Swanton Small Business Owners Appeal to Village Council for Help
Julia Benfield of Benfield Wines and Cat Kania of CK Sweets, Swanton small business owners and active members of the Swanton Small Business Association (SSBA), spoke before the Swanton Village Council last Monday night asking the members for help in bringing other businesses to the downtown area to boost the local economy and support the existing businesses on Main Street.
Both Ms. Benfield and Ms. Kania have experienced the Council’s rejection of Mayor Neil Toeppe’s initiative to form an all-volunteer Economic Development Commission several times to the point where Council President Craig Rose will no longer allow the topic to be placed on the Council meeting’s agenda and were appealing to the Council to find another option to help the struggling downtown businesses.
“We would like to re-open the conversation about what the Village can do to help support the businesses,” said Ms. Benfield who spoke first. “We would like some ideas about how maybe some of the Village’s ordinances can be changed to help new businesses coming in, similar to what Delta is doing, similar to what Grand Rapids is doing. And we can look at some of those other villages to see what they are doing to bring businesses in and mimic or emulate some of that.”
Ms. Benfield, who works full-time as a nurse in addition to running the business with her husband Rob, told the Council she and her fellow SSBA owners have been working very hard to build up business in the downtown area and have done relatively very well but are struggling under the weight of the pandemic impact on the economy. “I know the Economic Development (Commission) has been a bone of contention but we need to figure out something else to do to hype businesses to Main Street and other parts of Swanton as well,” she explained.
One idea Ms. Benfield suggested was establishing a DORA (Designated Outside Refreshment Area) in the downtown area to bring in people from outside the community similar to what other communities are doing. “That brings a ton of businesses into town,” said Ms. Benefield.
Ms. Kania, who is also a Master Sergeant in the Ohio Air National Guard stationed at the 180th Tactical Fighter Wing at Toledo Express Airport, spoke next and informed the Council that not only do potential customers living in the surrounding communities not know of downtown Swanton businesses, many Swanton residents remain unaware of what Main Street has to offer and believe local businesses only exist on Airport Highway. Before she and her husband Derek opened CK Sweets they spoke with Village Administrator Rosanna Hoelzle and then mayor Ann Roth about what the Village was doing to help local businesses.
“We came and spoke with Rosanna and the previous mayor and we were told that ‘Way Finding Signs’ were something they wanted to do. To put on Airport Highway to point, ‘Hey, Benfield Wines is this way, Posh Pallet is this way,’ We haven’t seen that. We haven’t heard of anything like that happening,” said Ms. Kania relating one of the reasons they chose to open their business in Swanton. “That is something that could help us. This community is super supportive. They want to help us. They want us to stay open but we need your support too.”
Generally speaking, most of the Council members seemed receptive to the requests from the two business owners, several ideas were discussed and there appeared to be a sense of cooperation developing. However, that changed after Mr. Rose spoke on the issue. “So, your assessment, the way everything is right now, it’s impossible to run a successful business on Main Street? Is that what we’re looking at?” he asked. The reaction from the two speakers was quick and pointed. “I don’t think anybody said that,” countered Ms. Kania. “Nobody said that. That’s not at all what we said,” added Ms. Benfield. “There are ways to run a business on Main Street in the current atmosphere. I’m just asking,” said Councilman Rose.
“We’ve all been working really hard. There were things that were put forth before that the Council talked about doing and all we’re doing is asking to revisit those things,” said Ms. Benfield. “I think we want to do that,” said Mr. Rose. “Yes, we do,” said Councilwoman Kathy Kreuz. There was no further discussion on the issue and no official statement made for the record when the issue would be revisited.
Pictured: Julia Benfield speaks to Council with Cat Kania