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Revitalization Slow On 161 In North Columbus

  The area near State Route 161 in North Columbus is undergoing a change.  Faced with competition to the north and south, many businesses have closed.  Residents and business owners are looking for a rebound.  The recently renovated Morse Road offers them hope. Traffic flows on Route 161 in Northeast Columbus, but there are fewer reasons for drivers to stop to shop here or eat a meal. Over the past decade, 14 restaurants have moved out along the stretch of 161 between Ponderosa Drive on the east to Worthington on the west.  Dave Cooper chairs the 161 Task Force. “The businesses that have left, the sit-down restaurants went to either Polaris or Easton or Hilliard specifically, and one of them went to Gahanna, the Olive Garden," said Cooper. Now, Cooper says smaller restaurants catering to West African, Indian, Asian, and Middle Eastern appetites are open.  Cooper owns a printing business known as the Ink Well.  It’s been at Beechcroft Centre for more than a decade.    He says neighboring businesses come and go. “The occupants of the 17 businesses that are in here a lot of them change all the time.  They just constantly changing, changing, changing. So that sounds like its unstable then, like people can’t make it go? No I think it’s just a sign of our times.  I really believe.  The good news is that the center is still here,"  Cooper said. So is Sabri Ismael  who owns and operates the Salam Market and Bakery at Emporium Square down the road from Beechcroft.  He admits it’s not easy to stay in business. “Some months we don’t do nothing, some months we lose, but we have to survive, we have to struggle to keep the businesses up," said Ismael. While 161 struggles, just to the south Morse Road is seeing a renewal thanks in part by help from city hall. Long-time resident Thom Nelson gets discouraged when he sees development happening nearby on Morse Road. “I understand why they’re putting the revitalization on Morse Road and I hope it works, but I kind of get the feeling that with all of the other areas around here like Easton and Polaris, just a lot of the businesses like to move over there because that’s where a lot of the foot traffic is," said Nelson. The city is reaching out to find out how it can help.  161 business owners need to agree to a development plan and they have not been able to do that.  Morse Road owners did. At the Saturdays hair salon, stylist, Ashley Robinson says she sees fewer walk in customers. “I just don’t want anything else to close, because you know we do still live in this area and it’s not fair to us," said Robinson. Robinson used to shop at the Kroger store at Emporium Square near Cleveland Avenue.  But, it closed in July after losing more than $1 million dollars over 4 years. About 90 workers were reassigned to other Kroger locations. Columbus retail consultant, Chris Boring says commercial development on 161 in Northeast Columbus may be different in the future.  Boring says new residents, many of them immigrants, don’t make as much money. “I don’t think retail is going to be the answer for 161, and I’m not sure what the answer is.  I think 161 is a planner’s nightmare.  It was built for the automobile,â€? said Boring. Business owners say little things also drag the area down.  Dave Cooper says the city of Columbus only cuts the grass four times a year. Still, the Task Force is working to attract new businesses outside of retail. “What we’re doing is we’re trying to create uses that don’t require massive amounts of parking but they offer services to our residents that they need like Ashland University, National Business College, Ohio Business College, dental offices," said Cooper. In spite of the area’s setbacks, some business owners continue to have a positive outlook.  Sabri Ismael. “I always optimistic, always, because when you’re doing good business, it doesn’t matter where your business is,â€? said Ismael.