Merchants Association upbeat about prospects as gay shopping hub comes back to life
Eighteen months ago, things were looking a little bleak on the Cedar Springs strip.
Major road construction projects on either side of the gayborhood were keeping customers away, and the number of vacant storefronts was rising. On top of that, widespread redevelopment in the area meant fewer residents, and a high-profile murder near a sidewalk ATM brought safety concerns.
It was around this time that, in response to the problems, a handful of business owners on the strip banded together to form the Cedar Springs Merchants Association.
Today, the Merchants Association has more than 20 members, including almost all businesses on the strip, and the group’s monthly First Wednesday event typically draws up to 1,000 people.
The road projects are winding down and redevelopment has progressed significantly. Safety issues are being dealt with, and despite tough economic times, Cedar Springs business owners seem rather upbeat. In fact, they’re now planning major improvements in the entertainment district, including gateway arches at Wycliff and Oak Lawn avenues, within a few years.
"We’ve got people coming back to the street. Now, we’ve got to make it a street that people want to come back to," said Scott Whittall, president of the Merchants Association and owner of Buli CafÃ©.
Whittall and others said First Wednesday, which will celebrate its one-year anniversary Dec. 3, has been instrumental to the strip’s rebound. First Wednesday, from 6 to 9 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month, features discounts and other promotions at participating businesses. Whittall said the event has increased interest in the Merchants Association among business owners, and reminded customers that the strip isn’t open only on weekends.
"If you give people a reason to come down here, other than the same old thing, they turn out," Whittall said.
December’s First Wednesday will feature a tree lighting ceremony and Santa Claus, as well as performances by the Oak Lawn Band and the Texas Women’s Chorus.
Whittall said in addition to the gateway arches, the Merchants Association plans new trees, light poles that can hold vertical signs, posts for hanging banners across the roadway, and cobblestone sidewalks and crosswalks.
The upgrades are necessary to remain competitive with other LGBT-friendly entertainment districts, such as Knox-Henderson and the Bishop Arts District, he said.
Whittall said the Merchants Association plans to tackle the improvements a little at a time over the next few years, but the first changes will be evident this winter after a property owner renovates Crossroads Market and TapeLenders Video, as well as vacant storefronts that housed An Occasional Piece and Shades of Grey.
Meanwhile, Throckmorton Mining Co. recently reopened in the old Sue Ellen’s, an Italian restaurant is scheduled to replace Frida’s, and a development at the site of the old Tom Thumb store is nearing completion.
The Merchants Association’s board, which meets monthly, recently traveled to City Hall to talk to Councilwoman Pauline Medrano and openly gay former Councilman Ed Oakley. The main topic of discussion was the possibility of obtaining matching funds from the city for the Cedar Springs projects.
"It was a very positive meeting and everybody came out feeling very good about it," Whittall said. "Obviously the biggest issue with anything is raising the capital."
For more information on the Merchants Association and First Wednesday, go to http://dallascrossroads.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 28, 2008.