News and Tribune

Business/Money

May 31, 2014

A NEW OUTLOOK: Big Four Bridge changing downtown Jeffersonville

JEFFERSONVILLE — Fifteen years ago, Linda Williams opened the Old Bridge Inn Bed and Breakfast in her 1830s historic home on West Chestnut Street.

What she didn’t know when she named her business for the then-defunct railroad bridge was that the structure would one day guide people practically into her yard — and into other parts of downtown Jeffersonville, too.

“I didn’t know,” Williams said. “I named it because I wanted to bring attention to the landmark.”

The innkeeper is just one of many local business owners and residents who are witnessing the historic district’s transformation in the last week as thousands cross over the Big Four Bridge on foot and bicycles from Louisville.

And the general consensus is that more people are flooding into Jeffersonville than expected.

“It’s great to see the people coming and filling up the shops,” she said. “ ... It’s dollars walking across the bridge for everyone, I hope.”

But such a successful project can’t be only credited to city or state officials, she said.

“It takes a whole community to revitalize something like this,” Williams said. “Now, we can all be proud and enjoy the fruits of our labor.”

A DIFFERENT PERSONALITY

The pedestrian and cyclist bridge that opened to Jeffersonville on May 20 has prompted a handful of new businesses to open.

Williams opened Chestnuts and Pearls two weeks ago — an antique and arts gallery on the first floor of her home — and she’s seen a lot of browsers and buyers who come in fresh off the bridge.

“We’re thrilled,” she said.

Olive Leaf Bistro, a fine-dining Mediterranean and European restaurant on Riverside Drive, opened last Wednesday and has been very busy since.

Jimmy Shraby, the bistro’s owner, said that many of their guests are Big Four Bridge-goers.

“The walking bridge is bringing thousands of people, especially on the weekends,” Shraby said. “As soon as you come off the bridge, you are one block away [from us], which is very convenient.”

He also said his restaurant offers quite the view to its patrons.

“You’ve got a river view everywhere you sit,” he said.

Red Yeti Brewing Co. opened on Spring Street a day before the Big Four Bridge became passable to both locals and guests.

“We were slammed with people,” said Brandi Ronau, the microbrewery and restaurant’s owner.

Ronau said they had a few problems in the first three days — she had no idea the walking bridge would open just a day later — but has since worked things out.

“We’ve gotten in the groove of things and it’s really gotten a lot smoother,” she said.

Ronau said her business is getting probably three times as many customers as she expected, with more than 50 percent who have come across the river from Louisville. The restaurant has had to double and even triple some of its batches.

“We have a brisket sandwich that we can’t keep,” she said.

Red Yeti got its brewing equipment recently and expect to have its own beer ready in about three months.

Ronau said the face of Spring Street is completely different than it was even 10 days ago, comparing it to the old black and white photographs she has seen of a bustling downtown Jeffersonville.

“It’s kind of like that [again],” she said. “It’s pretty cool.”

City Councilman Mike Smith, who represents District 1 in downtown Jeffersonville, walks the bridge every night around 10 p.m. He also said the face of the city is transforming.

“I think the personality of downtown Jeff is going to change,” said Smith, who grew up in the city. “... I knew about everybody downtown, but now there’s so many unfamiliar faces, and it’s kind of neat.”

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