Holiday shopping? Main street is the place to be.

Back in the 1960s, holiday shopping was a special affair, an excursion to a stately downtown department store perhaps with its decorated windows and fancy tearoom for lunch.

Then came the mega-malls of the ‘70s and ‘80s, followed by the more-recent trend of turning to big-box outlets and impersonal online retailers.

Ultimately, though, something has been missing. People longed for the satisfying “experience” of a special shopping day. Browsing with a friend. Chatting with store owners. Waving to passers-by. Perhaps stopping for coffee or lunch.

And that’s why Main Street is back in style, according to Professor Kevin Ernst, a business management professor who specializes in entrepreneurship at Ohio Northern University. He explains that in a small town, the downtown area can be an economic stepping stone when the right mix of retailers exists.

“With the right city planning, downtown’s ‘main street’ can create that classic shopping experience that’s both relevant

and personal,” he says. “It establishes an inviting downtown where people can spend the whole day, whether they live in the community or make it a destination as a visitor.”

Downtown Bellefontaine, he adds, has designed the right mix

by building and attracting a community of entrepreneurs who own shops, restaurants, coffee shops and more. They not only sell goods … but also have pride in their establishments and offer the personal touches customers value.

The Fun Company is just such a spot. “All of the toys we sell are hand-picked by us,” says owner Mandy

Entrepreneurs in Bellefontaine come in all sizes! Eight-year-old Ellie, daughter of The Fun Company owner Mandy Osterfeld, wished there was a store where kids could shop for their grandfathers. So she and her mom built The Grandpa Store, which will fill a corner of the shop this holiday season. Ellie says she spent a lot of time finding just the right items to sell, from fuzzy blankets and slippers to books, tools and even peanut brittle.

Osterfeld. “We travel all over the country to find the latest and greatest in educational toys and games. Our products are specially ‘curated’ for this community, reflecting the needs of the people and schools. Plus, I’m a mom too, so I can relate to what people are looking for.”


The store, she adds, has a “concierge nature to it. We give our customers special care and attention, and listen to what they need.”

For instance, if a customer comes in looking for a gift for a 6-year-old granddaughter who loves crafts, “We can help them pick out something that will knock it out of the park, a gift that will be the perfect choice for her. We know our products inside out and love helping people find just the right thing.”

Her store was founded in the 1980s by a teacher; Mandy purchased The Education Station two years ago and has expanded to now offer a wide range of toys, games and puzzles that are educational in nature.

“Instead of carrying all the mass-marketed items, we offer a lot of things from small, independent sources and international favorites,” she says.

Likewise, Amanda Staas offers items based on customer feedback at her clothing and accessories store, Hanger Boutique. “I try to stock really unique items – some handmade, some locally made,” she explains. “Our customers really love super-soft fabrics – that’s what we’re known for. Pieces that are buttery soft that look great on and also are super comfortable.”

Both purveyors give a big shout-out to downtown Bellefontaine.

“I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” says Mandy. “We live downtown too. I just love being in the middle of it all, and downtown Bellefontaine is where it’s at.”

Adds Amanda, “It has a small town feel but the entrepreneurs here have big-town ideas.” The shops may be unique and independent, but they don’t have a “little” mindset – she says they all work together to create an inviting destination.

“We’re absolutely pulling people in from other areas who want to shop our local businesses,” she adds. “They can enjoy the whole experience. It’s easy to park and easy to walk around. You can come downtown with friends and family, visit our unique shops, and do lunch. It has a great vibe and makes a really nice day!”