Historical Buildings and Small Businesses: The Struggle


Continuing whatever South Bend is going through – whether that be a revival, renaissance or hipsterization – isn’t cheap, and it shows in some glaring ways on occasion. Clearly, the empty buildings that sit vacant, silently falling apart piece-by-piece, are an unfortunate reminder.

While downtown, it is easier to forget due to the traffic and activities at all times of the day. Some buildings have taken a harder hit than others, and it is often unclear if it is from negligent building management or poor business planning. Some buildings have had more drama and speculation than others, notably The State Theater and the J.M.S. Building.

The J.M.S. Building has historical grandeur in its marble lobby leading to the elevator and hallways. It currently houses Woochi Japanese Fusion and Bar on the first floor, as well as the Woodward Banquet Hall and The Music Village. That grandeur has been unfortunately shrouded by discontented tenants who came for the space and location and have had to deal with setbacks from the building itself. To be fair, the J.M.S. has been on the National Register of Historic Places in St. Joseph County since 1985.

The State Theater has gorgeous features, with high ceilings and fixtures, custom molding and designs on the walls. The marquee has been restored and lit up to be a gem visible in the heart of downtown, adding a certain vintage romance to the area. It has housed and shown many troupes, entertainers, groups and gatherings and has artist studios.
The paint peeling all around the interior of the theater is a sad reminder of what time and moisture does to a building that has sat for a long time without maintenance. The tough, uphill revival of the space over the past few years has been at the center of quite a few discussions, as well as some community upheaval.

The older the building, the more it shifts and settles. The more it shifts and settles, the more structural issues and updating issues it will have. Keeping up with the investment and staying ahead of that in a business sense has to be an uphill battle for landlords. That doesn’t excuse the lack of action to keep up with the battle, however, and sometimes it’s the small businesses and niche communities that suffer as they try to contribute to a space and give it more value.

With the rotating door of businesses for the J.M.S. Building (there is literally one on the entrance to the grand, marble lobby), the most recent losses of business tenants being the Main Street Coffee House, the Buffalo Wild Wings and Bicycle Gallery, it seems a quick turnover even by downtown standards.

The State Theater’s sudden management changes consistently changed events, and it is now under direct management from the company that owns the building. When landlords and the community seemingly want different things, it puts a strain on relations. To continue a revival and community oriented effort, it will be interesting to see the changes that need to be put into place to keep small businesses and good juju in the entire downtown area.

By The Preface at IUSB

IU South Bend's Official Student Newspaper

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