Story by Susannah Elliott | Photos by Sara Mosher
About 18 miles from Athens’ East State Street shopping area resides Coolville, Ohio, a village whose Main Street once knew the hustle and bustle of better times. Local downtown business owners hope their business community grows. For now, though, they are happy with the intimacy of the local commerce.
The several hundred people living in Coolville today are accustomed to traveling often to Athens for groceries and other essentials, but local antique store owner Connie Moodispaugh said it wasn’t always that way. She and her mother lived in a nearby town when she was growing up, but they visited Coolville regularly.
“We used to come here for the bank and stuff like that when I was a kid – or to stores, when stores here existed. We’d go to Ruth’s [a grocery store], right down the street there, or the service station or the Hilltop Restaurant,” Moodispaugh said.
Most of the buildings that once housed the popular stops are now empty, stagnant shells, waiting for someone to assign them new purposes.
Moodispaugh owns Carrousel Antiques, one of two antique stores on Main Street in Coolville. Carrousel and Divine Junque make up much of the downtown business, along with Village Charm, a flower and gift shop that opened in 1991. The stores breathe life into the downtown, which features little more than insurance agencies, a library, a barbershop and a bank to break up the rows of old houses lining Main Street.
John Almashy and Mike Kubisek own Divine Junque and live in the apartment underneath their antique store. Inside their shop are what look like the best items from every grandmother’s attic – retro greeting cards, antique furniture hanging from the ceiling, Coca-Cola memorabilia from every era and the best, latest additions to the inventory attractively arranged on the sidewalk outside the entrance.
Kubisek said he would like to see “another half a dozen businesses” on Main Street, but that he likes the solitude that distinguishes it from nearby Athens.
“Athens has an attitude,” Kubisek said. “I spent 23 years in a college town, so I know what that attitude is like.”
Kubisek and Almashy visit Athens together about four times a week. Kubisek said he doesn’t like the traffic and noise of the city, though, and the two find comfort in returning to their quaint village.
“The best part of going [to Athens] is leaving there, and we can go back here where it’s very quiet,” he said. “Periodically you’ll see a deer walk through the village… it’s a totally different thing. It’s small-town America – it’s Mayberry.”
About a dozen yards across the street from Divine Junque is Carrousel Antiques, which Moodispaugh runs with her mother, Frances Holsinger. The two said Coolville was a charming little village then, but not always quite as quiet as now. Moodispaugh is from Reedsville, Ohio, about 10 miles south of Coolville. Her mother lives in Little Hocking (about six miles northeast of Coolville). Holsinger and Moodispaugh spent time shopping in Coolville in the 1960s and ’70s.
“The first store I remember here was Chapman’s,” Holsinger said. “Chapman’s was kind of like a country store, and you could buy shoes and all kinds of stuff there. I guess that was why I remembered it -- because it was the closest place to buy clothes!”
Chapman’s is now what Moodispaugh calls “the big old ugly building as soon as you go out of town.”
“Well, it didn’t always look that way,” Moodispaugh said.
Not long after moving to Coolville from Florida three years ago, Kubisek and Almashy moved into a newly renovated apartment above Carrousel Antiques. Before they opened Divine Junque in August of 2008, they heard some of Coolville’s history from Moodispaugh and Holsinger, with whom the men developed a friendly relationship.
Moodispaugh said Almashy and Kubisek often came downstairs to visit with customers, help arrange window displays or show off one of their many exotic birds.
“It was kind of nice having them around here,” Moodispaugh said. “I felt more secure with them upstairs, having cars here and lights on.”
Almashy and Kubisek said they have been very pleased with the way the Coolville community welcomed them with open arms. Other business owners, in fact, were instrumental in making the couple feel more at home in the village. Kubisek said that Village Charm owner Nevis Knisely, along with her family, was very generous and friendly to them from the start.
“[People] live in these villages for a reason,” Kubisek said. “You cannot go out the back door and plant a little garden. Chances are the majority of the people in Athens city can’t talk to their neighbors, and I can talk to my neighbor on every side.”
Perhaps for this reason, when Almashy and Kubisek moved across the street and opened Divine Junque, there was an understanding that there would be no competition between the downtown stores.
Where Divine Junque contains what Almashy and Kubisek like to call “fancy junk,” Carrousel Antiques focuses more on items like glassware, elegant furniture, woven baskets and “primitive” pieces, which are not antique decorations but pieces made in an antique style.
“We don’t compete, and that’s intentional,” Kubisek said. “When I moved out of that shop, I determined that I was not going to compete with her, so I try diligently not to have anything that she has. Or if I do, it’s a result of serendipity.”
Kubisek, a retired middle school and high school teacher for deaf students, is a native of Connecticut. Almashy is originally from nearby Canaanville and runs his own DJ business, Mid-Ohio Valley DJ. After living in Florida together for several years, the two returned to the area that is “home” to Almashy, but Kubisek has fallen in love with Coolville, too.
“The people here are really genuine,” Kubisek said. “If they’ve got something to say, they’ll say it. I’ve only lived here for two years, and I have people come to me for advice.”
The friendly residents and cozy atmosphere of Coolville is usually not enough to attract business, though. The antique store owners said they run their stores more as hobbies than professions. Village Charm owner Nevis Knisely said that her shop has worked out well for her, as it is the only flower shop in a radius of about 18 miles. However, while her shop had many regular walk-in customers over the years, most of her business is now over-the-phone.
“It seems like through the years, more and more have gone out of business and shut down for one reason or another, and walk-through traffic just isn’t what it could be,” Knisely said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a good infrastructure to entice businesses to come to Coolville, but hopefully that will change soon.”
According to Moodispaugh, many prospective businesses are unable to get licenses to open up shop because of a problem with the sewer.
“There’s a couple different groups here that wanted to make like a little bistro coffee shop, but they can’t buy a business here – they won’t let them hook anything up until there’s a sewer,” she said.
The people who own Carrousel Antiques, Divine Junque and Village Charm seem to love their work genuinely. The stores support one another, and the business owners’ enthusiasm has kept Coolville commerce alive, even if the flow of customers sometimes slows to an unsteady trickle.
“The more businesses you have around you, the better you are. People won’t drive to go to one shop, but they will go if there are two or more,” Knisely said.
According to Kubisek and Moodispaugh, there is plenty of space for new business. Kubisek even said he expects a new store to open across the street, and the store owners of Main Street plan to hold a “Christmas in the Village” open house event for the holiday season.
Despite room for growth, though, the owners are content enough with things as they are. The antique stores pay for themselves, at least, and the owners enjoy meeting customers, whether they are from Coolville or visiting from out-of-state. Kubisek said that if he sells a couple pieces of furniture a month, he is happy.
"I have no desire to be any bigger than what I am," he said.
While prospective business owners wait for the sewer to be repaired, time passes, and the children who shout and ride their bikes along the quiet street grow older. The people of Coolville continue to savor the winsome small-town life, but still, they are waiting.
“There are so many people here who have so many memories, and this village is crying for a history project,” Kubisek said. “It’s crying for oral history to be done, before it’s all gone. And, unfortunately, it’s going.”