, specifically retailers.

“I think there’s a misperception that there’s not a viable market in the Hilltop area,” said retail analyst Chris Boring, principal at Boulevard Strategies, who presented some information at the meeting.

“Generally, when people think about the Hilltop, they think of poverty, they think of crime. Those are issues. The market opportunity outweighs those problems.”

Some of the research he presented:

• More than 28,000 people live in a 4-square-mile area.

• More than 900 employers are in the trade area, with 9,900 employees, including 5,300 government workers.

• The Westgate neighborhood is a middle-class enclave with 4,500 residents with a median household income of $56,000. That creates a market for more sit-down restaurants, a microbrewery and coffee shops.

But more than 85 percent of the $220 million in retail spending by Hilltop residents is done in areas outside the Hilltop. Boring said it should be more like 30 percent.

“Hilltop residents are forced to leave the area,” he said.

Dirty Frank’s, at 2836 W. Broad St., made a splash when it opened in February and quickly became a neighborhood favorite. After some growing pains, business has been steady, said Elizabeth Lessner, the Columbus restaurateur who chose the Hilltop for Dirty Frank’s second location because the neighborhood’s potential attracted her.

“The people on the Hilltop are so eager for new business,” Lessner said. “What surprised and delighted me is how warm and welcoming and how organized this community is.”

Boring said some niche businesses could succeed there.

“I think there are opportunities for children’s clothing, shoes, (and) toys, games and entertainment for kids. The second opportunity is for more restaurants — three or four more restaurants.”

But there are hurdles to overcome, he said. One-third of the Hilltop’s households are occupied by single-parent families, and the average annual wage is $30,850, less than the citywide average of $46,100, he said.

His information also showed that the neighborhood saw an 87 percent increase in the number of vacant housing units between 2000 and 2010.

Nancy Rhynard, economic-development chairwoman for the Hilltop Business Association, said small-business owners on the Hilltop need to work together to boost business.

Cleve Ricksecker, the executive director of the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, spoke at the meeting and pointed to the buzz around Franklinton as inspiration for the Hilltop.

Although Franklinton remains a distressed neighborhood, he said, things are happening there, from the artists’ colony at the 400 W. Rich St. arts complex to Land-Grant Brewing Co., set to open on Saturday.

“If people perceive that a neighborhood is on an upswing, they will invest regardless of the current conditions,” Ricksecker said. That was true in the Short North in the 1980s.

Riley said he remembers growing up on the Hilltop in the 1960s, when his mother was a manager at the Biltmore Restaurant on thriving W. Broad Street.

That’s a distant memory now. But Riley said former Hilltop residents still come back to see him for a haircut.

“If there was a good restaurant here, they would do the same thing,” he said.


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