Old Bank Vaults Are New Tourism Moneymakers
Traveling around Ohio I see the darndest things. Several years ago, I filmed two videos around the same time. One was in Wooster, Ohio and the other in Tipp City, Ohio. What I discovered, I had never seen before but have since seen sweeping the state.
My Wooster stop included Gallery in the Vault at the main corner downtown. I walked into the art gallery and was instantly enamored not only by the visuals throughout but the enormous bank vault facing the door. It was open and inside was a variety of exhibits that all lent to the transformation of this former bank.
The big vault dates back over 100 years to when Citizens National Bank installed it. Later the building became a Bank One branch. In 1995, Gallery in the Vault bought the building and opened for business the following year.
“There’s another vault that hasn’t been opened in decades,” said Judy Schmitt, owner of Gallery in the Vault. “Nobody knows what’s inside it if anything at all.”
This vault has a combination lock but nobody knows it. It would probably take Diebold to come break it open to crack the mystery. But don’t go calling Geraldo Rivera for another TV special because it would probably turn out the same as his infamous two hour special – The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults – empty!
The big vault, also Diebold, is filled with safety deposit boxes. When the old bank sold, all of the boxes were opened. If nobody came with a matching key, the lock was drilled out and opened. During the banking years, the main door to the big vault was set to timed release. Only at that time could two people with separate combinations go to the two separate dials simultaneously to open the big vault door. And there were only two people in the whole bank that had the combinations (one each). If something happened to one of those two people, you’d need to call Diebold in Canton, Ohio.
Gallery in the Vault offers an eclectic mix of handmade items from artists across the country. These are one-of-a-kind offerings. It features art glass, stained glass, pottery, wood, jewelry, original paintings and handmade Tiffany reproduction lamps. These incredible stained glass lamps are made by Cliff Lamborn in Massillon, Ohio. In addition, the gallery does custom picture framing and now has a separate room for its collection of antiques for sale. Gallery in the Vault is located at 105 East Liberty Street across from the Wooster Courthouse and iconic Everything Rubbermaid Store.
I mentioned a second place I had visited with a repurposed bank vault inside a former bank building. This was Coldwater Cafe in Tipp City, Ohio. There, you can dine in the vault. Yes, that’s right, sit at the dining tables inside the vault as if you were anywhere else in the restaurant and enjoy the experience. And what a unique experience it is to walk through the huge vault door and be seated with a menu.
This vault was made by The Mosley Company and was originally the property of Citizens National Bank in Tipp City. The building later became a Fifth Third Bank. The original vault is in the basement but Citizens National added a new vault on the first floor. This is the vault that now serves as a dining room.
No fear, the vault door is locked open. Even back in the day, vaults like this and the one in Wooster have a warning system.
“When the vaults were active, if someone had the unfortunate fate of getting locked inside of it, an emergency handle starts an aerator which brings in fresh air to breathe. It also sounds an alarm and triggers a red flashing warning light,” said Jenny Swiggart, General Manager at Coldwater Cafe and Catering, Inc.
Coldwater Café also has fireplaces adding to the cozy ambience. It opened in 1994 and offers a sophisticated menu with things such as ostrich being served. But it also has normal fare. The restaurant is located at 19 East Main Street in the quaint town of Tipp City, Ohio just a stone’s throw from Dayton.
Since visiting Wooster’s Gallery in the Vault and Tipp City’s Coldwater Café, I have learned of many other places around the state that have acquired old bank buildings and currently use the old vaults within in clever ways.
Maybe one of these are close to you:
- Lou Holtz/Upper Valley Hall of Fame in East Liverpool, Ohio uses their old bank vault as an exhibit holding the gangster “Pretty Boy” Floyd in jail.
- The Wine Vault in Vermilion, Ohio is a restaurant with a bank vault open for dining.
- Selah Restaurant in Struthers, Ohio has vault seating for up to 12 people.
- Starbucks in Bexley has a vault you can sit inside and sip your coffee
- Penzey’s Spices in Upper Arlington, Ohio and also Ohio City. Both locations actually use old bank vaults inside old bank buildings.
- P.J. Marley’s in Medina, Ohio has a bank vault open for dining.
- J. Gumbo’s Restaurant in Baltimore, Ohio uses their old bank vault as restrooms.
- PJs Deli in Toledo, Ohio
- Caribou Coffee in North Olmsted
- Tellers’ in Hyde Park (Cincinnati), Ohio uses their old vault as part of their dining room.
- The Vault in downtown Columbus has a bar setup inside the vault.
- And Cleveland, Ohio has old bank vaults being used at Vault Speak Easy Bar in downtown and Hyde Park Restaurant in downtown.
- There are also vaults used at Dante Restaurant in Tremont, Crop Restaurant in Ohio City, and Rockefellers Restaurant in Cleveland Heights.
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By Frank R. Satullo, The OhioTraveler