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You're Not Imagining It: North High Street Really Has Changed

Debbie Holmes
Jimmy Barouxis, owner of Buckeye Donuts, has worked at the North High Street mainstay since he was 13. But he says the area around the store has changed.

These days, when the owner of Buckeye Donuts looks outside his door, he doesn’t recognize what he sees.

“It’s just a lot of changes and there’s really not too many mom and pop businesses left,” says Jimmy Barouxis. “It’s just mostly just basically just chains. I mean, I can get all of this stuff, I live in the 'burbs and I can get all the same food and all the same stuff in the 'burbs where I live.”

For about 50 years, Barouxis’ family has served donuts and gyros at Buckeye Donuts on North High Street, across from the Ohio State University campus. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, holidays included. Barouxis started working at the family business when he was 13.

While Buckeye Donuts has remained much the same, North High Street has not. As part of a larger transformation of Ohio State's campus, the area has recently seen a slew of restaurants closing, shops relocating, luxury apartments opening, and something of an attitude change.

North High now includes a variety of fast food chains. In addition to Wendy’s and McDonald’s, there's Panda Express, Moe’s, Sbarro’s and other restaurants. Chick Fil-A is set to open in fall 2018.

The bar scene is also being transformed. Too’s Spirits Under High closed. The O’Patio & Pub on East 15th Avenue is set to close this summer.

Credit Debbie Holmes / WOSU
Buckeye Donuts has been in business for 50 years, and has so far resisted efforts to buy the building.

At the South Campus Gateway, next to Gateway Film Center, The Ugly Tuna Saloona did not get its lease renewed after 14 years in business. Soon after, Mad Mex decided to close.

Campus Partners, a non-profit developer of The Ohio State University, owns the Gateway. 

“Over the course of the evolution of Gateway, the second floor retail opportunities that we’ve had here have been challenging, and we really have been looking at the conversion of those second floor retail spaces into office," says Erin Prosser, Campus Partners director of community development.

Prosser says Campus Partners consults with community members and Ohio State students, faculty and staff about what they want to see in restaurants and entertainment.

“We have always worked really hard to support the tenants that we have at all our locations,” Prosser says. “But, there are certainly times where terms just can’t be met and that is going to result in a change here at Gateway or presumably in the future at 15th and High.”

Two years ago, Campus Partners unveiled its comprehensive plans for 15th and High, which is considered the historic university entrance. Prosser says the overall vision of Campus Partners is to create a unique destination there called University Square. 

Credit Debbie Holmes
Mad Mex and The Ugly Tuna Saloona are now closed at the South Campus Gateway.

The renovation will complement the Wexner Center for the Arts, Mershon Auditorium, Sullivant Hall, and the Cartoon Library with a new public space, which will be walkable and pedestrian-focused.

It should be noted that WOSU will also be included in these plans. Construction will begin in early 2019 for the public media organization's new headquarters at 14th Avenue and Pearl Alley.

Outside of the 15th and High project and South Campus Gateway, several private developers have joined in on other parts of the North High renovation project. Among those are a new, 28,000-square-foot Target store, planned for the same building as the Chick Fil-A.

Prosser disagrees that North High will include a majority of chain franchises.

“The fact that Campus Partners is at the table, we believe gives us great flexibility to look at small business ownership and incubation, and how to support those folks in a real and tangible way that we don’t think the private sector developer may be able to do,” Prosser says.

Credit Debbie Holmes / WOSU
Ohio State is in the middle of a years-long process to transform North High Street, which is forcing many businesses to move or close.

Josh Harden, owner of Clothing Underground, says his landlord forced him to move his store three years ago. His shop, which sells second-hand sports gear, used to sit above Bernie’s at High and 16th.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how that affects us,” Harden says. “We do sell mainly clothing, which I know Target will sell. We also sell little accessories and just like socks, and bandanas and things like that which I know they will probably carry too, so I know it’s going to be a competition.”

Barouxis says he hopes more smaller businesses can still squeeze in somewhere on High. He's determined to stay.

“A couple of times that we’ve been approached, but I stop them at the gate,” Barouxis says. “I don’t even let them in the door. I don’t want to hear it, I mean, we’re staying. We’re here for the long haul.”

The current overhaul might be the most extreme ever, but changes to High Street are nothing new. Ohio State senior Vlad Yuryev sees both the good and bad.

“All the construction’s been annoying because there has been a lot more traffic,” Yuryev says. “Personally, I haven’t been bothered too much about it. But it looks like it’s going to be just nicer and more expensive.”

That "annoying" construction will continue on North High Street until the early 2020s.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.