When city officials talk about creating interest and investment in the downtown, Mark Kennison is one man who has listened.
Kennison, a business administration major with a minor in entrepreneurial studies at Washington & Jefferson College, opened the Upper Crust Italian Bistro on the corner of Main and Maiden streets and, a few months ago, the Italian Market a few doors away on South Main Street.
While portions of the center city of Washington remain stagnant, South Main Street has seen a number of new businesses creating additional foot traffic in that area.
“We never thought the South Side would be the one to develop,” said Virginia Ullom, a former city councilwoman.
Main Street manager Pete Stefansky said the area has been successful largely because it appeals to a previously underserved population, namely students at Washington & Jefferson College.
It has renewed interest in the downtown.
“We have some people who are looking very seriously at the city right now,” he said.
Kennison admitted other business owners told him not to bother trying to attract students into the downtown because it would not work.
But Kennison, 29, created connections with the college, making donations whenever a club is raising money for charity and holding special college nights at the Upper Crust.
He has noticed increased business from faculty and students.
“They know it’s a place where they feel part of our family,” he said.
His father operates the deli at the Italian Market, which also features coffee, homemade desserts and gelato and an expanding breakfast menu.
Kennison said they have eyed other buildings for possible redevelopment, always with the goal of creating positive environments where people can connect and socialize.
He believes local businesses will best be supported when upper floor housing is created. He also hopes to see the region’s history reflected in those structures.