When the doors open to the first store at the Portage Crossing shopping complex in Cuyahoga Falls at 9 a.m. Saturday, April Wilson will be marveling at the difference between her new store and what used to occupy the land.
Wilson, general manager of Pet Supplies Plus, the first store to open in the much-anticipated project, is a Cuyahoga Falls resident who remembers the ailing former State Road Shopping Center.
“I remember the shell of Montgomery Ward … and the plaza odds and ends,” said Wilson, who moved to the Falls as a young adult in 2002.
“It’s nice to see something go up that’s very modern,” she said, adding that several of her 15 employees are also Falls residents who are happy to be able to work close to home.
The city purchased the 26-acre strip mall — minus the outlots, which were not deemed blighted — for $10 million in 2008 and tore it down.
The $60 million, 20-acre project at State Road and Portage Trail will include such anchors as Cinemark on the north end with 10 of what Cinemark calls XD screens, an LA Fitness, Pet Supplies Plus and Giant Eagle’s upscale Market District on the south end. Four more buildings facing Portage Trail will house several stores and restaurants.
The tentative timeline for the stores and venues is:
• Chipotle: early November.
• Starbucks with drive-thru: mid-November.
• Best Cuts: mid-November.
• Burger FI: late November.
• Giant Eagle’s Market District: early December.
• Cinemark: Dec. 5.
• Huntington Bank: mid-December.
• LA Fitness: mid-December.
• Planet Subs: December.
• GNC: Early January.
• Aladdin’s: January.
• AT&T: mid-February.
• Fashion Nails: spring.
The developer, Stark Enterprises, is holding off on a grand opening celebration until the spring, after more stores have opened. The project is about 90 percent leased, officials said.
Said Robert Stark, president and chief executive officer of Stark Enterprises: “We created a new main street, a vibrant commercial district and a beautiful place for fun and entertainment for all the residents of Cuyahoga Falls.”
Falls Mayor Don Walters, who was on City Council for 12 years prior to winning election as mayor last fall, said Portage Crossing has been a long time coming.
“Obviously, there were a lot of bumps in the road, but now it’s finally come to fruition and opening,” he said of the project — which has stirred some controversy due to heavy subsidies and rebates for developer Stark Enterprises.
The project will be “a catalyst to that whole area,” said Walters.
“It’s just going to be a shot in the arm for the whole area,” he said.
In addition, the home improvement store Menards, which will break ground in the spring for a spring 2016 opening on land currently occupied by Giant Eagle on Graham Road, will also bring customers to the region, he said.
Walters said he’s been pleased with the aesthetics of the Portage Crossing project.
“The attention to detail is beautiful from the street lights to the park benches,” he said. “It just makes you want to come there and spend the day.”
Walters said city officials will be watching traffic patterns around the project and — especially along Portage Trail — to see whether traffic light cycles need to be changed to help with traffic flow.
Here’s a little more detail about a few of the stores:
Pet Supplies Plus
The nearly 10,000-square foot pet store has a variety of food and supplies for pet lovers — from rawhide dog treats to a green-and-yellow sun conure bird that retails for $600.
“We have something for every budget and every nutritional need,” said Wilson, the store manager for the Livonia, Mich.-based chain. For instance, there are gluten-free, grain-free and vegan formulas for pet food. Special orders can also be made to have specific food or products delivered to the store on a regular basis for customers, Wilson said.
The store features a grooming salon, which will take appointments and walk-ins, and a self-serve dog wash area, which costs $10. The store will also be partnering with the Pawsibilities program of the Humane Society of Greater Akron for dog and cat adoption events at the store, said Wilson.
The store also sells tropical freshwater fish and plants as well as small creatures such as mice, guinea pigs and reptiles.
Portage Crossing will be the site of the first Ohio location, and the first store opening east of St. Louis for the Kansas City-based Planet Sub.
Aaron Shoemaker of Columbus has purchased the franchise rights for Summit County and part of Cuyahoga County, north to the Interstate 480 corridor. He also has the rights of first refusal for franchise rights for the rest of Cuyahoga and Franklin counties.
Shoemaker, whose wife, the former Lesa Ryan and her brother, Steve Ryan, grew up in the Akron area, got hooked on the Planet Sub concept after he and Steve tried a sub.
“What they offer is like nothing else in this area I’ve really seen,” said Shoemaker. The stores make their bread from scratch and offer a variety of made-to-order subs and will also have a full liquor license with beer on tap, said Shoemaker.
Steve Ryan of Bath Township, who has extensive restaurant management experience, will serve as general manager of the Falls store and then will manage future stores as they open — with the intention of being the district manager.
Shoemaker said there are no immediate plans for other stores until the Falls store is ready in December.
“Cuyahoga Falls is going to be our test market. If it does well, we’ll buy up the rest of the territory,” said Shoemaker of his company, Rymaker Enterprises LLC.
The Planet Sub will be in the middle of the second building facing Portage Trail on the south side (immediately next to Ohio Savings).
Shoemaker said the development appealed to him and Ryan because of its “walkability.”
The food-lovers’ Market District is on track to open by early December, officials with the Pittsburgh-based grocer said. The 103,000-square-foot store will feature a full state liquor agency with more than 2,600 wines, 800 beers and 800 spirits, a bar and several eating areas, including an upstairs balcony and outside eating area.
Made-to-order food will include an Asian wok, pizza, sandwiches and hot gourmet foods.
The store will also feature a Sweets Shop with gelato, a bakery with fresh-baked artisan breads and two pharmacy drive-thru lanes.
“Giant Eagle has a long tradition of serving the Cuyahoga Falls community. We are thrilled to be a part of the world class Portage Crossing development created by Stark Enterprises, and look forward to introducing area customers to a new world of food in December,” said Rob Borella, Giant Eagle spokesman.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ.