Rich history can be discovered almost anywhere in the Parkland, from legends passed down through families or records of generations past. In some cases, however, history stands tall and obvious over Main Street — or to be more specific, West Main Street.
The building referred to by many as the old YMCA building at 322 West Main Street has stood for more than 100 years, serving a myriad of purposes and passing through the hands of several owners.
In 2015, local real estate investors and cousins Chris and Derrick Hulsey acquired the building with the intention of renovating and reopening the property for apartment rentals. As they began working toward that goal, another idea arose to continue the varied legacy of the building.
Chris’ wife Ashton and Derrick’s wife Ashley suggested the idea of putting a coffee shop in the bottom floor of the building, and for the past two years they have been working on an idea that resulted in the creation of RaeCole’s Coffee Bar.
“When they got this building, I was just thinking that it would be a perfect opportunity,” Ashley Hulsey said. “They came back within a couple of weeks and asked if we really wanted to do it. From that point on, for the last two years, we’ve been brainstorming and listening to what people want. So for me, it was about bringing something to this part of town that we didn’t have.”
The name comes from a combination of Ashton and Ashley’s middle names, Rae and Nicole.
Derrick said while he and Chris worked on renovating the space, Ashton and Ashley worked on the logistics of the coffee shop.
“It was a really long process,” Ashley said. “We’re a little over two years into it now and we never anticipated it taking that long. It took six months just to get the tenants out and then there was a lot of tearing out. It had to be gutted, but they left all the bones of the original that they could.”
In a larger context than starting a business or continuing the legacy of the old YMCA building, Ashley said she feels like the venture is part of the next revitalization of downtown Park Hills, with the addition of several other nearby businesses and renewed focus from officials at city hall.
“I was part of the whole ‘cruising’ era,” she said. “It was a big deal. With the kids now, it’s totally different. So I’ve been thinking about that — my kids will be able to look back 10 years from now, and hopefully this is still up and running and there will be multiple new businesses. And we’ll realize that it all started revitalizing around now. I think it’s so cool.”
Ashley said there are hopes for a patio area for students, members of the community and residents in the apartments above the coffee shop to enjoy as well.
“Beyond just the opportunity for the community, I started thinking about how I can help young students who need jobs and being here to mentor them, giving them opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have,” she said. “It gave us more incentive to go forward with it. We’ve taken a leap of faith and I think it will be good.”
If the downtown area continues to grow and improve, a building that has stood for more than 100 years could continue to be a beneficial and relevant piece of the Park Hills economy for decades to come.
David Easter has held the position of president of the Downtown Park Hills Association since 2005 and said the recent growth downtown is a great example of the vision the organization has for the downtown area.
"Our goal has always been to not only keep the businesses we have downtown, but to bring in new businesses and encourage people to open up shops here in the downtown district," Easter said. "We've had several in just the past few years."
"For example, the Factory Diner, which during the time that I was mayor, the administration was working hard to bring in more resaurants into the downtown area. The Riverside Grill is another, which is aptly named, for being right by Flat River Creek. Another, hopefully soon to be opened, is the Old Mine House Bar and Grill, which we're looking forward to."
Easter said there are now approximately five locations to eat in the downtown area, including the previously named restaurants, Subway and Country Mart.
Beyond restaurants, Easter said there are other possible new businesses coming to the downtown area in the future.
"I believe we have a boutique coming in, we have StayFit fitness studio near the boutique, and I believe a different type of grocery store than Country Mart," he said. "We still have some buildings for entrepreneurs to come into the city to try different things, to look around and see what we don't have and to open up their own specialty shops or convenience stores."
Credit for the gains being made downtown is due to several parties, according to Easter, including the business owners themselves and city officials.
"A lot of credit goes to the Park Hills-Leadington Chamber of Commerce and the efforts made by the city council, both past and present, in getting more businesses and encouraging more people to come into the Park Hills area," he said.
Ashley Hulsey said as the downtown area grows, it can be good to try and change things up a little bit, which is what she hopes to accomplish at RaeCole's.
“I’m definitely not a city girl,” Ashley said. “But I think we don’t always have to abide by the small-town feel just because we’re in Park Hills. I love small towns, but I do feel like we can have something different. I think it’s good to have all the different elements and be well-rounded.
“I think this will be an opportunity for people who want something different to realize they can be outside of the box. We definitely want a place where everybody feels welcome.”
Work on the coffee bar and apartments are nearing completion, with the Hulseys hoping to open the doors in the coming weeks.