"We've got a little bit of everything, and if I don't have it, you don't need it."
That's how Don Sutton sees his Market Square store in Kinsman and, as it turns out, most of state Route 7.
Sutton is a lifelong Kinsman resident, and his store at the intersection of state Routes 5 and 7 is the largest used book store between Columbus and Buffalo, N.Y., and home to one of the last working soda fountains in Ohio.
Dan Pompili / Tribune Chronicle
Don Sutton, owner of the Market Square store in Kinsman and organizer of the Tour Route 7 co-op, makes a root beer float last week. Sutton hopes the co-op attracts travelers to the oft-forgotten road.
There's ice cream to be had, along with wallpaper, random kitchen gadgets and utensils, knick-knacks, hardware, home decor, odds and ends, and more than 100,000 used books.
Sutton's proud of his store and his town and its history.
But recent history has not been favorable to the kitsch and Americana found here.
"When (state) Route 11 opened up, it really hurt the town, really hurt Kinsman," he said.
That was more than 50 years ago, and since then Route 7 has mostly been traveled only by the locals, forgotten much like the famed Route 66. Books unread, root beer floats unsipped, shelves of knick-knacks unexplored.
But Sutton has decided that the time has come for a rebirth, for Kinsman and everything else between Interstate 80 to the south and Lake Erie to the north.
In January, he began talking to business owners along Route 7 from Hubbard to Conneaut.
As of Memorial Day, 21 businesses have put their names on a brochure that has been circulating, forming a kind of co-op with Sutton to bring motorists back to Route 7.
The Tour Route 7 co-op is intended to get travelers off Route 11 in Ohio and Route 79 in Pennsylvania, and bring them back to what used to be the main drag.
Businesses already are reaping some benefits. Sutton himself said he's seen about a 10 percent increase in business since May. Next door, at the drug store, owner Bonnie Gulu said much the same.
"There's a lot of different people in here lately, some I've never seen before, and they're carrying that brochure," she said.
Originally from North Dakota, Gulu has lived in Kinsman for 35 years and remembers when the general store looked different, when the soda fountain was still in the drugstore and when the old wooden phone booth still worked.
For Gulu, the small-town charm is something she'd hate to see disappear and something she hopes people will come around to enjoy once again. The brochure is helping, she says.
"It helps the town, brings more people in, and you get the word of mouth," she said.
Down the road, in the Burghill-Vernon area, Sisters of the Heart Gift Shop sits in a small hut of a house that looks like it was built just for the purpose.
Here, Geneva Cebula peddles more Americana in a sweet-smelling shop filled with the candles, plenty of handmade rugs and purses, and red-white-and-blue home decor.
A look at the guest book will reveal customers from all over ... the local area. Granted some come from as far away as Mahoning and other nearby counties, but it's word of mouth that does it. Sitting back off a rural stretch of Route 7 doesn't do much for advertising.
Cebula worries that small shops like hers - and the small town culture that goes with them - are disappearing.
"There isn't any left," she said. "We're trying to make it better this way."
And better it has been, a little bit, she said. Though she can't say for certain if the brochure is the reason why.
Down in Hubbard, the commercial setting makes it a bit easier for Route 7 businesses like the Downtown Cafe. But manager Stacy Dixon-Hoy says people still come in who say they never knew the 5-year-old cafe was there. When she asks where they're from, they answer "Hubbard."
Hardly a glowing indicator for businesses like Cebula's or Sutton's, far removed from the bright lights of incorporation.
Dixon-Hoy, though, said the Downtown Cafe already has gone through its third shipment of the Route 7 brochures. She said a man was in two weeks ago with his daughter and son-in-law from California, and they were carrying a brochure intent on following the route tip to tip.
"With GPS now, people don't take the back roads. They're in a hurry," she said. "And then there's gas prices to consider. But if this is a motivation to go see the smaller shops, then it's worth the price of gas."
Dixon-Hoy grew up in Philipsburg, Pa., and remembers her family taking Sunday drives. The tour route could be just the motivator to revive that tradition, she said. She's making plans to drive the entire route with her grandparents and her daughter.
Sutton said the brochures can be found in more than 120 locations around the region and the website is growing. He said he's working on a calendar of events and a link to other events and attractions in the area.
As an example, Saturday was a Rotary Club chicken barbecue in the park with a yard sale running along Route 7 near Kinsman.
Sutton said he'd like to coordinate a 60-mile yard sale, the entire length of the tour route from Hubbard to Conneaut.
Stephanie Sferra of the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau said little towns like Kinsman have more history than people are aware of, and plans like Sutton's can bring people back to lost parts of American culture.
"Kinsman is such a quirky little town, and people aren't aware of it," she said.
Besides the eight-sided Clarence Darrow house, Youngstown-born science fiction author Edmond Hamilton once lived in Kinsman with his sci-fi writing wife, Leigh Bracket. Sferra remembers when Sutton, a science fiction buff, used to hold Leigh Bracket and Edmond Hamilton day events.
She said other places like the Dream Horse Guest House in Kinsman and Alcraft Egg Artistry in Brookfield are other little-known area treasures. Alcraft, on Custer Orangeville Road, off Route 7, is a member of the co-op, while Dream Horse is not yet listed.
"Alcraft Egg Artistry is the only place on the East Coast you can get Faberge-style eggs," Sferra pointed out.
Tamara Brown, public relations manager for the Ohio Division of Tourism, said the tour route is not something she was aware of but she intends to look into it further to see how it could be marketed statewide. She said small businesses like those are stories that need to be told.
"I think it's great. Any kind of effort like that is good," she said, "where you can see little places that, that take you back in time, and people are looking for those little places and hidden treasures."
Sferra said she thinks the route has the potential to become something bigger.
"It's a start. I could see this being developed further, but it's a start," she said.
For Sutton, though, just getting more people on Route 7 is as big as he will safely dream for now.
"Just get more traffic on seven. I've tried not to dream beyond that."