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Best of the Best Hometowns 2019–20

We celebrate our 2019–2020 Best Hometown honorees by sharing some of the interesting and fun discoveries we made during our visits.

GALLIPOLIS

2-in-1 Shop: When you step inside the doors of 300 Second Avenue, you have a decision to make (and you can’t go wrong either way). Head left for Lucky Cat Design Co.’s fun T-shirts and apparel celebrating Gallipolis’ corner of Appalachia. Or, turn right to browse The Potted Edge’s beautifully curated selection of houseplants. Since 2018, the two-in-one shop has occupied a prime downtown spot, just across the street from Gallipolis City Park — an arrangement struck after Lucky Cat Design Co. owner Elisha Meadows-Biland and The Potted Edge co-owners Wendy Canaday and Lori Clary outgrew their home-based businesses. “The landlord allowed us to split the space and let us have a great place on Second Avenue and share the cost,” says Meadows-Biland. “It gives people extra reasons to come in, we think. … Plus, we love our view.” The two businesses even have a second two-in-one storefront in Huntington, West Virginia. “We told them about what they let us do here, and they agreed,” adds Canaday. 200 Second Ave., Gallipolis 45631, 740/208-5084, luckycatdesignco.com, pottededge.com 

DIY Signs: Homey signs with clever or inspirational slogans are everywhere, but Boardroom 46 offers the opportunity to customize your own — and make it yourself. Located in the former ballroom of a 1927 hotel and easily identifiable by the strings of white bulbs hanging above the doorway out front, the do-it-yourself sign shop along Gallipolis’ Second Avenue allows customers to get their creative fix six days a week. “Monday through Saturday, you can stop in any time and paint a project,” says manager Christina Jagers-White. “You just show up.” The business, which falls under the umbrella of Patricia Rawlinson Designs, was the natural outgrowth of a stencil business and a sign business the company was already operating. For those who want to make a party of it, an upstairs mezzanine can accommodate 20. “We have bridal showers, birthday parties, retirement parties — all kinds of fun stuff,” Jagers-White says. 300 Second Ave., Gallipolis 45631, 740/794-1046, boardroom46.com

Garden Party: The French Art Colony is just down the street from the Our House Tavern Museum, which served Gallipolis’ original 500 French settlers after they arrived in 1790. The home that houses The French Art Colony was built in 1855 and was the residence of three different local doctors until the Holzer family — for whom Gallia County’s local hospital system is named — sold the property to be used as a multi-arts nonprofit. “We’re an art gallery, we’re an educational center for visual and performing arts and we do community events and weddings,” says Maggie Jackson, educational director for The French Arts Colony. During the summer, those events include a weekly Thursday evening concert series among the fountain and gardens outside the residence. Housed under a white pavilion, the $5 concert series offers a casual dinner for an extra $6 and a cash bar. 530 First Ave., Gallipolis 45631, 740/446-3834, frenchartcolony.org


HAMILTON

Historic Home: One of only 400 octagonal structures in the United States, the Lane-Hooven House is a striking feature in Hamilton’s German Village Historic District, with its charming Gothic Tudor elements and impressive interior craftsmanship. Built in 1863 as the home of Hamilton industrialist Clark Lane, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open weekdays for self-guided tours. The Lane-Hooven House continues its legacy of philanthropy, having housed the Red Cross during and after World War II and now the Hamilton Community Foundation, which offers grants and scholarships for social and health issues, education, revitalization and beyond. “We think it’s kind of a cool coincidence that the Hamilton Community Foundation wound up in Clark Lane’s house,” says John Guidugli, president and CEO of the Hamilton Community Foundation, “because he was reported to be one of Hamilton’s first philanthropists.” 319 N. Third St., Hamilton   45011, 513/863-1717, hamiltonfoundation.org

Public Art: A bird soars across the side of a multiple-story parking garage, providing a backdrop to Hamilton’s Rotary Park and showing the power of the city’s StreetSpark mural program. “I feel like that’s such an uplifting mural,” says Jennifer Acus-Smith, StreetSpark program manager. “It’s simple … [and] it was done at a time that Hamilton was starting to take off and starting to blossom.” A collaboration between the Fitton Center for Creative Arts, the city of Hamilton and the Hamilton Community Foundation, StreetSpark unveiled two large-scale murals in 2016 and has gone on to complete three each year since, starting in the central business district and now moving into city neighborhoods. The program was created not only to beautify the city but also help local artists making a living from their work. “We try to put the artist in the driver’s seat,” says Acus-Smith. fittoncenter.org/streetspark

Painting at InsideOut Studio (photo courtesy of InsideOut Studio)
Inclusive Art Studio: InsideOut Studio got its start in 2009 as workshops at the Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities. It’s since grown into a full-time studio and gallery for about 50 artists with disabilities, allowing them to live, work and learn within the community. The studio opened in downtown Hamilton in 2016 and offers space to work in artistic mediums such as glass, clay, paint and more. For some artists, the studio is a creative outlet that complements the way they earn a living. For others, art is their main pursuit and source of income and each receives 50 percent of all pieces sold. “We’re not just advocating for people with developmental disabilities,” explains art education coordinator Stephen Smith, “I’m personally advocating for the fact that an artist is a valid vocation and a way to make a living.” 140 High St., Hamilton 45011, 513/857-5658, insideoutstudioart.com    



HARTVILLE 
Bloom Hill Farm, Shannon setting out sunflowers (photo courtesy of Bloom Hill Farm)
Flower Stand: On Judd and Shannon Allen’s first date, they talked about their mutual desire to own a farm. Years later, their dream has become Bloom Hill Farm, a residential property that’s also a specialty cut flower farm. Among the goats and chickens you’ll find their main attraction: the Bloom Hill Farm Flower Stand. The roadside booth stocks a variety of fresh flowers grown on-site and stored in the couple’s garage turned walk-in cooler. The drive-up stand operates on the honor system and provides locals with seasonal blooms ranging from rose-like ranunculus to a diverse selection of dahlias. “One person put in $3.30, and they came back the next day and put the difference in,” says Judd Allen. “We live in a nice area, [a] nice community, where we haven’t had any issues … every once in a while, we’ll [even] get someone knocking on the door who needs some change.” Open May–October; 10475 Hoover Ave. NW, Uniontown 44685, 330/417-0700, bloomhillfarm.com

Vintage Shop: If retro treasures and nostalgic finds are your thing, Modern Vintage is a must-visit shopping spot. Opened by founder Tara Wiederman, the housewarming hub in downtown Hartville is run by multiple owners who staff the shop for a day each week, while helping scout the mix of antique and classic finds and overseeing the shop’s active Facebook page. Items are posted online almost daily for customers to browse, so you can get a feel for the shop’s selection before you ever visit. But be forewarned: If you see something you like, buy it. The beautiful woven baskets, charming coffee tables and rustic-looking rugs move quickly. “Most of it’s going to be vintage,” Wiederman says of the shop’s inventory. “We have a lot of antiques, but if there’s something cute that’s not in that category, we still get it anyway.” 110 S. Prospect Ave., Hartville 44632, 330/256-6790, facebook.com/trwmodernvintage

Heritage Park: Quail Hollow Park, located a few miles from downtown Hartville offers trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, but it also provides a glimpse into the history of the community. The historic home located there once belonged to Harry Bartlett Stewart, who founded the Akron Canton & Youngstown Railroad with the help of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. founder F.A. Seiberling. “The Seiberlings and the Stewarts worked together to get that railroad company started,” says Trevor Householder, education programmer at Stark Parks. “They wanted to make profits off of getting their Goodyear products out of Akron.” Today, the 703-acre park features a nature center, two gardens and the main attraction for those interested in history: the Stewart manor house. Originally built in the 1800s and finished in 1929, the tours highlight the home’s formal living room, grand bedrooms and secret compartments, offering a window into the wealth Stewart generated. 13480 Congress Lake Ave., Hartville 44632, 330/477-3552, starkparks.com/quail-hollow-park


FREMONT

Jail Tour: Peggy Courtney, executive director of the Sandusky County Convention & Visitors Bureau, always feels a bit melancholic leading the Historic Jail and Dungeon Tour beneath the Sandusky County Courthouse in Fremont. From 1842 to the mid-1850s, the dungeon-like cellblock jailed prisoners charged with crimes ranging from murder to petty theft. “When I visited as a teen, the sense of foreboding overtook me,” Courtney says. “Today, about a thousand tourists a year take that trip back in time and appreciate even more that we live in this century.” Each of the dozen 8-by-10-foot limestone cells was lit by a candle or lantern. “There are only a handful of dungeons like these left in the United States,” Courtney says. “Thankfully, this important piece of our history has been preserved.” Tours are scheduled periodically year-round and begin at the Sandusky County Commissioners’ offices,  622 Croghan St., Fremont 43420, 419/332-4470, sanduskycounty.org  

PB&J Burger (photo courtesy of The 818 Club Restaurant)

Creative Burger: Step inside The 818 Club Restaurant, and you’ll get a sampling of life in Fremont. Sports fans grab a beer from among the 10 varieties owner Greg Kohler has on tap and watch basketball, while families gather for the burgers and chicken tenders from the kids menu. “Since it opened in 1962, this has been a community gathering place,” says Kohler, who bought the restaurant with his wife Deb in 2017. “Everybody likes eating out where the owner says ‘hi.’ ” Kohler spent 22 years teaching high school math before deciding to change careers. He and Deb frequented the restaurant, and when the owner retired, they took the helm. New entrees include the PB&J Burger, a bacon cheeseburger topped with peanut butter and strawberry jam. “The staff thought I was nuts,” Kohler says. “But they tasted it and knew we had a winner.” 818 Croghan St., Fremont 43420, 419/334-9122, facebook.com/kohlers818club

Easter Baskets: Coco Beans Candy and Cupcakes made 1,200 5-ounce milk chocolate bunnies and 300 8-ounce rabbits last year, many of which became the stars of the shop’s meticulously crafted Easter baskets. “We sell hundreds every year,” says owner Donna McNemar. “I think their popularity is due to the fact we make the chocolate right here and customize each basket exactly the way you want it. Grocery stores and drugstores just don’t do that.” In addition to rabbits and chocolate eggs filled with coconut or peanut butter, McNemar also makes novelty items, including graham crackers dipped in chocolate and decorated with a bunny face. Although most of the baskets McNemar sells are made of wicker or cardboard, the piece-de-resistance is her edible chocolate basket that, when filled with candy, weighs in at 1 pound. But small-time spenders will also find something to love. “Even if customers have only $2.50,” she says, “they’ll find something special here.” 116 S. Front St., Fremont 43420, 419/332-0420, facebook.com/cocobeanscandy


NEWARK     

Soda Shop:
 Steps away from Newark’s Canal Market District, you’ll find Tim and Liz Argyle’s Market Street Soda Works. The couple transformed what was formerly a storage room for a nearby business into an inviting tasting room where visitors can order one of the root beers or other sodas on tap or choose from around 180 varieties of glass-bottled sodas from across the country. “My husband had always just loved root beer,” says Liz. “When he was in college he was broke like every other college student, but he would always go home with a six-pack of this one root beer in bottles.” (That brand, Henry Weinhard’s Root Beer is among the selection of flavors available.) The shop is open seasonally, coinciding with the hours of the Newark Farmers Market (Tuesday and Friday evenings June through September and Friday evenings in May and October) as well as some Saturdays. 14 E. Market St., Newark 43055, 740/877-6417, marketstreetsodaworks.com

Music Venue: Tom Atha’s Thirty One West offers the sort of music-club experience one expects to find in larger cities. Add the fact that the inviting upstairs concert venue is housed in the heart of Newark’s downtown and you begin to understand the allure even more. “There was a lot of plaster to rework in this space but also a lot of pieces that were here that we could build up from,” Atha says of the 1902 dance hall that spent much of its existence as a furniture store showroom and then an event space before going dark in 2010. Atha purchased it in 2013 and opened Thirty One West three years later, hosting regional musicians, nationally touring bands and legacy artists alike. “We have quite a diversity of music here,” Atha says. “We do other kinds of events, too, but our passion is music.” 31 W. Church St., Newark 43055, 740/258-6002, thirtyone-west.com 

Newark Skatepark, Person Doing Skate Trick (photo by Garrett Martin)
Skatepark: The Newark Skatepark opened this summer, bringing an incredibly fun attraction to the city’s youth as well as spectators who only dream of being able to sidewalk surf like the best of them. California-based Spohn Ranch — an industry leader in skatepark construction — created the 15,000-square-foot centerpiece for Newark’s revived Everett Park, which also has an adjacent playground, dog park, community garden, picnic pavilion, public restrooms, baseball fields and disc golf course. “[Downtown Newark’s] Canal Market District was about revitalizing Newark and the downtown area, but what we realized is our efforts had to trickle out to other parts of the community,” says Jennifer Roberts, administrative director of the Thomas J. Evans Foundation, which along with the Gilbert Reese Family Foundation provided a total of $2 million funding for the park. “We had a lot of athletic fields, but we were really missing an opportunity for our skaters.” 170 Everett Ave., Newark 43055

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