5 Star Stories: Broad Avenue Arts District boasts quirky stores and eclectic eateries

Updated: Jan. 19, 2021 at 10:01 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - You know you’re in the Broad Avenue Arts District when even your water tower is a work of art.

From quirky stores to eclectic eateries, Broad Avenue grew into a national model for grassroots economic revitalization.

“Everything on the street is independently owned much majority women-owned, and it’s just a really special place, and very unique place,” explained Mary Claire White.

White is president of the Historic Broad Avenue Arts Alliance and owner of Falling Into Place, a home and lifestyle boutique.

The native Memphian remembers the blood, sweat and tears that went into Broad Avenue’s revival.

“Taking this sort of urban, rundown area and turning it into something that was a destination,” she added.

Broad Avenue was bustling with a barber shop, grocery stores and restaurants until 1950 when the state began constructing Interstate 40, now Sam Cooper Boulevard, through Binghampton.

The plan was to displace homes and businesses along Broad.

By the time citizens stopped the I-40 construction from being routed through Overton Park 20 years later, it was too late. Businesses and residents had mostly cleared out and Broad Avenue was a ghost town with vacant buildings.

After decades of abandonment, community stakeholders mobilized in 2010.

“They had a big event on the street called ‘New Face for an Old Broad,’” said White.

Locals gave Broad a face lift by adding crosswalks, cleaning vacant buildings and encouraging the community to re-imagine the strip.

The Water Tower Pavilion became a gathering space for dance, food and activity and Broad Avenue became a festival magnet.

Now, White, an elementary school teacher-turned business mogul, has handmade candles in 65 stores across America, spreading the magic of Broad Avenue across the country.

Other entrepreneurs added to the buzz, like WiseAcre Brewing Companyand Mbabazi House of Style.

“We have home decor. We also have accessories and some of the things you see in the store, the clothing, we make 100%,” explained Grace Byeitima.

She named her boutique after her mother who taught her to sew at age 13.

“After school, she put me into an apprenticeship program with the former lecturer in London College of Fashion and that’s where I actually trained as a designer,” she recalled.

Her creations fuse African print and Western styles, a reflection of the eclectic community on Broad.

“If I didn’t have the people on the street, I probably wouldn’t be here,” said Byeitima.

The Hampline connects Overton Park and Shelby Farms Greenline via Broad Avenue and Tillman Street, sending bicyclists and foot traffic through the area.

Luis Toro of Venezuela has two set ups on Broad: City & State Coffee Shop and The Liquor Store diner.

“We really saw a need for more food options, so we jumped at the idea of refurbishing an old liquor store,” said Toro. “One of the great things is the street is pretty walkable and we end up with a book end that is Wiseacre and so on a beautiful day we get quite little bit of traffic with people going down to the tap room.”

Shop owners and visitors can expect more movement when a new a 400-unit apartment complex opens at the old pavilion on Broad.

“That’s, that’s a really wonderful thing. I mean, the restaurants and coffee shops and all of us, we’re very excited about having people on the street that are gonna consider us part of their neighborhood,” said White.

A neighborhood representing true transformation and one of the reasons we love calling Memphis home.

“There are areas like this all over the country that are using Broad Avenue as a national model, because of the way that the way that we’ve built up this area, and how it’s been successful,” White added.

Click this link for more on the upcoming plans for the district.

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