Bill Etzinger, manager for Nickolas Asset Management, works on the exterior of the former Ben Franklin store in downtown Findlay. A cafe, bank and high-end apartments will move into the space this year. (Photo by Lou Wilin)

By LOU WILIN

STAFF WRITER

A downtown building that’s been vacant for about 10 years has new life: a cafe and bank on the first floor and four high-end apartments upstairs.

The Main Street space between Logan’s Irish Pub and Japan West has been rebuilt by Nickolas Asset Management of Findlay, which is owned by downtown investor Nick Reinhart. It formerly was Gaslight Gifts, and before that, Ben Franklin.

Since it became vacant, the 7,100-square-foot space at 408 S. Main St. has drawn its share of lookers and potential investors in recent years. For years there were no takers.

Back then, Jeff Stratton, now chief operating officer and president of real estate for Nickolas Asset Management, was a banker. In those days, he walked several potential investors through the property.

“Everybody had the dream on what they could do,” Stratton said. “But every time I would walk somebody through it and we would start getting quotes together, the quotes would just balloon and balloon and then it would become unattainable.” That changed about a year ago when Reinhart stepped up. His business obtained a building permit in early 2019 to rebuild the structure for an estimated $400,000.

“It sounded like a fun project. It was an eyesore and I was willing to take the gamble on Findlay doing very well and people wanting these storefronts,” Reinhart said. “The good thing is, we’ve got these storefronts leased out already.”

The Baker’s Cafe, now on East Sandusky Street, will be moving into the southern storefront in March and State Bank will later move into the northern storefront.

Upstairs are “Gaslight Lofts,” four high-end apartments, each with skylights, granite kitchen countertops, two bathrooms and walk-in closets. Nickolas Asset Management also went to lengths to ensure that neither the apartment residents nor the businesses downstairs would be affected by their neighbors.

“We put a bunch of money into soundproofing and air exchange and sun dampening so that you can’t hear people really walking around upstairs in your private spaces, and in your commercial spaces down here and vice versa,” Stratton said.

Reinhart expressed total confidence in his big investment.

“It definitely was an expensive project, but the project is going to cash-flow nicely when we’re done. It’s going to look nice and it’s going to cash-flow nicely,” Reinhart said. “Findlay’s just a great community. If you have a nice building or you fix something up, and you do it the right way, typically you’ll do well on it.”

“I wasn’t concerned about making the investment in Findlay,” he said.

Dreaming big has sweet payoff for The Baker’s Cafe

By LOU WILIN
STAFF WRITER

The Baker’s Cafe, formerly on Sandusky Street, will soon be moving into what had been vacant space on South Main Street between Logan’s Irish Pub and Japan West.

For Lisa Allen, who bought The Baker’s Cafe nearly six years ago, it’s a dream come true.

“Kind of running with the big dogs, in a way, to be on Main Street,” Allen said. “Hopefully we become more of a household name in Findlay.”

Toward that end, Allen will be adding donuts to the menu. Some will simply be regular donuts, but at least one, a stuffed donut, will be more like a dessert: glazed or sugar, it will be split in two, and between the two halves will be homemade whipped cream and glazed, fresh strawberries.

Allen is adding more extensive offerings to her lineup of baked goods, and soon will be selling cakes ready made.

With 1,700 square feet on South Main Street, nearly triple the space she formerly had, Allen’s cafe will have double the seating.

Besides the front entrance from Main Street, The Baker’s Cafe will have a back entrance off the alley between it and St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church. That back entrance will make parking spaces on Crawford and Sandusky streets as close as those on Main Street, Allen said.

Maximizing parking is a concern for any downtown business, but Allen has a particularly keen appreciation of it. For the first two years Allen had the business, parking spaces on Sandusky Street were a rare commodity with downtown improvements and Marathon Petroleum undertaking its $100 million-plus expansion.

Allen and The Baker’s Cafe survived the street closings, traffic delays and backups.
But more challenges came as The Baker’s Cafe grew in popularity and Allen expanded the business’s offerings, bumping into constraints at her “tiny little space.”

“We had a lot of times where customers would come in and have to leave. They had planned to sit and stay and eat their lunch, but there was no seating available, so they left,” Allen said. “You hate to see business walk out the door.”

“It happened often enough that I started thinking that this is something I need to look at,” she said.

After years of searching for a larger space, she was tipped off on the availability of the storefront in the 400 block of South Main Street.

“It’s kind of funny. I’ve always thought my dream place would be on Main (Street) in that general area,” she said. “And now it is. So, it’s kind of freaky in a way.”

“I’ve literally had dreams that we were moving to that area in that block on that side of the street, like, almost even the same layout.”

“So the fact that it’s actually happening is” — she laughed — “it kind of makes you believe in some kind of, you know, psychic power,” she said. “Just, anybody can make things happen if you work hard enough. Maybe that’s what it is.”

But even with The Baker’s Cafe heading to Main Street, where it’s running with the big dogs, it’s no cakewalk for Allen.

“There’s always the guesswork. There’s obviously going to be the higher rent, higher expenses, with the larger space, brand new space like this. So, you’re always worried about, ‘Are we going to make enough money to warrant this?’” Allen said. “You’re making projections. You’re looking into your crystal ball and hoping you’re right. That’s probably been the most challenging.”

She plans to use the bigger space to host special events, receptions and parties.

“The options are limitless,” she said. “The expenses are greater, but the opportunities also are greater.”

louwilin@thecourier. com

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