HARTVILLE: Power tools and hammers are still in evidence at the former Hartville Hardware store despite the retailer’s westward move in April to larger quarters on state Route 619.
The property, at 940 W. Maple St., has been purchased by GentleBrook, formerly known as Hartville Homes, a nonprofit organization that serves individuals with developmental disabilities, and the Hartville Thrift Shoppe, a resale store benefiting the Mennonite Central Committee.
Stephen Dowding is among some 56 clients employed in the northeast corner of the building. He assembles such products as benches, tables and corn hole games.
“This is probably the best workshop you can work at in this area,” said Dowding, 31, of North Canton. “Everybody here is super nice.”
Cindy Lewis, 58, of Canton, is an embroiderer, practicing an art she learned from her mother. She enjoys the work so much that she takes it home, where she can work on it while watching television.
She might create a piece without knowing whether it will become part of a pillow, a quilt or framed as art.
The workshop is filled with sounds of drills and hammers, punctuated by an irrepressible laugh and softened by the undertones of quiet conversations.
After a few minutes with these employees — who once might have been “put away” in institutions — their workplace seems as normal as any.
That is part of the reason GentleBrook moved its GentleWorks operations from nearby Sunnyside Street to the village’s busy commercial strip.
“It’s our belief that by having an area such as what will be the GentleBrook Centre up here, is that our clients are going to be in contact with larger and more diverse communities as we partner with the other organizations that will be occupying the building,” said Norman Wengerd, chief executive officer of GentleBrook.
“That being the case, it will give our clients more opportunities to connect with other people to establish lasting friendships and relationships,” he said. “Our foundational belief is that all human life is a sacred gift and is most fulfilled in community with others and, therefore, that leads to our mission statement, which is to connect people with community.”
The 6.3-acre property has been divided into commercial condominiums.
GentleBrook paid $1.2 million and is using 63,456 square feet of the building. The Hartville Thrift Shoppe bought 26,757 square feet; the price has not posted with the Stark County auditor.
The thrift shop formerly occupied a 10,000-square-foot building farther west on Route 619. Five churches operate the store to raise money for the Mennonite Central Committee, which provides emergency relief and development assistance in poor countries.
The old space required the volunteers who staff the store to walk up and down stairs, said Phillip Stauffer, who serves as executive director of both the resale store and GentleWorks, the employment division of GentleBrook.
The new 26,000-square-foot store, which opened Sept. 10, features a one-level sales floor. Its fresh gray carpet was installed by volunteers, the same labor force that moved the operation to new quarters.
Located inside the thrift shop is the Front Porch, a store selling the furniture and decorations that GentleWorks clients produce.
Front Porch sales have increased since the move from Sunnyside to the more visible location, according to Keith Doren, director of day programs for GentleWorks.
FISH ministry moves
Faithfully I Serve Him (FISH), a cooperative project of Lake Township clergy, will occupy about 1,800 square feet at the rear of the former hardware store.
GentleBrook is donating the space, but FISH will pay its own utilities. The ministry helps the poor with food, rent and utilities.
Kami Sommers, volunteer director of FISH, said she has been running the organization from her home. Maplegrove Mennonite Church, one of 19 supporting churches, has been providing space for the food pantry.
The new space, being remodeled by volunteers, will allow FISH to affiliate with the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. As a result, donors will be able to obtain more food because they will pay lower prices. At present, FISH relies on donations from people who buy groceries at retail stores. Recipients will be able to choose their food in much the same way as they would in a grocery store. Food will be offered to people outside of Lake Township.
Both the thrift shop and FISH might provide employment opportunities for GentleWorks clients.
Other plans include turning a former greenhouse into a working plant nursery, Wengerd said.
An area adjoining that space is to be converted into an event center with the capacity to hold 300 guests for receptions, banquets and other community gatherings.
The space the workshop occupies is envisioned as a cafe that would be open after 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. “because there is not much you can do in Hartville after that,” Wengerd said.
He hopes the cafe can become a gathering spot where young people can socialize in the evening, while interacting with GentleWorks employees.
Social and recreational opportunities might be provided to a wide range of age groups in a rear warehouse, which Wengerd envisions as a potential site for basketball, volleyball and shuffleboard courts.
GentleBrook plans a grand opening for its new building in November.
John Martin, director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, will be the keynote speaker at a ribbon-cutting, dedication and dinner Nov. 9.
The public is invited to a free fall harvest festival and holiday craft bazaar from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 10.
Nancy Molnar can be emailed at email@example.com.