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    Olde Town East: The Merchant’s Role in the Columbus Neighborhood Revitalization

    Olde Town East is emerging as a focal point for revitalization efforts in Columbus. For the past 20 years the city has been making investments to improve the area and in the last decade, the increase in public – private partnerships has resulted in significant transformation of the near east side.

    The Merchant is one of projects that has drawn significant attention, restoring a piece of the neighborhoods history and transforming one of the original center points of the community into a beautiful three-story shared office space and event center, maintaining the historic integrity of the property for future generations.

    The Merchant isn’t just a business venture; for co-owners Melissa Dickson and Danielle Rohrbach it’s a testament to their commitment to preserving history. The duo aimed to create a space rich in history, choosing Olde Town East for its historical charm. Dickson emphasizes the area’s allure, stating, “People are investing back in this area. The homes are being revitalized to their maiden form. We want to honor and contribute to that effort.” 

    “We received graciously a historical tax credit that we were able to apply back to keeping the integrity of the space. This financial boost allowed us to restore the building authentically, from the walls to the windows.”

    Josh Lapp, Founder of Designing Local, is a resident of the neighborhood and a previous tenant of The Merchant.  Designing Local played a critical role in the development and design of The Merchant and provides a unique perspective on the neighborhood’s transformation. 

    “This was the first historic tax credit, at least in my professional career, on Main Street and a transformative project for the neighborhood,” Lapp says. “The Merchant paved the way for new residential developments and small businesses. The neighborhood’s coalescence into a walkable community, where people can meet their daily needs and connect with neighbors, is a direct result of recent developments like The Merchant and I’m proud to have been a part of this project.”

    Over the past two decades, the city has strategically invested in the area, blending old and new Columbus. Infrastructure projects, such as repairing brick and alley roadways, streetscape improvements, pedestrian-oriented lighting, and enhanced bridges, have made Olde Town East more walkable and connected. Public-private partnerships have renovated historic buildings, fostering mixed-use retail and residential developments. And the projects continue… including the development of the Fran Ryan Center, a new senior creative campus, exemplifying the city’s dedication to building value in the neighborhood.

    City of Columbus Deputy Director of Jobs and Economic Development Quinten Harris views The Merchant as a positive development that aligns with the city’s goals. He notes that The Merchant was a crucial project that helped restore a historic building while enhancing the surrounding area. The collaboration between private entrepreneurs like Dickson and Rohrbach and city initiatives has contributed to the overall elevation of Olde Town East.

    The Merchant’s transformation extends beyond its physical space; it has positively impacted the business and the community. The front of The Merchant has evolved, attracting more business and creating a buzz in the community. Dickson notes, “It’s definitely affected our business in a very positive way. We have waiting lists for our small offices. We have events that are constantly reaching out.”

    Its success also reflects the broader trend of Olde Town East becoming a hub for diverse businesses. Other enterprises, like The Que Studio, Simakovsky Law, and The Ethan in Main, have joined the wave of investment in the area since 2018. Dickson envisions a collaborative future, stating, “We would love to continue to grow here in the space and potentially in other areas of Columbus. We want to collaborate more with businesses on Main Street and just help share that energy.”

    The Merchant is just one example that highlights the positive transformation of Olde Town East. Collaborative initiatives between private businesses, like The Merchant, and the City of Columbus demonstrate the potential for revitalization to create inclusive, mixed-use neighborhoods. As Olde Town East continues to evolve, it serves as a beacon of inspiration for other communities seeking to blend the old with the new and build a vibrant, connected future.