Delaware's growing reputation as a "community of foodies" soon will be bolstered by the debut of a business specializing in olive oil and vinegar.

Delaware's growing reputation as a "community of foodies" soon will be bolstered by the debut of a business specializing in olive oil and vinegar.

Chris Schobert hopes to open his store, Olivina Taproom, around Thanksgiving at 44 S. Sandusky St. Workers earlier this month repainted the exterior of the former Verizon store and are progressing on updates to the site's interior.

Although Schobert lives in Orange Township, he said he and his family "have really used Delaware as our downtown." He said that made the decision to open a business in the city's downtown an easy one.

"The vibrancy and growth and the culture is really what we seek," he said.

Schobert said he thinks his business, which will offer about 40 varieties of oil and vinegar upon opening, will add to a growing "foodie culture" in Delaware. He said he sees the downtown becoming one of the hipper areas in central Ohio.

"The destination is becoming definitely a little more high-end," he said.

Sean Hughes, Delaware's economic development director, said his colleagues in the development field are taking notice of the city's success at attracting high-end restaurants and retailers.

"All my counterparts are calling us the 'north Short North,' " Hughes said, referring to the popular dining and shopping destination adjacent to downtown Columbus.

Hughes said the downtown's high-end reputation, burnished by new businesses such as Olivina and the Greater Gouda, a specialty grocer that opened earlier this year, has the city "on the radar" of high-end restaurateurs.

"We're becoming, really, a community of foodies," he said.

Hughes said the city also is seeing increased attention from founders of start-ups and retailers. One of the biggest challenges, he said, is finding space in an almost completely occupied downtown.

Schobert, a longtime marketing professional, said he had been developing the Olivina Taproom concept for a few years. He said he was encouraged by the tight real-estate market in downtown Delaware before settling on his 1,700-square-foot space.

"As a business owner, that's what you want to see," he said about the downtown's occupancy rate.

Hughes said he's now seeing investors interested in buying entire buildings downtown. He said he welcomes that activity if it leads to the renovation of second-floor spaces for high-end apartments or office space, both of which he said are lacking downtown.

Hughes said even the city's shopping centers and strip malls outside of the downtown are at or near 100 percent occupancy.

"It's just an incredibly exciting time," he said.

Schobert said he's happy to be a part of this "exciting time" in Delaware's history. He said he looks forward to contributing to the city's foodie culture, even if involves a decent amount of education for customers not used to buying olive oil outside of a grocery store.

"The ability for our customers to come in and taste is key," he said.

Schobert said he thinks customers who get a taste of Olivina and downtown Delaware will keep coming back.

tgallick@thisweeknews.com

@TWGallick