Cuyahoga Falls -- A vision of what part of the city's downtown could become was on display during the first-ever Falls Better Block last weekend.
The event, according to Laura Petrella, CEO of the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce, represented the start of the "revitalization of our downtown. It's here. There's no denying that we're on the cusp of something big."
"You'll be amazed at what happens to this whole corridor down here," said Mayor Don Walters to the crowd during the kick-off ceremony at the north fountain on the Front Street pedestrian mall Aug. 26. "It's going to be transformed. This is the kick-off thanks to you, because it is going to change and it's going to put us on the map. It's a new day in Cuyahoga Falls and you're a big part of that."
An event organizer echoed Petrella and Walters' sentiments.
"With the plans the city has in the works for Front Street, I'm confident this is just the beginning of a beehive of activity, 24/7/365, it's going to be wonderful," said Kyle Kutuchief, Program Director of the Knight Foundation, during the opening ceremony.
The Knight Foundation facilitated a grant given by Torch Bearers to support the Better Block initiative along the Front Street mall between Portage Trail and Stow Avenue Aug. 26 and 27.
City Council in July approved legislation connected to the city's plan to turn the Front Street pedestrian mall back into a two-way street open to vehicular traffic. A boutique hotel is also scheduled to be built on Front Street near Portage Trail.
More than 30 businesses participated in Better Block, including eight food and drink vendors, seven Wiki stores/businesses, three pop-up businesses, eight night market vendors and eight farmers' market vendors. Some of the businesses participated in both the night market and the farmers' market.
There was also live music, activities for children, a dog park, a beach plaza setting, kayaking trips, bike lanes, a pop-up theater for children and adults, fitness classes and yoga classes all situated along Front Street between Portage Trail and Stow Avenue.
"It was so exciting seeing the community come together this past weekend and enjoying what the Falls Better Block had to offer," said Getta Kutuchief, co-chair of the Falls Better Block committee.
Throughout the two-day event, approximately 3,000 people strolled along the riverfront, visiting local vendors to purchase beeswax candles, hot sauce, jewelry, clothing or succulent arrangements, according to an event news release. Others chose to purchase popsicles or iced coffees to keep cool.
A large quilt created by Cindy McFarland of Harps & Thistles hung from the walkway leading up to one of the parking garages. Stitched on the quilt was the message: "I love Cuyahoga Falls." This set-up is known as a "yarn bomb," according to event organizers.
"We had so many great activities downtown, like kayaking, yoga, face painting and letter writing to show love for the city," Getta Kutuchief said. "My hope is that the community comes together to have these activities every weekend."
Falls Better Block committee co-chair Samantha Coldwell added she was happy to see so many community members during the gathering downtown.
"I really enjoyed seeing both new and familiar faces exploring the riverfront," Coldwell said. "It was nice to see people mingling with the vendors and watching the performers during all hours of our event."
The participating businesses were pleased with how the event unfolded, according to Petrella.
"The vendors that were down there from the night market to the day market all seemed to do very well," said Petrella. "They were very pleased with the exposure."
She added some of the Better Block vendors are interested in opening storefronts on the Front Street pedestrian mall.
"They wanted to [open stores]," said Petrella. "This really just gave it a lot of credibility for them, that the potential is there / They saw it, they felt it and got great feedback and new customers."
Aaron Hervey, owner/operator of Crave Cantina, was one of the business leaders who experienced the potential the area offered. Crave Cantina is setting up shop at 2097 Front St., formerly the site of the Firehouse Grille and Pub. He said when he met with city officials about establishing a business downtown, he was asked if he wanted to participate in Better Block. Crave Cantina was one of the pop-up businesses selling tacos and Latin fare during the event.
"I thought it was a great event," said Hervey in an email to the Falls News-Press Aug. 31. "I think there should be more events like this / The response was overwhelmingly good from Falls citizens. I could not believe how many people had already heard about Crave Cantina."
Andy Taray, owner, designer and printer with The Social Department, said his business is planning to set up shop at 1707 Front St. in the same building that will house HiHO Brewing Co. Taray noted both The Social Department and Ohioboy Art & Design (which is part of The Social Department) will operate from the space. The Social Department sold T-shirts during both the night market and the farmers' market at Better Block.
"There will be wide sidewalks with room for some outdoor merchandise or art displays and outdoor patios will be strategically placed," said Walters to the Falls News-Press Sept. 1."