VOL. 124 | NO. 144 | Friday, July 24, 2009
Broad Avenue Works to Become Biz Hot Spot
By Tom Wilemon
NEW BUSINESS: Kent Freund, a carpenter, is installing a new hardwood floor at a double shotgun cottage being transformed into commercial space for Trillium WomanCare, a business owned by midwives Amy Stewart-Banbury and Andrea Christianson.
PHOTO BY TOM WILEMON
While vacancy signs pop up like weeds in many commercial areas, they are gradually coming down in the Broad Avenue Arts District.
This area of old storefronts and warehouse space just to the east of Overton Park is experiencing renewal despite a prolonged recession. Businesses are relocating to the neighborhood, artists have been setting up studios there and people are coming out at night.
Trillium WomanCare, a midwifery service, soon will move into a double shotgun that is being converted to commercial space. T. Clifton Art Gallery relocated from Berclair to a corner building a few months ago. The UrbanArt Commission moved its office here last year and Odessa, a nonprofit arts and music venue, also began operations last year in the district.
Other new tenants include a smattering of independent artists who live there or have studio space in the neighborhood. The area is also becoming a popular evening destination because of special events, such as one today at T. Clifton Art Gallery to benefit Volunteer Mid-South, and two popular restaurants, Broadway Pizza House and The Cove.
Dee Ploch and Rosie Thomas, two veteran employees of Broadway Pizza, took a break one recent afternoon to reflect on how far the district has come.
“Business really has picked up through the week – especially on the weekends,” said Thomas, who has been a cook at Broadway for 17 years.
“This has been a totally awesome year,” agreed Ploch, who said she had been a waitress at Broadway for 20 years.
Cut off and largely forgotten after the extension of Sam Cooper Boulevard was completed in 2003, this commercial area is coming back because of a number of factors. It has a committed organization, the Broad Avenue Business Association, looking out for its best interest. It has a long-term revitalization plan. And it has affordable leases.
“Honestly, we chose that location because we had looked all over town, and we found that the rent that they were asking for commercial space was highly reasonable,” said Amy Stewart-Banbury, a co-owner of Trillium WomanCare.
The new location at 2610 Autumn Ave. will be visible and accessible to motorists on Sam Cooper and just around the block from people strolling through the Broad Avenue Arts District, she said. The Broad Avenue Business Association has worked for several years to establish an arts identify for the district and in March the Memphis City Council passed a resolution officially recognizing the area as such.
“For the first three to four years, we had a major target of what we wanted to accomplish,” said Michael Wayt, a business association board member. “That was to clean up the area, get more people involved, get name recognition and get it designated as an arts district. Now, we’re formulating another plan and another set of goals because we’ve accomplished it. It’s been a lot of hard work. I have to say a lot of members have put a lot of time and hours and sweat into it. It’s wonderful. Now we’re taking it to the next step.”
The association wants to bring in more amenities, such as benches for pedestrians, and target certain businesses, such as a coffee shop or bakery, Wayt said.
Larry Schmidt, a property owner in the district, has three of the new tenants, including Trillium. The other two are Odessa and an independent artist. He said he still has one space available, including a 2,000-square-foot apartment that also could be used as a studio.
Although businesses are beginning to come into the district, many storefronts are still available. Tom Clifton, the owner of T. Clifton Gallery, said he believes the upswing will continue.
“I was attracted to this area because it was up and coming,” he said. “My client base is as much East Memphis as Downtown, so the idea of going to South Main (Historic Arts District) was not an option for me. I was able to get in on the ground floor and I loved this space. I think by getting in on the ground floor, I was able to get a good rate and hopefully keep that good rate as time progresses.”