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River Roots Redevelopment: Revitalizing Distressed Communities


Investing in the economic vitality of Downtown Oil City, from the bottom up.

Moving away from the top-down, grant-based model for community development to a more localized, entrepreneurial approach.

Revitalizing distressed communities is one of the largest and most intractable problems in America today. Rural towns in economic distress did not just happen but are the result of being diluted and sunken by modern technology, commercialism, mass production, centralized government, and a lack of economic resilience planning and governance. However, community wealth-building is not just the province of the government. In fact, the most productive actors are local investors: universities, medical centers, other anchor institutions, and neighborhood and civic organizations. When no one invests in a community, though, its challenges become chronic. Low property values discourage investment, while lack of investment causes property values to fall even further.

DBS Development & Consulting is driving a unique and much-needed entrepreneurial movement in downtown Oil City, by providing opportunities to lay the foundation for a strong and inclusive entrepreneurship environment where nontraditional entrepreneurs have access to the space and resources they need to launch their businesses. DBS Development was founded in 2022 by Oil City resident Dr. Donald Smith, a well-known local Orthopedic Surgeon. To contribute to the community he has called home for 35 years, Dr. Smith chose to begin his retirement by investing in three commercial buildings in downtown Oil City, and he is now gradually renovating and leasing them out to new business startups. Each of these commercial buildings has street frontages that are perfect for retailers, which are much needed for the town.

Duffers Indoor Golf.


One of these buildings is the old Woolworth’s building at 247 Seneca St. The building, which required considerable work over the last year to repair the ravages of time as well as to update utilities and interior space to suit multiple entities, now houses three new businesses with room for more in future. The current three tenants bring unique experiences to Oil City. Duffers Indoor Golf features indoor golf simulators, custom clubs, and a club repair service in a relaxed clubhouse atmosphere, perfect for hitting a few holes no matter what the weather brings. Wye Bridge Hobbies sells model trains, remote control (RC) cars, collectibles, games, hobby tools, and accessories, and is in the process of setting up an indoor train display for model train enthusiasts! The Beach Nook is the newest licensed and certified nail salon in Oil City, with perhaps the most unique floor in our entire region (which really must be seen to be believed), as well as tanning beds and plans for additional beauty and well-being services in the coming months. In addition to these three tenants, the building still has space available with potential for many different types of complementary businesses.


Wye Bridge Hobbies


Dr. Smith believes that Oil City just needs a few “wins” - a few visible, successful, and impactful projects - to bring it back to its former glory. When asked about his vision and aspiration behind investing in these buildings, Dr. Smith noted that his goal is to “increase foot traffic downtown and create a collaborative business district where new and current businesses can build on [each other].” He added that he “would like to see coherence in fixing up the facades and storefronts and make it a unique place that people will travel from near and far to visit.”

Changing the image of a neighborhood can be key to revitalization. Downtown Oil City can certainly benefit from walkability, repurposing of historic architecture, and other urban revitalization projects. There is no doubt that many challenges to the revitalization of downtown Oil City still exist. Many residents live in this community, though, because they value the closely-knit, personable environment, bringing enormous potential for people to work together for a better tomorrow. If we start by following Dr. Smith’s example, taking an active approach and being part of the solution, it determines how others, including potential visitors, customers, homeowners, and investors, view the community and how willing they are to visit and invest.

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By Hind Karns, Managing Director of Wemanagit, a business management consulting service based in Oil City, PA. (Guest Writer)

 

Rachel Brosnahan is the Community Engagement Coordinator for River Roots Redevelopment.

She can be reached by email at rachel@riverrootsredevelopment.org

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