Drivers stream down High Street every day to get to all parts of Hamilton and the surrounding towns and cities of Butler County. As they pass the last major building on High Street, opposite City Hall, people often notice a beautiful gift and home décor shop called Sara’s House. At first, this shop was the sign that things were changing for Hamilton for the better. Now, Sara’s House is a sign that the revitalization of the city is robust and lasting.
When you walk into the store, the most unusual element, among many unique gift and home items, is Sara herself; she knows many of her customers by name and can carry on a conversation with them. Sara Vallandingham, owner of Sara’s House and a resident of downtown, has gotten to know others in the downtown city blocks to the point where they are a bit like family.
“We don’t have a garage and a driveway, but this feels like a neighborhood to me,” Vallandingham said. “The other business owners look out for each other and reach out to each other, we’ll loan each other a power cord or window cleaner… My neighbors are the people who live on this busy street and who own businesses here.”
When her family first chose to move downtown, the building they considered was covered in “ugly blue siding.” As they made their choice, however, they saw how things were falling into place: downtown was changing for the better, their children were old enough to benefit from being close to part-time jobs, high school, or local colleges, and there was potential for the building to be the perfect combination of work and home.
Their building’s multi-story structure has enough room for the family to live on the upper stories while the store occupies the main ground level.
Now, Sara manages the store full-time, and Sara’s husband Dave works outside the store at another local company but does projects in the workshop in the basement of the building. Their two children live in the building and one of the, works downtown; they have each, at times, worked at Sara’s House. The family dynamic is essential to the work they do.
“It feels really good that we are all in this hub space,” Vallandingham said. “This shop is kind of like the 5th person of our family; we recognize it is part of the reason we are even here.”
The whole family has been able to both take advantage of how close work and home are, while still compartmentalizing a bit to maintain a work-life balance. Sara in particular sees home as a separate place, despite being only a few feet away.
“When I’m upstairs, it does feel like I’m in a different world,” she said. “I was surprised that I still could be late!”
One of the most exciting parts of living downtown during a time of renewal has been getting to know the people who are working tirelessly to make life in Hamilton positive.
“I don’t think there is any question now that the growth is going to continue,” she said. “I think there is incredible leadership; you can look at specific leaders directly and see the difference they make. There is also a second wave of people who are hiring the right people and tapping into great volunteers.”