Some people might think Jason Levine has terrible timing. With years of experience under his belt, Levine, who grew up in Painesville, decided to take out a one-year lease for his grocery store, Local Flavors Shoppe, after a successful run as a pop-up shop for the holidays. The new store officially opened just weeks before the worldwide pandemic struck.
“Who would open up a new store during a plague,” he jokes. “We opened up in February, and then things went sideways in the world.”
But there is a good explanation for Levine’s sense of humor: His business is thriving.
“We are doubling our original projections,” he says. “In retail grocery, you need to adapt on the fly — we are providing a website, curbside service and mail orders. I just sent orders to Oregon and Georgia.”
Levine says he has shipped items to 21 states so far and credits social media for this success. His shop, which specializes in local, small-batch and artisanal goods, is located at a popular intersection in downtown Painesville. Everything he sells is sourced from within 150 miles of the store.
Although Levine’s experience is not the norm, it represents a renewal that city leaders, business owners and residents are experiencing in the city of Painesville.
Cathy Bieterman, economic development director for the city, says Painesville residents are choosing local and supporting their small businesses and neighbors.
“I walk into downtown stores and hear customers talking about how important it is to have these local businesses,” she says. “There is an increasing sense of neighborhood evolving on our main street. We are seeing stronger support.”
She points to other local merchants who came through the last few months with creative solutions in response to community needs. One local bakery sold so-called “naked baking products” like raw pizza dough and cookie dough that customers could take home and finish in their own kitchens. The local yoga studio went live online and drew a strong following. And the town’s florist has seen an uptick in sales from people sending flowers in lieu of in-person visits.
Joy Severa, executive director of the Downtown Painesville Organization, says residents appreciate the investment the small businesses are making in their city and believes people would rather purchase in Painesville.
“They are supporting the community, and the community is being drawn back to them,” says Severa. “Creativity is a necessary part, and the great community response shows how they value these services. I have been so impressed with how the business owners have pivoted.”
Severa says she does not know what the future holds, but one thing is certain.
“Things will not look the same, but the creativity we have seen will continue,” she says. “And our community will support that with their patronage.”
Levine also sees a bright future for his grocery store and hopes to eventually expand.
“This pandemic has prompted people to buy local.” he says. “There is a paradigm shift nationally that is reflected here in Painesville.”