POSTED ON JANUARY 23, 2013:
Around the Bend
New businesses brighten cozy corner of downtown
Call them creepers. When the cars roll into downtown from East 3rd Street, the speed drops and the staring starts.
"It's fun to see," said Lana Thomas, seated not far from the storefront-style windows of the clubhouse-slash-office where she or her husband, Ronnie, can be found most days.
Starting two years ago, the couple began investing in property along the crook of a neighborhood. It's labeled Hodges Bend by Google Maps, but more likely to be called East Village or East End Village by those with a history there.
Several brick buildings date back to the early 20th century, and views give a glimpse of the city's skyline.
"It had, obviously, lots of character," Ronnie Thomas said, describing searching for the right site to open his wife's photography studio eventually led them to purchase four properties.
Lights strung across East 3rd Street might catch a newcomer's eye, or the red English phone booth at South Lansing Avenue put there by Ronnie Thomas. The office used by the couple often is well-lit from within, creating another roadside distraction.
Soon cars will have more reason to stop. High-end coffee and wine will be paired at Hodges Bend, 823 E. 3rd St., a new shop set to open by early February.
The business partnership between sommelier Noah Bush and Topéca coffee company co founder John Gaberino fits in well with a push to make the neighborhood more of a destination for those seeking an alternative to other downtown hangouts.
"I feel like a lot of the other areas of downtown might be a little bit over saturated. I think it's time for the businesses downtown to spread out a little bit," Bush said, taking a break from painting as he and Gaberino worked to get the place ready for opening night. He added that he expects the business "to give this area a certain nerve, I guess it'll give it like a daytime and a nighttime heartbeat."
Across the street, Studio 818, 818 E. 3rd St., has already hosted several live music events. The owners, Kevin Smith and Amy Addington, collaborate as artists and life partners. The engaged couple's retail store showcases their skill in mixed-media and graphic arts, with cut glass and repurposed oil barrels making up the materials for works like a hanging light shade and an eight-foot-tall art deco-infused "Tulsa" sign.
Concerts on the adjacent patio -- The Groove Garden, officially -- have drawn talent like Mark Gibson and other like-minded musicians known for song craft as opposed to sonics.
"It's such a relaxing place to go to," Smith said. "It's not a bar situation." Future plans involve food trucks and a steady schedule, staying open Friday and Saturday nights.
Bush, a Hodges Bend resident for nearly four years, said he's seen the neighborhood evolve recently.
"Now, it's just a lot nicer area to be in," Bush said, marveling at the influx of picture-takers who only recently have begun to be a steady presence in the neighborhood.
He praised the Thomases -- his landlords -- for making improvements, noting that Lana Thomas' studio moved into a vacant building. Her VoulezVous Boudoir photography venture at East 3rd Street and South Lansing Avenue makes use of renovations done by the couple that will allow for rooftop access to create a true Tulsa backdrop.
Another recent arrival in the neighborhood is the American Theater Company, 308 S. Lansing Ave., which moved to the neighborhood within the past year. The artists are in the early stages of making their space into a cabaret theatre.
The new businesses combine with others that have a long-term presence in the neighborhood, like the wine tasting room of Girouard Vines, 817 E. 3rd St., and artist studios at Living Arts of Tulsa, 307 E. Brady St.
Living Arts has had a presence in the neighborhood since 2000, said Steve Liggett, artistic director at Living Arts.
"Over the course of time that we have been there, the Equality Center has been built," Liggett said, referring to the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center at East 4th Street and South Kenosha Avenue.
The borders of Hodges Bend aren't well defined beyond East 3rd Street, though a 2001 land use study on East Village identified boundaries as roughly being South Lansing Avenue and South Detroit Avenue, from East 2nd Street to East 7th Street.
Ronnie Thomas spoke about how further changes could bode well for the area, noting plans to build the Tulsa School of Community Medicine at South Greenwood Avenue and East 1st Street, about four blocks from the heart of East Village.
"When OU-TU med school goes in that will help, down the road. You can see how it could flow," Thomas said.
Above his office are seven loft apartments.
"We've got a waiting list. We have no problem renting any lofts out, ever," Thomas said, noting how he recently heard a complaint about the lack of housing in general downtown.
Looking ahead, Thomas said he'd like to see a restaurant in the area. He's patient about the properties he owns, however.
Referring to the Hodges Bend coffee and wine bar site, "I could have rented it out immediately, but I turned a lot of people down," he said, explaining that he wants to expand on the current feeling of the neighborhood.
"My wife and I both thought, when people come down here, we want them to feel like they're -- I don't want to say in another country, but something different than everything else," he said.
The neighborhood features two murals done by Addington's son, Jon Heckman, including a Beatles-inspired painting on the side of a brick building.
The works just add to the unique character of the neighborhood, as will the pressed tin ceiling of the Hodges Bend coffee and wine bar and the Groove Garden patio concerts planned for later this year.
"I think downtown is really booming right now, and it's sort of off the beaten path, but like it's a footstep off the beaten path," Bush said.
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