Lindenwald looks to revitalize 'to see empty storefronts filled'
Just north of Fairfield in Butler County, on the southern edge of Hamilton, you'll findthe historic neighborhood of Lindenwald. WVXU's Tana Weingartner takes us to this re-emerging gem in our latest installment of the community storytelling initiative, Round the Corner.
Hamilton is Ohio's 11th largest city. Formerly an industrial town, it's been reinventing itself with small businesses. That includes plans for re-energizing the shopping and businesses corridor through its most populous neighborhood, Lindenwald.
It's a sunny afternoon as a window washer shines up the plate glass along Pleasant Ave in Lindenwald's historic business district. There's a gas station, a small boutique, a variety store, a wedding chapel and wedding supply store, and a combination diner and religious gift shop.
Debbie Doerflein has owned Heaven Sent for nearly 28 years. She also operates a banquet hall, does flower arranging — pretty much everything wedding related along this stretch is hers.
"God told me to go to Lindenwald and be a light, and that's what I've tried to do for 27 years," she says. "We've gotten close to a lot of the kids... got to be kind and loving to even the people over there at the bar when it was here. Made a lot of friends and tried to keep Lindenwald alive because it was very dark when we moved in 27 years ago."
Back then the local industries had shutdown or moved away — choosing highway access over the nearby railway — and small business couldn't compete with chain and big box stores. Over time, Doerflein and her husband became part of the fabric of the neighborhood — helping with community events and expanding their businesses.
Now, Hamilton is looking to do that as well by investing in a neighborhoods initiative, physical improvements to infrastructure and buildings, and trying to revitalize Lindenwald's commercial areas.
Brandon Saurber lives in Lindenwald and is Hamilton's director of neighborhoods.
"The city has recently stepped in and bought some properties that are part of the core downtown Lindenwald business district," he says. "We are currently working through the process of trying to get those properties reactivated."
One of the biggest projects sits just across the street from Heaven Sent. The Shuler & Benninghofen Woolen Mill was built in 1893. The close proximity to the railroad made it an ideal location and the red-brick structure eventually became a community landmark.
Hamilton recently signed a $20 million development deal to convert the mill into 100 one-bedroom apartments along with about 10,000-square feet of retail space.
"The developer Bloomfield/Schon has done tremendous historic adaptive reuse projects throughout Greater Cincinnati, including the American Can Factory in Northside, and the Peters Cartridge Factory in Warren County," Saurber explains.
The developer is applying for state historic tax credits so work isn't starting just yet, but it still has people in Lindenwald excited.
Frank Downie is chair of the local community council called People Reaching Out To Others: Celebrate Our Lindenwald, or "Protocol" for short. He's lived in the neighborhood nearly his entire life and remembers the days when you could get everything you needed without leaving Lindenwald.
"There were times there were doctors, dentists, lawyers, sporting goods stores... I think Lindenwald in general was home to 15 or 16 little mom-and-pop meat markets at one time," he remembers. "I'm not really looking for those same kind of businesses to come back. I would just like see those empty storefronts filled with sustainable, meaningful businesses."
He lists small eateries, a dry cleaner, and a small grocery store with fresh produce and meats as examples of what he'd like to see.
The city of Hamilton has already purchased some of those storefronts and is looking to get them filled.
Heaven Sent owner Debbie Doerflein's properties are on the market, too. She lost her beloved husband, Dave, unexpectedly in February. She says it changed her life drastically — half of her feels gone and she, like the neighborhood, is preparing for something new.
"I hope that it does wonderful. I love Lindenwald. I was raised in Lindenwald. I hope that the Shuler & Benninghofen Mill gets all the attention that it deserves. She's a grand old lady. It's a great neighborhood with a lot of people that care about it and I just want to see it shine," she says.
"It deserves to shine — the whole business district."