Wednesday, March 21st, 2007
By Janie Southard
Downtown St. Marys could get new restaurant
  ST. MARYS - The city may be getting a downtown restaurant if, after further study, a Celina restaurateur gives the go-ahead.
At the city's Community Improvement Corporation luncheon Tuesday, John Irmsher, owner of CJ's HighMarks restaurants in Celina, Sidney, Troy and Greenville, presented an overview of necessary elements for starting a restaurant, an undertaking he said has the highest failure rate of any new enterprise.
"It's a lot more than being able to cook. It's a people-driven business ... Downtown areas have less traffic and chain retailers follow the traffic ... With restaurants, 80 percent of our business is night and weekends, a time when downtown areas are less populated," Irmsher told the group, adding he'll "hold off" on choosing a location until he has a clear view of what St. Marys offers.
The location currently under consideration by Irmsher is in the new complex being discussed for the downtown area where the remains of the old woolen mill building stands. Community Development Director Todd Fleagle presented an artist rendering of the proposed building and new landscaping around the old canal lock.
The former Glass Block parcel on East Spring Street is being purchased by First Financial Bank, which plans to construct a new $1.4 million banking center at the site. Irmsher's tentative proposal puts the restaurant in the same building as the bank.
Irmsher, a native of Fort Wayne, Ind., has been in the food service business for almost five decades. In 1963 he opened the Happy Humpty restaurant on state Route 703 in St. Marys. Along the way he and his partners operated the Empire restaurant in Celina, which they eventually sold and later owners closed.
He observed that the retail areas in St. Marys aren't centralized with Kroger's in the northeast, St. Marys Square in the northwest, downtown and the store along state Route 703 to the west.
"But weaknesses can become strengths," he said, adding the four-lane highway is access to leave a market, but also access bringing customers into the market.
The Celina businessman has been looking at St. Marys since last summer and has formed a committee to offer investment opportunities locally.
"If this is successful, we'll come to St. Marys," he said.
He outlined some features a proposed restaurant would offer: a bar, banquet facilities for 50 to 80 people, a deck overlooking the Miami & Erie Canal, seating for up to 200 people and the food basics from appetizers to desserts.
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