With other villages and cities around the Southern Ohio area undertaking revitalization projects, Pike County also has a project underway within the heart of Piketon, as a historic school building takes on new life in an area of growth and development.

The restored Piketon Elementary School building and the new developments around it, named “The Square at Piketon”, is located at 425 E. Second Street, Piketon, Ohio 45661.

Stepping into the renovated school building, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafts through air as light pours through huge glass windows inviting visitors into The Village Brew, Pike County’s first locally-owned coffee shop.

Jennifer Chandler, owner of The Village Brew, is a coffee aficionado as well as being a Piketon resident, a business owner and serves on the Piketon Village Council. Her travels as a grant writer led her down the road to taking the plunge into the coffee shop world.

“Before coronavirus hit, I was traveling all over the U.S. to really nice towns, cities and counties where I was always checking out the local coffee shop vibe,” said Chandler.

“I would always say, ‘I wish we had a coffee shop here.’ It occurred to me then that I could start a coffee shop. I love coffee. I don’t know how to roast any beans; I don’t plan on roasting any beans. But I wondered what would be involved in getting a coffee shop started?”

That process led Chandler to begin researching her options as she prepared to embark on bringing a locally-owned coffee shop to Pike County. Chandler looked at several locations in Piketon and Waverly while pondering a standalone building with a drive-thru. But ultimately, Chandler decided to open her business in the renovated school building.

“I really wanted to support the renovation of the building and be a part of the revitalization of a downtown area in the village of Piketon. We don’t have a substantial downtown like a big main street or a lot of buildings,” said Chandler. “But we are on a mission to improve the quality of life in Piketon.”

As for the story behind the preservation of the old school building, Chandler said the property belonged to the Village of Piketon. The Piketon Village Council, consisting of Chandler and five other members, along with Mayor Billy Spencer, were trying to decide what to do with the property and building.

“A lot of folks said if we weren’t going to do something with the school, they wished we would tear it down. Even as bad as it looked, you could see the potential of the building. I looked at a couple of grant programs, but couldn’t get any traction in the avenues I was pursuing,” explained Chandler.

“In the process, we took demolition bids. We got a couple of bids, but we didn’t pull the trigger. Something was holding us back from taking action and tearing it down. We decided to advertise the building for sale.”

After the five weeks of advertising the building (required for a municipality), Chandler said the Village of Piketon received one bid, which came from WAI Properties, of Piketon.

“We were very excited about that bid, because we are very familiar with the quality of work WAI does in the area with their construction company. So we accepted their bid and sold to them. They had the option to tear it down or renovate it based on the parameters we put on the transaction,” said Chandler.

“They came to the conclusion that it might be really difficult to tear this building down because it was so well built. They decided to renovate the building and restore it in a way that would allow modern offices to be a part of the footprint.”

Now Chandler is one of the first businesses to open in the building that still has room for more tenants to take spaces.

“I’m in love with the building and the project — the whole Square at Piketon. It blows my mind to have that kind of investment happening in our community,” said Chandler. “Everything worked out, and I decided to put the coffee shop here. I love the atmosphere and the building. The common areas and the feel is relaxing.”

She added, “I probably didn’t even need to go through an evaluation process to make a selection for this location. I was already bought into the Square at Piketon, and I wanted to be one of the businesses that support it. It brings people to Piketon. I think they enjoy seeing this building, because we have the before pictures. WAI has been so creative with how they maximize the square footage.”

As a woman in business, Chandler has a goal of utilizing other local and area businesses. Her logo and color schemes were courtesy of Metropolis Design Studios in Chillicothe.

Her coffee supplier is Crimson Cup, of Columbus, which offers consultants who will help new owners develop a comprehensive business plan, determine how much it costs to open, choose the right equipment and more. Chandler said Crimson Cup designed her coffee bar in an efficient layout and she was thrilled with the technical assistance and training they offered.

“This is high-end coffee. It tastes amazing,” said Chandler of Crimson Cup.

“We offer more than coffee. We have teas, iced and hot, chai tea latte, matcha tea ... all of the cool coffee shop drinks,” said Chandler.

“I told the staff to make the drink right the first time. Follow the recipe, take your time and get it right. Then the next step is to make it faster. I’m not saying we aren’t fast, but you are getting a made-to-order drink. There are several steps involved. We want it to be perfect. We want you to enjoy it.”

“Excellence.Kindness.Community”, embroidered on sweatshirts within The Village Brew, points to the purpose of the shop.

“Everything we do needs to be done with excellence, and we need be kind to everyone who walks in the door. This is about community,” said Chandler.

Within the comfy confines of the shop, other entrepreneurs have a home.

“I want to practice what I preach — ‘Local, local, local.’ I know there are some things you can’t do local or get local. I wanted to buy as much as I can locally,” said Chandler. “All of my baked goods and grab-and-go lunch items are made locally.”

One example of a local talent providing tasty pastries for The Village Brew is Piketon student Grace Amato.

“I have a very talented 16-year-old young lady, Grace Amato, who is making all of the cinnamon rolls for the shop. Instead of getting a traditional after-school job, she knows she can bake. Her product is delicious,” said Chandler. “Now she has a business called ‘Grace Bakes’. It makes me so proud of her. I know that talent exists here and I want to give people the opportunity to showcase their talent.”

Blessed Beyond Measure Bakery (Angie Shreck and Stephanie Scott) and Andre’s Bakery (Madison Andre) are also selling baked goods. Cheesecakes are provided by Just Desserts (Amanda Entler). The menu isn’t all sweets. Keeney’s Kitchen (Matt Keeney), of Lucasville, is providing grab-and-go healthy lunch options.

The Village Brew t-shirts have been printed by Dream Love Design, locally owned by Jill Simonton and Stacie Robertson. Potted succulents and plants are provided by Dauntless Roots, which is owned by Katelyn (Anderson) Smith, a Piketon graduate, who now lives in Kingston. Another Piketon graduate and current college student, Layne Mooreman, makes and sells earrings. It began as a hobby during the pandemic and has turned into a business called Naomi Creations.

Waverly resident Carma Baker (A Constant Observer) has made hand-crafted mugs exclusively for The Village Brew and those are also for sale within the shop. Other entrepreneurs and businesses contributing include: Tyler Wickham (Tyler Too’s Honey), Heidi Lamerson, Wes Timmons, Bradon Foster (JB Company), Ritchie’s, and Mel Carsey.

“It is a joy for me to be able to offer that opportunity and to watch them take that opportunity and grow. Those are the kinds of people we have around here,” said Chandler. “We don’t lack in talent or intelligence. There are these barriers in Appalachia. What we do lack in Appalachia sometimes is the opportunity. I’ve been focused on that for my entire career. So breaking down those barriers is really important to me.”

One barrier to opportunity, according to Chandler, is the availability of the internet in rural America. Some people cannot afford good internet service, while others simply do not have access in the hills and hollows of southern Ohio.

Chandler hopes her coffee shop can help break down some of those barriers. She has free Wi-Fi that can be used by anyone meeting over coffee, and students are welcome to come to the shop to do their schoolwork.

“If you can give somebody a platform to be successful, that’s what I’m going to do with this business,” said Chandler. “It isn’t just a coffee shop. We want you to have an experience here that is meaningful.”

Bryce Coreno (Piketon Unmapped), another recent Piketon graduate who does deliveries for the business, has been using his drone for photos and videos utilized by The Village Brew on the shop website ( thevillagebrew.coffee). Having his drone work showcased online has opened other opportunities for Coreno to get paid for creating drone footage.

Those are the types of connections Chandler hopes that she and The Village Brew can help facilitate. Networking and connections happen at coffeehouses because it provides a place for people to meet.

“We want to bring that energy into Piketon and Pike County,” said Chandler. “Just being able to bring people together to have a conversation is important for our future, our growth, and our success as a region.”

The open hours for The Village Brew are Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12 noon. The Village Brew offers curbside pick-up during open hours at 425 E. Second Street. They will also make deliveries to businesses and schools on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 7 to 10 a.m. Open hours and delivery hours/days may expand in the future.

To contact The Village Brew, call (740) 443-6027, or email info@thevillagebrew.coffee.

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Email at jbillings@newswatchman.com; follow on Twitter @ Julie_Billings

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