Under the Banner

‘Historically Hip’ Cooper-Young takes steps to define itself

By Amos Maki

If you’ve made your way to the Cooper-Young Historic District lately, you might have noticed the new banners hanging from street poles throughout the neighborhood.

The Cooper Young Business Association has installed 26 banners on MLGW poles down Central Avenue, Cooper Street and Young Avenue that promote the district.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The 26 banners, which line Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division poles down Central Avenue, Cooper Street and Young Avenue, feature images of some of the neighborhood’s biggest assets: the business owners and customers who have helped turn Cooper-Young into such an urban success story.

“We took pictures of everybody in the neighborhood and put those images on the banners,” said Tamara Cook, director of the Cooper Young Business Association.

The new banners are part of a broader campaign aimed at better defining the residential, retail and dining district’s geographic boundaries and reputation as Memphis’ “historically hip” neighborhood. In addition to the banners, the business association has rolled out a new logo for the neighborhood and is making improvements to the gazebo area at the intersection of Cooper and Young.

The CYBA commissioned the banners, which feature the new logo designed by Cooper-Young resident Adam Shellabarger. The logo looks like a street sign at an intersection, with “Cooper” sitting above “Young” and the neighborhood’s “Historically Hip” motto emblazoned on the bottom.

The photos featured on the banners include team members and customers at Flashback, Polished Bottle, Java Cabana, Young Avenue Deli, Central BBQ, Alchemy, Tsunami, Phillip Ashley Chocolates and New Ballet Ensemble, among others.

Cook said part of the impetus for the push was to clearly define the neighborhood’s boundaries for visitors.

“We’re just trying to identify Cooper-Young,” said Cook. “Some people just don’t know what Cooper-Young is, where it starts and where it ends. “I was always scared that people wouldn’t know they were here when they got here. Did people really know they were in Cooper-Young when they got to Central? We just thought we needed to identify the area better than we had before.”

Cook said activity in Cooper-Young is at an all-time high, including 16 businesses that have opened since January. There are now 187 businesses in the neighborhood, including everything from restaurants, fitness-related shops and retail stores to manufacturers and service-based businesses.

“We are at our highest capacity ever right now,” said Cook. “It says to me we’re still doing what we’ve been doing all this time, which is being successful. There are a lot of people here nobody thinks about. There’s a lot more support here in Cooper-Young than just the restaurants.”

Cooper-Young has been on the ascent since the early 1990s, when residential and commercial real estate development finally rebounded following years of painstaking work by the Cooper-Young Community Association, CYBA, the Cooper-Young Development Corp. and others.

“I used to go out to everybody and tell them about the business association,” said Cook, who arrived in 1999 and has had a front-row seat for the neighborhood’s resurgence. “Now, people come to me.”

The American Planning Association recognized Cooper-Young in 2012 as one of the “Top 10 Great Neighborhoods in America.”

“It’s still growing, it’s still a hip place to hang out, young couples are still buying houses in the area,” said John “Tiger” Bryant, owner of Young Avenue Deli and co-owner of Soul Fish Café. “The neighborhood is still strong.”

Cook and Bryant said Cooper-Young is now poised to enjoy a broader resurgence of Midtown as a whole, one fueled in part by the redevelopment of Overton Square by Loeb Properties.

“There’s almost a Midtown-wide campaign going on,” said Bryant. “With the relaunch of Overton Square, I feel like that just brings more people to Midtown, which is good for everybody. If people are in Overton Square, they might be more apt to turn down Cooper to the Cooper-Young area. Ultimately, I think if there’s a synergy between the two.”