By Neil Cotiaux, Guest Writer
Sociologists describe America’s Silent Generation – those raised during the Great Depression or World War II – as cautious and conformist. By contrast, the so-called Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – are considered to be individualistic and cause-driven. Such labels fail to account for seniors like Wayne County’s Bill Erdos, whose approach to life and work has borrowed traits from each demographic group as part of the Encore Generation.
Erdos, raised just outside Wooster, graduated from Kent State University with a bachelor’s degree in biology, married early, started a family and then slid into a comfortable career in advertising and marketing – a purely “income-driven” move, he recalled this year.
But Erdos felt something was missing from his day jobs, so he built a couple of houses on the side to give vent to his talent for construction.
Then, 10 years ago at the age of 63, Erdos decided it was time for his second act.
Building Wooster’s brand
While Erdos plied his trade in advertising, Wooster was slowly remaking itself into a more chic and trendy destination for out-of-towners.
Twenty-five years ago, the city’s central business district suffered a 42 percent vacancy rate, largely as a result of outward expansion. Downtown Wooster had taken on a shopworn feel and lacked excitement. As executive director of the nonprofit community group, Main Street Wooster, Sandra Hull began enlisting the support of a network of civic leaders committed to change, including Wooster native and retired Goodyear CEO Stanley Gault. Wooster was on the road to renewal.
Energized by this accelerating revitalization, Erdos decided to take the plunge as a commercial developer and fully embrace his passion.
Purchasing a vacant pharmacy that he would convert into a pastry shop, he faced the immediate task of ensuring that his work would fit Wooster’s blueprint for change. The requirement was for diverse, independently owned businesses housed in renovated buildings that mix historical charm with modern verve.
According to Main Street’s Hull, Erdos quickly exhibited the traits of a successful developer: the ability to put a dream to paper, respect for a community’s historic character, a willingness to collaborate, care in selecting the right team of craftspeople and a commitment to local labor. In Erdos’ case, that included recruiting local Amish craftsmen.
Passion on fire
Once Tulipan Hungarian Pastry and Coffee opened and Erdos’ passion had been fully lit, he turned to other projects in rapid succession – 23 residential lofts, an upscale steakhouse, a wine cellar and other tasteful establishments, some done solo, others done with partners. These and other projects are keeping downtown Wooster’s commercial vacancy rate around five percent or slightly higher.
Consistent with the emerging look and feel of downtown, this grandfather of six believes that when melding past and present, less is more. This concept appeals to tourists, generates return business, and ultimately contributes to a developer’s profits as an investor in his own creations.
Peeling back plaster and drywall to expose century-old brick clearly excites Erdos, as does salvaging tin ceilings. His look is historical yet hip, and he does not favor adding “a lot of fluff.” In his lofts, he tries to “give a feel, a flavor of what people might experience in Chicago, let’s say, or New York.” Offering something a bit different may be one reason why his residential units have remained almost fully occupied and why the steakhouse in which he holds a financial stake is bustling.
The missing link
Successful city planning involves knowing what pieces of the property puzzle are lacking, and for Erdos and other community leaders, that missing link was a boutique hotel to cater to the class of outsiders that Wooster is seeking to attract.
Erdos poured both passion and personal muscle into the St. Paul Hotel, which opened in 2012. Twelve rooms and suites incorporate 50-inch flat screen televisions, heated floors and classic mid-century furnishings, all part of an “eclectic elegance” that’s receiving a warm response from business people and couples.
“There’s nothing that I’ve done previously that’s been as satisfying,” Erdos said as he sat in a leather chair in the hotel’s lobby. “Every once in a while I wonder why I wasn’t doing this a long time ago.”
So, what’s next at 72? Erdos laughed, mentioned retirement, but confided that he’s been approached to work on projects in other communities. However those may turn out, he added, “I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done.”
And so, might he add, are visitors to chic, vibrant downtown Wooster, all of whom benefit from his decision to become part of the Encore Generation.