Cambria Rowe Business College

A local outlet of Ace Hardware, under a local franchise held by Frank and Hastie Kinter, is planned for a sprawling vacant structure on South 13th Street in the former Cambria Rowe Business College, a single-floor structure opposite the Elks lodge.

A century-old worldwide hardware store chain soon will add a shop in Indiana.

A local outlet of Ace Hardware, under a local franchise held by Frank and Hastie Kinter, is planned for a sprawling vacant structure on South 13th Street, a block away from busy Oakland Avenue.

Ace plans to set up shop in the former Cambria Rowe Business College, a single-floor structure opposite the Elks lodge.

The building long ago housed an International Harvester farm implement dealer, then was the headquarters for the Bell of Pennsylvania telephone company before it became the two-year business school. Cambria Rowe opened in the early 1990s and shut its doors in August 2016.

The county government offered financial support on Wednesday to the project developers — officially, Upstreet Ace Hardware LLC, as it will be known, and Lucy Rae Holdings LLC, the parent company of the Lucy Rae apparel and gift store operated by Hastie Kinter on Philadelphia Street. The board of commissioners approved a $250,000 loan from the Indiana County Revolving Loan Fund as part of a funding package including a loan from S&T Bank and aid from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Upstreet Ace Hardware would be what Frank Kinter called a “convenience hardware store,” serving an unfilled niche in the local market for in-and-out hardware buyers. The business also would be an investment in a long-term opportunity for their children to keep their homes and raise their families in Indiana.

“We just want to create an opportunity to keep them in town here with the rest of us,” Kinter said. “We’re blessed that all three of our kids live here and our grandkids are here. We didn’t want them to leave and go someplace else.”

The structure covers 10,119 square feet and now is divided into classrooms and offices.

“Our goal is to demo the entire inside and create an open space,” Kinter explained. “Then Ace and their project team will come in and completely set up the store for us.”

Kinter’s timeline calls for opening the doors for business late this year or possibly in early 2022.

“In exploring ideas, we had multiple conversations over the years about how people miss Barclay’s, and having an in-town hardware store,” Kinter said. So he contacted Ace late in 2019.

“They were extremely interested in coming to Indiana, and had explored opportunities … that didn’t pan out.”

Ace has 5,000 outlets and stakes its marketing on delivering personal service under local franchise holders.

“These hard-working men and women are part of the fabric of your community,” according to the Ace Hardware website. “They are small business owners who are local and loyal...just like it ought to be. While others have become large and impersonal, at Ace, we’ve remained small and very personal. That’s why we say a visit to Ace, is like a visit to your neighbor.”

Kinter said he explored as many as 20 sites in the Indiana area, set the downtown area as a priority, and nearly decided on the former Agway property but for its history as a bulk petroleum storage site about 100 years ago, and then opted for Cambria Rowe’s shuttered school.

The chosen site will undergo more regulatory study and go before Indiana Borough officials for a building permit (although the borough’s zoning board already has granted an exception for a special use in its Third Ward neighborhood).

Angela Campisano of the Indiana County Office of Planning & Development told the commissioners that the loan for the hardware store project is due to be repaid at 2.5 percent fixed interest for 10 years. She said the project is expected to create five full-time equivalent positions and 10 part-time job opportunities within three years.

“The primary motivation is to provide an opportunity for our children, but the second is to create a community asset ... to create something that is valuable to Indiana,” Kinter said.

In other business, the commissioners:

• Approved a coronavirus-pandemic recovery loan of $50,000 to the operators of Quality Inn & Suites along Wayne Avenue in White Township.

The aid to Hari Hotel Corporation comes interest-free for six years with no payments required the first 12 months, Campisano said.

The loan from the county’s CARES Act Revolving Loan Fund would enable the hotel to retain five full-time employees.

• Agreed to the proposed “de-federalization” of the county’s Revolving Loan Fund for businesses, at the recommendation of Byron Stauffer, executive director of the county planning office.

The fund was built with grants awarded almost 30 years ago by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration, and has survived the seven-year period required for the county to assume complete local control of the money, Stauffer said.

Literally held in two accounts, the cash came to the county in 1991 ($250,000) and 1994 ($1.6 million) and has sustained more than 50 loans to new and developing businesses in the county.

Counting the interest paid by borrowers and earned on the balance in the funds, the RLF is worth almost $2.1 million, Stauffer said.

“Rather than EDA having control, we would have the administrative plan, develop an economic development strategy over the next year, and give the county commissioners greater flexibility on how the funds can be used,” Stauffer said. Under county control, some of the money could be used to generate more cash, he said.

Escaping federal control would reduce the administrative burden of managing the loan funds and open the door to broader economic activity.

“We certainly want to maintain our revolving loan fund, as one of our incentives to local businesses, but some of those dollars, if they are not working in a loan, could be used to leverage additional grant funds to be invested in economic-development and job-creating projects to be determined by the commissioners,” Stauffer added.

NOTE: This article edited at 2:55 p.m. to correct the landmark reference to the store site.

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the county courthouse; Indiana Area and Homer-Center schools; Blairsville, Homer City, Clymer, Center and Burrell; and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.