JACKSON TWP. — The story on retail business has been about brick-and-mortar storefronts being killed by internet sales.
Then there is Rita Hritz, who has been selling specially designed pillows, rugs, coasters and other household goods via her LaughingGirlDesign.com website for years. She has an Esty page, as well as Facebook and Instagram sites.
The internet is where Hritz started but a shop is her next move.
Laughing Girl Design is one of the vendors at Blended, the newest tenant at Belden Village Mall. The store opens on Friday, and a grand opening is anticipated later in August.
It’s the second location, and the store’s full name is Blended — Locally Owned and Operated in Ohio. The initial location opened last June at the Aurora Farms Premium Outlets southeast of Cleveland. Jennifer and Colin Smith, who have Buckeye Blends, partnered with Ayanna Cooper and Kisha Stanley, who have Sugar & Scrubs, to create a storefront for multiple craft businesses.
Colin Smith described Blended as a “sort of small business incubator” where people dedicated to their craft can showcase their products.
When the Aurora Farms location opened, there were 11 vendors. The store now features more than 30 vendors from throughout the region.
Jennifer Smith said the Belden Village location, near the center of the mall next the to Macy’s entrance, will have more than 20 vendors. She believes the spot is large enough to accommodate 30 vendors.
Shoppers can find specialty food items, household goods and decor, and clothing at the store. Everything comes from an Ohio small business.
Hritz, who is from Mentor, said her home decor items evolved from a sewing hobby. It was therapy and offered escape from her full-time career as a ultrasound technician. Many of her designs highlight the region, for example pillows that list the names of each city, village, township and cross roads in Stark and Summit counties.
“People want something from their hometown,” Hritz said. While she sells items online, there have been benefits setting up in a store.
When she started Buckeye Blends, Jennifer Smith sold her varieties of imported balsamic vinegar and olive oil at farmers’ markets and craft events. Likewise for Cooper and Stanley, who make scrubs, soaps, moisturizers and lotions.
When the Smiths began considering a storefront for Buckeye Blends, they realized that maybe the store should include a wider variety of products. They shared the idea with Cooper and Stanley, which led the partnership.
Jennifer Smith said she considered several shopping malls as potential sites for a second storefront. She liked Belden Village Mall’s location, its management team and some of the changes coming to the complex, including the addition of a Dave & Buster’s entertainment center.
Retail shopping is shifting, Jennifer Smith said. Malls are evolving into places that offer more than convenient shopping. Strong malls are becoming destinations that feature entertainment, restaurants and specialty shops.
“The malls that don’t change, unfortunately they’re going by the wayside,” Jennifer Smith said. “I knew this [Belden Village] would be a really good fit.”
Smith said the new location will feature some Canton-area vendors, but she hopes to see more. Products from Ohio Tea Co., which has a shop at 5569 Fulton Drive NW near Lake Cable, are available at both Blended locations. Mueller Honey Bee and its locally sourced honey from New Franklin in Summit County, will be available. Another is NOSH Butters, which make a variety of nut-based butters in Cuyahoga Falls.
“I think people love to support locally made products and we want to make that as easy as possible for them,” Jennifer Smith said.