Editor's Note: During the past few decades, cities across the nation have experienced an exodus of commercial businesses from their downtown areas. The Kokomo Tribune is looking at how four Indiana cities are attempting to revitalize their downtowns to attract retail businesses and increase pedestrian traffic. The series will look at Marion, Noblesville, Anderson and Kokomo over the next month.
MARION — During his 30 years doing business in downtown Marion, Barry Lobbell has seen local retail outlets close or relocate, and the future is not looking any brighter.Marion, like most cities throughout Indiana and the nation, has watched as its downtown has lost its place as the shopping district for the community.The courthouse square in Marion is dominated by financial institutions, attorney offices and vacant buildings.Downtown has become the home of the arts community in Grant County with dance studios, a civic theater and fitness centers populating storefronts.There are no restaurants located on the courthouse square, there is one tavern and another tavern and a Mexican restaurant are within several blocks.“I’ve seen a lot of changes in the downtown area,” Lobbell, the owner of Jerry’s Leather Shop and Shoe Hospital, said. “Downtown changed when the Northgate Shopping Center opened. When they revised the Marion bypass and made it wider, more businesses located there.”With the growth of Indiana Wesleyan University, businesses shifted to the south side of the city.“I never considered moving,” he said. “I own the business and we’re trying to stay here. The downtown businesses don’t see the foot traffic they once had.”A lot of Lobbell's business comes from the local legal and banking community and he has customers from throughout the state who bring their shoes for repair.
Main Street Marion is a group tasked with promoting downtown, Lobbell said.