In the Beginning...
Of course the neighborhood was here before we opened in 1980, but that is where my history starts.
Although, I can add a bit of a backstory. The area just north of downtown was once a vital area, full of restaurants, and all sorts of retail - tailors, candy shops, grocers, dry cleaners. All the businesses that make a neighborhood tick. There was housing for the railroad workers, since Union Station was right there. White Cross Hospital was also a big draw, so there was rooms for let to serve not just the staff, but relatives of the patients. Doctors and dentists had offices on the upper floors of the building at the corner of Buttles and North High Street. Then, the suburbs took over, the downtown area hollowed out, White Cross was torn down, as was Union Station. All the mansions on Neil Avenue and Buttles Avenue, once some of the grandest in the city, were turned into rooming houses. You could buy one for $5000 in 1980, if you were willing to put a LOT of work and money into it.
So, back to our beginnings. There were many vacant storefronts and derelict buildings. Vacant lots full of rubble. Union Station is gone, but the Convention Center has taken its place, and North High Street has just reopened.
Yet, there are pockets of life. A grocery store/deli. A few art galleries. Some really cool junk stores. Some diners. Some really scuzzy dive bars. A couple of strip clubs. And us.
Our little block housed one of the dive bars, a coin shop, a rugby club (the building's owner son was a member), and a dead-or-alive TV store. We stood out like a gem or a sore thumb, depending on how you looked at it. That first year saw us renovating the space and stocking the shelves and paying a full years rent for $6000.
The neighborhood advanced very slowly. The big leap forward was in 1984 when the south half of the block sold to a developer who renovated it, and the coin shop went upscale(ish), some more galleries opened, and the rugby club left. (The dive bar is still there to this day.) The Gallery Hop started in October of 1984 and we were off!
The next summer more buildings were renovated to the south, bringing more galleries and incredible restaurants and increasing our critical mass. Success came to us, a reward for persistence and hard work.
Now, the rents have increased to the point that many galleries can't always afford the south end of the district. The north end is a bit rawer, with some funky energy and a world of possibility. A lot like the south end back in 1984.
We are at a tipping point. Businesses will close. Restaurants will close. Rents might just come down, making it easier for us to remain an arts district. Or the economy may just crush us as it crushed all the vital businesses of the earlier generations. This is our challenge. This is our future.