New retail/apartment building planned for Highland Square

By Stephanie Warsmith and Katie Byard
Beacon Journal staff writers

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Manny Nemer (right), his son, Ray (left), and nephew Mario Nemr walk around the lot at 795 W. Market St where they plan to build a two-story retail/apartment complex on Wednesday, in Akron. Ray Nemer plans to move his Ray's Pub and Mario Nemr his Mr. Zub's deli and Matinee bar (both visible in the background) to the new building. (Michael Chritton/Akron Beacon Journal)

A new retail and apartment building is planned for a prominent spot in Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood.

The building, which would feature retail on the first floor and five apartments on the second floor, is proposed for the site east of the Highland Square branch library where two nearly century-old apartment buildings once stood.

The project is a family affair, with Manny Nemer building the structure and his son, Ray Nemer, and nephew Mario Nemr, planning to bring their popular businesses across West Market Street to three of the four retail spaces.

Ray Nemer plans to move his Ray’s Pub, a bar that replaced the Bucket Shop, while Mario Nemr plans to bring his Mr. Zub’s deli and the Matinee bar to the new building.

“We want to keep improving,” Ray Nemer said. “That would be good for us, good for the community.”

The Akron Planning Commission will vote on the proposal at 9 a.m. Friday in council chambers. It then will go to council for approval.

Akron tore down the Von and the Crescent, two apartment buildings on the site on West Market Street between North Highland and Casterton avenues, last fall. Manny Nemer, who bought the property for $420,000, had hoped to rehab the buildings that had sat vacant for several years, but found that they were too damaged to salvage. Problems included a leaky roof, buckled floors and a cracked foundation.

“We got two or three engineers, and they came and looked at it,” said Nemer, who also owns a bar and coffee shop across from the University of Akron campus. “The foundation was all cracked up. They all said the same thing: ‘It would cost you an arm and a leg to restore them.’ I think we did the city a favor.”

Adele Roth, Akron’s development manager, thinks the new, nearly 25,000-square-foot building would be a good fit for Highland Square and would help the existing businesses, some that have just come into the neighborhood.

“It is always true that the more businesses you have, the more current businesses do well,” she said.

Plans call for a public alley behind the building to provide access between Highland and Casterton Avenue and a patio in the front, with a large tree kept for shade. Parking would be in the rear and north side of the building, with Akron buying the property on the north side and building the public parking.

Manny Nemer said he plans a “traditional-old-Highland Square style” brick and concrete two-story structure with gables, columns and arches. The retail spaces would occupy about 12,000 square feet.

He said he does not know what would go into the fourth retail spot.

The building would have three two-bedroom and two one-bedroom apartments and is expected to be constructed by the fall of 2014.

Mario Nemr, who operates the side-by-side Mr. Zub’s deli and Matinee bar, said the new building would allow him to have a bigger kitchen and bathrooms. He also plans to serve curbside.

“We are just really out of space where we are,” he said.

At the new place, he plans to have Mr. Zub’s and Matinee connected, as they are now, with a bar side and a dining side.

“We’re going to keep it charming and eclectic,” he promised. “We’re not going to lose that cozy feel. It won’t have a franchise feel.”

Nemr has no plans to move Capri Pizza, which he also owns. It is located at the east end of the same building that houses Mr. Zub’s and Matinee. The building is owned by the Akron area’s Lessem Properties.

Ray Nemer, who bought the Bucket Shop about six years ago, similarly hopes to keep the “traditional neighborhood bar” feel of Ray’s Pub in the new location. He plans to move the old wooden bar and possibly the wooden tables — the same ones upon which Bucket Shop patrons once danced. He also plans to move a wooden mural of the Highland Square business area and a canvas mural featuring images of bar patrons.

Ray Nemer said Highland Square has improved much in the past 12 years, noting the investment by his family and the addition of other businesses, like Chipotle and Wally Waffle.

Mark Smith of the Highland Square Neighborhood Association was disappointed to see the old apartment buildings torn down. He likes, however, how the new building would be two stories, have the same setback as surrounding businesses and would have parking in the back.

“The way they are laying it out is right on the money,” Smith said.

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, or @swarsmith. Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781, or @kbyardabj.

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