On a section of East Third Street where there’s nearly as many vacant stores as occupied ones, good things are happening behind closed doors because of some local entrepreneurs.
Work is underway to give a former funeral home new life as an antiques marketplace and coffee shop.
A tire shop that closed is being cleared out and may become a pizzeria that has won over diners in northeast Ohio.
A coffee roasting operation has moved into an abandoned garage.
And a shuttered donut shop that has been collecting dust has been bought by someone who wants to reopen it as a bar and restaurant.
In parts of Dayton, big-time developers are behind the projects that are reviving formerly distressed areas.
But in the Huffman historic area, it’s some ambitious residents and entrepreneurs who are driving the revitalization efforts.
“It’s a lot of work, but we are bringing the character back to this historic building,” said Ashlee Haselby, who is helping renovate the former Morris Sons funeral home property at 1807 E. Third St.
The East Third Street business corridor, east of Keowee Street, is home to a Mexican food restaurant (Taqueria Mixteca), some service providers (U-Haul Moving and Storage, Laundromato), a few pawn shops and other small businesses including a beauty salon, a smoke shop, a gas station and a cell phone store.
But it was the opening of a bar-arcade called DK Effect last year that got some people excited that the Huffman area business district may be headed toward a more robust revival.
DK Effect, which opened in an old cell phone accessories store at 1600 E. Third St., is a popular watering hole among local residents, offering craft beers, mixed drinks and classic arcade video games and carnival-type games, like Skee-ball.
But the business also is a destination that attracts fun-seekers from across the Dayton area. Customers can order delivery from Taqueria Mixteca, whose food is one of east Dayton’s big draws.
DK Effect co-owner Tony Clark has long said he expects to make other investments in the neighborhood, including his plan to bring a new pizzeria to a tire shop close to the bar-arcade.
Hardwood Holdings LLC, which Clark incorporated, purchased the tire shop at 1528 E. Third St. for $100,300 in mid-January. Earlier this year, Clark registered the business name Gionino’s Pizzeria of Dayton LLC.
Gionino’s is a pizza franchise that has about 44 locations in northeast Ohio, primarily concentrated in between Cleveland and Canton. The closest Gionino’s to Dayton is in Mansfield, and there are no locations in southwest Ohio.
Clark, who did not return requests for comment for this story, also is the majority stakeholder of ADJ Holdings LLC.
In 2015, ADJ Holdings purchased the former Morris Sons funeral home property, which consists of three interconnected buildings on the 1800 block of East Third Street.
The former funeral home is about one-tenth of a mile east of DK Effect. The buildings, which combined have about 20,000 square feet of space, have been empty for many years.
But 32-year-old Haselby is renovating the structures with plans to create an antiques mall and coffee shop.
Haselby and Clark have partnered together on the project.
The antiques mall, which will have multiple vendors, will be spread across two structures that were once residences but were connected to help create a funeral home complex.
The antiques marketplace will be called the City Railway Exchange, a nod to East Third Street’s old rail car system.
The City Railway Exchange is targeting an end-of-summer opening date, while Haselby hopes to open the coffee shop by year’s end.
One of the closest antiques mall is Antiques Village in Centerville, which is about a 20-minute drive from the City Railway Exchange, Haselby said.
The marketplace hopefully will bring visitors to the Huffman area while capturing some of the business of the many motorists who travel on East Third, oftentimes heading to downtown from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base or vice versa, she said.
The coffee shop and cafe will have Victorian-themed furniture and tables, but the space will be decorated in artifacts and memorabilia that celebrate Dayton’s industrial history, Haselby said.
The coffee shop has brick archways and all three buildings have wood floors, exposed brick walls and the original historical windows, with divided lights. The upstairs of the coffee shop will have meeting room and a free library for visitors take or leave books.
Haselby personally expects to invest about $200,000 in the funeral home buildings, which includes other capital expenses like coffee equipment.
“When this was built, it was built pretty regal, so a lot of my work and a lot of my expense is just bringing that back,” Haselby said.
The cafe concept will be akin to craft beer bars that offer taps from multiple breweries, she said. The cafe will sell coffee products from a variety of local roasters.
One of those roasters will be Twisted River Coffee Roaster, which began operating in a garage behind the funeral home last year, after relocating from a residence near West Milton.
Owner Daniel Clayton said he is roasting about 200 pounds of coffee each week and his products are sold in Dorothy Lane Market, Dot’s Market in Bellbrook and other stores.
Clayton said he wanted to be in a space that would allow his business to grow and that was near downtown — the region’s activity center.
“Third Street is the main corridor between the base and downtown, so you are going to draw from that,” he said.
And more investment in the area is expected.
Alex Smith, 31, spent about $20,000 to buy a two-story commercial building at 1712 E. Third St. that formerly was Thackers donut shop. The shop went out of business in 2013.
Smith is the co-owner of S&S Meat, which is a barbecue food truck that most regularly is parked outside of DK Effect.
Smith plans to open a restaurant and bar in a building tentatively called “Selly’s Ditch.”
The name comes from a canal that brought financial ruin to the man who built it and who also happened to serve as Dayton’s mayor in the 1800s.
Smith said he was attracted to the building because of its historical qualities and location.
The commercial space is about 1,200 square feet, and Smith is considering opening a bar with a variety of taps and a restaurant that serves sliders or sandwiches, with a large assortment of toppings. He hopes to open a patio area as well.
“There’s a lot going on Third Street right now,” he said. “I want to be part of something cool.”
He said one inspiration is HammerHeads in Louisville, Ky., which is a gastropub and smokehouse that the city’s hometown paper described as an “essential dive” or hole-in-the-hall.
Smith said he has been assembling bar and kitchen equipment.
He also has a growing collection of Dayton-centric decorations to hang inside the business, including posters from Hara Arena, sports memorabilia and some quirky items. He said his next steps include developing firm site plans.
Realistically, he said, the business won’t open until 2019.
Clark, Haselby and other local entrepreneurs’ investments in the Huffman area, Smith said, is creating urban vibrancy and making it increasingly livable.
“Come to Huffman, put a little money into it, and you can live really well,” he said.
“Normal people are literally transforming an underutilized part of town, which is no easy thing to do,” Smith said.