Tom Manely signed closing documents on a mill that dates back to the 1840s in downtown Navarre this past Friday to expand his business, Flashback Classic Coin-Ops. For the short-term, he will rent parts of the building to other businesses while he renovates the historic village landmark.
Tom Manely was like a kid in a candy store last week. Maybe, to be more accurate, he was like a teenager in a video game store.
With keys in hand, the Navarre resident's first official act after signing closing papers to seal the deal on the more than 160-year-old mill, was to put his sign in the window of 9 Canal St. W, which reads: "If I am here, I am open!"
Local residents are familiar with that sign, which frequents the window of the Sunoco gas station he renovated not too long ago for Flashback Classic Coin-Ops, at 103 N. Main St.
"I never thought I'd get such a place," said Manely, 65, walking around his newly acquired building Friday. "This place has so much history."
Manely has big plans for the building, which he said is an instrumental piece of the village's history.
"It's going to have a life of its own," he said.
Manely plans to expand his coin-operated, vintage arcade game business into the four-story, 15,000-square-foot building.
"Can you imagine every nook and cranny with games?" he said. "It's going to be a major project."
At the same time, he wants to maintain the historical integrity of the building, with its original solid hand-hewn wood beams. He hopes to display images and history of the mill and the village.
"It's not just the growth of Flashback," he said. "It's a celebration of the mill."
The building was Surbey Feed and Supply since 1950, according to information from the Navarre-Bethlehem Township Historical Society. Elden Surbey put the building up for auction last June. The mill is a historical landmark and is estimated to have been built in the 1840s. In 1901, the building was sold to John W. Zinsmaster. It housed a business dealing in hardware, and then another dealing in wagons, carriages and bicycles. The building was sold to George Bixler and Sam Albaugh in 1929 and it was a grain, feed and flour mill until 1950.
"You know how long people have been walking down these steps," Manely said Friday, marveling at every aspect of the old building. "It's structurally good."
For the short-term, Manely said he will rent parts of the building to businesses while he works on the rest of the building that needs to be renovated.
"This is going to be national when I'm done with it," Manely said. "It's going to have tour buses coming to it."
When he had a booth at a flea market, Manely never thought about renovating an old gas station and opening a classic coin-ops business. Flashback now is home to more than 60 games and is visited by out-of-towners and regular customers seeking a blast from the past. And until recently, the thought never crossed his mind about buying an old mill downtown and expanding his business, which is within walking distance.
Janie Talbott, president of the historical society, shared some memories of the mill based on what her mother told her and research from the historical society.
"When my mom was a little girl, many of her clothes were made out of feed sacks," Talbott said.
She said that the mill ground the corn right on the spot and chicken feed was placed in brightly-colored cotton feed sacks.
"Most of the families in the village had chickens at this time, and because of the depression the women of the community would carefully tear these sacks apart and use them to make clothes, pillowcases, curtains etc.," Talbott said. "Even when I was little the mill still ground corn."
The canal ran up to the back of the building, she said. Canal boats would pull up to the back of the mill, tie up, and load or unload without anyone having to get off the boat. The canal has since been filled because of the many mosquitoes that loved the still waters of the defunct canal, she said.
The mill had numerous owners over its 160 to 170-year history. In 1855, it was sold to the Farmers Exchange, and in 1858 it was deeded to David Mentzer. The mill was in the Mentzer family for 33 years. Jacob E. Mentzer was the first mayor of Navarre and a Stark County coroner from 1873 through 1875, according to information from the historical society.
The farmers' co-op was started so that farmers could ship their goods to the east coast, Talbott said. Until the canals there was no way to get their product to the east. It was too costly, she said. Many farmers at that time made whiskey because it was cheaper and easier to ship over the mountains. With the coming of the canals, grain could be shipped much easier and the farmers made a bigger profit, Talbott said.
Reach Christina at 330-775-1133 or email@example.com.
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