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Lifestyles

July 9, 2014

MOSSWORDS: Discovering an old city for the first time

JEFFERSONVILLE — Sonny and Barb Brewster ran into friends from Louisville in downtown Jeffersonville. Having walked the Big Four Bridge, the friends discovered a community that’s older even than Schimpff’s.

“They really thought that is very neat,” Sonny Brewster said of what the friends found.

I could ask where these waves of discoverers have been. We are just glad to welcome them, though, whenever and however. The bigger question is if Jeffersonville makes the super-sized most of being discovered. However great, it cannot be great enough to sell a bunch of burgers and beer, chocolates and ice cream cones. Filled storefronts reflect spectacular progress, just not ultimate victory.

Right?

The Brewsters help put on concerts in Warder Park for Jeffersonville Main Street, a not-for-profit, resourceful group that has tried since downtown all-but died to return it to health. As the area again bustles, I feel happiest for people such as City Pride volunteers, the Brewsters and Jay Ellis, all who never gave up.  “Downtown always had this potential,” Ellis, Main Street’s executive director, said. “I just think the Big Four Bridge is shining a spotlight on downtown.”

What is on display, as well, is a city that still must be more. Can the walking bridge prove transformative?  Jeffersonville could become home to some of these discoverers. Newcomers could buy and fix up houses, maybe start businesses. They could become pillars in our churches, active in their kids’ schools, officers in the Optimist or the Rotary. They could become the next Sonny and Barb Brewster — devoted volunteers immersed in the joy of smaller-town life. Indeed, I cannot wait to see.

Let’s see if Jeffersonville can change without changing.

Let’s guess how trendy Jeffersonville can be, or wants to be.

Let’s imagine yuppies thicker in Jeffersonville than were Democrats, back in the day.

“I don’t think we’ll ever get to a point where everything’s done,” Ellis said, eager to explore opportunities that newfound interest offers.

Like me, Ellis hears of downtown property values and rents already going up.  We listen to Claudia Gatewood, who opened Choices gift shop on a fairly-abandoned Spring Street 13 years ago. A proud survivor, Gatewood plans now to live downtown and to pass on the store to young relatives. Beyond more customers, Choices and its owner have more hope. Gatewood counts on current buzz not to fade. “[But] we have to continuously work at it,” Gatewood said. “We can’t sit back and expect anyone else to do it.”

Rob Klaus, of Inner Spring Yoga, is a relative newcomer to the downtown business scene. Unburdened by the area’s long struggles, Klaus seems not the least bit surprised that sidewalks brim and an inviting, potentially-lasting mix emerges. “It’s the kind of place that cries out — this would happen,” Klaus said.

Ellis reports that a public-art push continues and that the crucial addition of attractive places to live seems likely. Creating small parks, overhauling sidewalks — advocacy and money for help finally should have wind at their back. “It can always be screwed up,” Lisa Green, another Main Street volunteer leader, said of the challenge that momentum provides. “But hopefully not. It has quite an engine behind it now.”

No way Jeffersonville Main Street will kick back, though deserved. Concerts in the park and much else go on and on. If less urgent, Main Street’s job is no less vital, “We are trying to decide how we can capitalize on this new interest, new relevance,” Ellis said.

“The progress is outstanding, but we still need to look at things that need to be improved. There’s always room for improvement.”

— Send column ideas to dale.moss@twc.com

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