Midtown Merchants Form Madison Biz Association

By Bill Dries

Merchants along Madison Avenue from Cleveland to Cooper streets are forming a business association.

Business owners once on different sides of the bicycle lanes controversy have now banded together to form the Madison Avenue Business Association. James Watson, above, says the stretch of Madison Avenue is the most bike-friendly in Midtown.

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

A group of 50 business owners and operations on what is Midtown’s Main Street gathered at Minglewood Hall Wednesday, July 18, to get acquainted and kick off the effort.

Many already got to know each other last year in a different context – the debate over bicycle lanes along the same stretch of Madison that began in the spring of 2011.

Business owners were split with some in favor of the bike lanes and others against them. It was far and away the most contentious debate in the city’s two-year effort to create a network of dedicated bicycle lanes.

JDe DeHart of Minglewood hosted many of the forums and meetings on the issue and was among those who saw something else in the debate.

“We saw the amount of passion for and against the bikes,” he said. “That’s when we realized there was so much passion. How can we make that positive? We all really want Madison to be great.”

Anna Holtzclaw of Loeb Properties is president of the association, which is still working on a logo and welcoming new members on an avenue that is a mix of apartment buildings, offices and a large concentration of locally-owned retail businesses.

Loeb is the developer leading the rebirth of the Overton Square entertainment district.

One of the association’s first goals is to improve the Madison streetscape, which is currently getting new street light fixtures.

Holdsclaw says the association’s goal is “really communicating through a direct line with the city of Memphis.”

“The second piece of it is what can we as business owners do ourselves to raise the bar,” she added. “How can we promote ourselves and get more people to come down and find out how wonderful Madison is.”

Eric Vernon of the Bar-B-Que Shop wants the group to “tighten up the street” and its look as a prelude to Overton Square’s comeback. And he said the association should take some cues from businesses in the Cooper-Young area, just south of Overton Square.

“I think a lot of people in this city no longer know what Madison has to offer or what’s on Madison,” he said. “You’ve got some really neat venues and some venues that have been around for 20 years or more. People need to start hearing about them.”

DeHart says the stretch of Madison from Cleveland to Cooper has three distinct segments.

“You’ve got the Madison Heights district, which is where we are. Then you’ve got the Belvedere triangle … then you’ve got Overton Square,” he said. “Make all three sections work together in unison because if Overton Square’s busy, I’m going to be busy. If I’m busy the others will be busy.”