It's surprising to learn that Ron Larson wasn't born and raised amid Avon's small-town charm and history. As owner and creator of Olde Avon Village in the city's French Creek District, Larson has invested close to $600,000 in the last two years to transplant two 1850s structures and reinvent them as shops for antiques, gifts and collectibles.
A transplant for eight years himself, Larson, 45, is originally from Indepen-dence. His passion, aside from owning and operating the Tree House Gallery and Tea Room, is creating Olde Avon Village, a tribute to Avon in the 1850s, when it was primarily a German village. The area, off Detroit Road, will soon be five structures strong.
"We create a sanctuary here for old buildings," says Larson, who lives in Avon Lake with his family. "It's my project and I'm totally absorbed in it. I'm married to it."
Last summer, Larson orchestrated reconstruction of the 1851 Blackwell Barn that had been disassembled in Fredericktown, Ohio, and moved to Avon. The 4,000-square-foot barn has been restored and renovated and will hopefully be rented by June, Larson says. In summer 2002, he moved the Lewis House intact from Center Road and retrofitted it to suit a new tenant, Details, an upscale gift shop.
Olde Avon Village (www.oldeavonvillage.com) is also home to French Creek Fiber Arts and Heritage Train and Hobby. Larson's gallery and tearoom are in the village's centerpiece, a Georgian-style brick farmhouse. Inside, shoppers can search for antiques, folk art and collectibles and enjoy a light menu of wraps, quiches, desserts, salads and soups, plus Sunday brunch. The small tearoom seats only 38 and is only open from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., so customers usually call (440-934-1636) for reservations.
A Cleveland State University grad with a degree in business administration and a former operations manager at a paper company, Larson says history has long fascinated him.
"I always loved restoring antiques, and then one thing led to another," he says. "As you start to restore these properties, you learn more about the area and you want to preserve more of the flavor."
As the fastest-growing community in northern Ohio, Avon is struggling to balance the new with the old, Larson says. He and his wife and business partner, Kim, want to do their part. They're eyeing two other buildings in Avon that are in jeopardy of being demolished, hoping to move them to the village within the next year.
"Success comes in many forms," Larson says. "It doesn't have to be economic; it can just be the completion of one of the buildings, or just someone saying that you have really done a good job and we appreciate the effort."
He says he thinks Avon residents will appreciate his preservation efforts eventually.
"They might not see it now," he adds. "They might see the buildings as junky, worthless, but I think every building has to at least be looked at for a second chance of life."