"When you're alone and life is making you lonely you can always go downtown," sang Petula Clark in the 1960s.
But it's unlikely the same could be said of modern day downtown Tulsa. While its skyline is impressive with just enough ups and downs, the right amount of scattered buildings and the Art Deco aspects that make it more than just tall, square building after tall, square building, the streets are often deserted. Should anyone take Clark's advice, going downtown might make them just as lonely as they were before arriving.
Video footage of downtown from decades past is bittersweet, knowing those buildings used to be filled with delightful people and events. No offense to the companies and their employees currently roaming the halls downtown, but gone are the days when department stores like Brown-Duncan, Vandevers, Frougs and Renberg's held the best in Tulsa fashions with window displays like modern day New York.
The mid 20th Century downtown also featured other shopping sectors like Davis Sporting Goods, Krests, Zales, Sears and JC Penney's. By the 1960s, the illuminated store signs were coming down and those glamorous department stores were neglected as shopping areas moved to other parts of the city. Southroads, Southlands (modern day Promenade), and Eastland Mall (R.I.P.) were built, and Sears moved to its current residence at 21st and Yale.
Downtown streets, once filled with shoppers this time of year, are now deserted on weekends and only see traffic during the lunch hours of downtown professionals. But there is one store that has landed smack dab in the middle of downtown and hopes that others will soon follow-- Dwelling Spaces at Philcade.Before you ask, yes, Dwelling Spaces still operates its second location at 2nd and Detroit, but owner Mary Beth Babcock opened another store at Philcade. This mini version of the store (its only 320 square feet) is located at 511 S. Boston. The idea for the second location came from the leasing director of the Philcade Building, Victor Wamdres of Kanbar Properties. Wamdres was eager to give something very pro-Tulsa to the downtown district.
Given Babcock's style of inventory, the choice seemed like a natural fit. Babcock recently took an inventory at her flagship store of all the items (books, t-shirts, jewelry, etc.) sold that were created in Tulsa by Tulsans. The number hit around 85 vendors -- artists, musicians, authors, fashion designers, jewelry makers and more that all call Tulsa home.
Dwelling Spaces is also home to two very pro-Tulsa t-shirt lines. You'd have to have been living in a Tulsa-based bomb shelter to not have seen at least one person sporting the Louis & Cluck Tulsa line -- "Viva Tulsa," "Don't Hate the 918," "I'm Down With T-Town" and the like. And for a year now, another Oklahoma-centric t-shirt has been making the rounds as well, "Okie Grown." For that line, Babcock does more than just stock them in her store, she's the mastermind behind Okie Grown.
The store's line of items expands outside of the 918 area code, including home decor from Jonathan Adler and other "hip stuff from New York to keep the store cutting edge." But it was Babcock's attention to local items that caught the attention of Wamdres that caused him to approach Babcock with the idea of the second location for Dwelling Spaces. Babcock was initially worried, since the second store would be so close to the original Dwelling Spaces. Looking over the data gathered, though, she saw a low risk opportunity.
She had plenty of inventory to fill the small space; and with 1,000 employees alone working in the offices above the shop, she was automatically exposed to potential shoppers. With its great historical location, and the realization that she could help kick start other small, locally owned businesses to branch out downtown, Babcock said yes.
Taste of Tulsa
The store opened in November with a pinpointed scope of items, providing downtowners with what they want and/or need. Take birthday cards, for instance. With thousands of employees nearby, the birthday tokens are now easily within walking distance for those celebrating coworker's births. Babcock has also used the new location to showcase a piece of Tulsa to out-of-towners. As she noted, visitors are always downtown-- for business, performers for the productions, as well as musicians and their entourages. That's why bestsellers like the two localized t-shirts, of course, are in the Philcade location.
Babcock said that some of the most popular items at the Philcade location so far are the books and DVDs about Tulsa's historical Art Deco architecture. Shoppers are also welcome to have a taste of Tulsa, with Topeca coffee offered to shoppers and packages of the beans for sale. As she's done with her merchandise (local products and eclectic east coast items), Babcock has found a balance between catering items to the locals and visitors alike. And that's what Babcock loves about the new store's location; she meets people from out of town who are pleasantly surprised of how cool the city is, while still coming across Tulsans who want to share their personal stories and histories of the city.
Dwelling Spaces at Philcade is currently open from 10am- 2pm. Babcock based the hours on the highest traffic in downtown Tulsa, the hours before and after the lunch hour. In fact, Babcock is using the lunch crowd to her advantage doubly. She has struck up a bond with Libby Auld, owner of the new downtown restaurant Elote Café and Catering. Together, the two work their individual business' crowd to visit the others. Elote tells its visitors about nearby Dwelling Spaces for shopping and Babcock tells her shoppers about the nearby restaurant. It is this mentality of local businesses helping local businesses that Babcock hopes will spread throughout downtown. She's a self-proclaimed optimist that hopes the success of her store encourages others in Tulsa to start a business in the area. She also hopes she's forced to expand the store hours to keep up with the demand of eager shoppers.
Until then, she's still busy, and not just because of the season. Despite the doom and gloom of consumerism this season, both stores are as busy as ever. Additionally, Babcock is expanding Dwelling Spaces' online store. Online buyers can currently find a variety of fashions, Oklahoma-based media and art, gifts and toys, but Babcock wants to keep with the growing demand of online shopping by including more of Dwelling Spaces' merchandise on the Web site after the holidays. Since so many visitors to both stores are from out of town, she hands out business cards and encourages shoppers that aren't from around here to shop the store online. The Louis & Cluck line and her own Okie Grown t-shirts are already being discovered outside of the city, with orders of the tees shipping to New York and the West coast. To keep up with the demand, more merch must go online.
Babcock is also working on expanding the audience for Okie Grown. Realizing that more than just Tulsans want to showcase their civic pride, she is working with Black Mesa Studios (who assisted in creating the design of the Okie Grown t-shirts) to create a catalogue for wholesale throughout the state and beyond. The Okie Grown line extends past the t-shirts, but all feature the signature design of the state bird, the scissor-tail fly catcher with the words "Okie Grown" encircling it like a new state crest. The Okie Grown label now features tote bags, magnets, keychains, greeting cards and stickers, in addition to the tees and baseball tees for adults, children and even baby onesies.
To find out more information about Dwelling Spaces (or to do a little shopping) you can visit the stores' Web site dwellingspaces.net. The site is also where local artisans who want to become Dwelling Space Tulsa vendors can find out how to do it. You can also keep up with both stores' events, which Babcock hosts several times a year to celebrate the local lines, at myspace.com/dwellingspaces.
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