“This is the place I went to see Santa Claus. This is where I got my tux for the prom, my cutaway for my wedding,” said emcee David Noble, recalling how Herman Freedlander’s friendliness permeated the store.
“It is my hope that it pervades this very soil so that we’ll have the same kind of friendliness in all of the establishments…and condominiums that are part of Merchants Block,” said Noble.
“We already have the most vibrant downtown of any small town in the state of Ohio, but it has had a hole in it and this is the hole. Merchants Block is going to fill that hole and make Wooster an even better and more exciting place to be.”
Noble noted that in addition to providing significant retail and commercial space in downtown Wooster, the complex will “make available 12 condominiums for downtown living, which has become an important part of the vibrancy of downtown Wooster.”
Mayor Bob Breneman also joined in what he characterized as the celebration of “the rebirth and the continual growth of our downtown.”
Clad in a suit he purchased at Freedlander’s just four years ago, Breneman recalled the 2008 meeting on the second floor of the store when Stan Gault shared the news that the store would be closing.
Before Breneman could fully take in the news, Gault and developer Mike Rose unveiled the plans for the new mixed use development complex on the Freedlander’s site that would evolve into the Merchants Block building.
“Here we are four years later,” said Breneman, noting that the new building “is going to be an amazing…anchor to our downtown.
“We’re excited for the future,” said Breneman. “Two years from now I hope to be back in this same spot eating in a restaurant or buying merchandise from a store.”
Gault also looked back on his decade-long association with one of downtown Wooster’s most iconic buildings.
He recalled meeting with Rose shortly after purchasing Freedlander’s in 2000 to begin discussing the possibility of developing the property.
From those early discussions the concept for a 30,000-square-foot, three-story building with 10,000-square-feet of commercial space on street level and upper story residential space comprised of 12 customizable 1,700-square-foot lofts began to take shape.
According to Gault, to date Merchants Block LLC has already sold two of the dozen condominiums and has secured an agreement for half of the space on the first floor which “will be occupied by a very highly regarded restaurant from Media, Fairlawn and Akron – House of Hunan.”
Gault noted that thanks to support from a host of government leaders and members of the business community, “we’re here today to celebrate Merchants Block, a concept that was designed but now it’s ready to go.
“Although it took over 10 years to reach this day I think it was certainly worth it,” Gault added.
“This is a tribute to what can happen when community leaders come together,” said United States Congressman Jim Renacci. “Without their vision and their stewardship it is likely that Merchants Block would not be taking its first steps toward construction today.”
Renacci noted that he was pleased to be a part of the groundbreaking ceremony for “what I am confident will be a significant boost to the downtown Wooster economy.”
“Merchants Block may sit on the space once occupied by Freedlander’s Department Store, but I really believe it will be the standard for Wooster’s downtown in the 21st century,” said Renacci.
Published: October 26, 2011