BARBERTON, Ohio — When COVID-19 took over, reality was anything but a fairytale for Curt Griffin. The long-time store manager considered high-risk.
“I had lung cancer a decade ago,” Griffin explained.” I was taking shelter at home because I didn’t have a choice with my lung capacity.”
His health was under attack by the same virus that forced his store, Stuff Genie, to close temporarily.
“We were really just getting ahead of steam,” Griffin said.
The comic and collectible shop is one of 29 small businesses nestled in downtown Barberton.
“You see regulars every week you know, and they become your friends and some even become extended family.”
But things have changed. Since the pandemic, downtown Barberton is now considered a ghost town. its merchants association has been hearing from businesses non-stop who are struggling to get folks in the door.
“I would imagine we’ll see more closings,” said Councilwoman Joyce Coburn.
Coburn serves as the president of the Downtown Barberton Association and is a downtown business owner herself.
“I know I’ve lost about $9,000 over the eight months and I’m sure the liquor and restaurant industries have lost a lot more than that,” she said. “We as an association did a lot of things to raise money and bring people downtown and with the governor’s mandates, we had to cut back on that.”
The cut in foot traffic is what pushed Ignite Brewing Company into commercial canning to quickly make ends meet.
“We changed our business plan,” Megan Slater, a partner with Ignite Brewing Company, said. “It was constant adjustments and then you’d figure that part out and then another change would come…there’s always that if we get a couple people to come down they can see the changes, they can see the steps that are being taken and they’re going to spread the word.”
After hearing their stories of survival, Barberton librarian Mary Kay Ball came up with an idea inspired by another library’s effort to get its community active.
“Books can take you places,” she explained. “We could put book covers in the different businesses and set people off on a scavenger hunt.”
Using a list of clues, Ball explained how residents can search downtown looking for matching book covers from a diverse group of authors found in the windows of small businesses. The idea, she says, “is to say hey this looks like a good place let’s go in and see what they have.”
The scavenger will start Sunday, Nov. 1 and last throughout the entire month. This year, 10 businesses are participating and offering discounted products and services just in time for the holidays.
“We needed to keep our small shops here and to help with the Barberton economy,” Coburn said. “The people that don’t want to go to the big box stores [and] don’t like the crowds that are there this gives them an opportunity to see what they can do locally.”
Anyone wishing to participate in the scavenger can ask any participating business for a scavenger hunt sheet to get started. Once all book covers are found, residents will turn those sheets in at the Barberton Public Library and be entered into a drawing for prizes. For more information, contact the Barberton Public Library.