Sunday, February 18, 2018

Downtown Longview optimism not dampened by closings

By Ken Hedler
Jan. 24, 2018 at 11:53 p.m.

Above: Deborah Bolton works  the lunch rush Wednesday at her restaurant, Deb's Downtown Cafe, which she opened in 2003 on West Tyler Street in Longview. Below:   A crowd gathers for lunch at Deb's on Wednesday.

Business owner Holli Gold believes losing several downtown Longview restaurants over the past couple of years has dealt a big blow to the area.

"I think it really hurt this part of downtown," Gold said about the closure of Willy G's Bar & Grill in September 2015 and the Tyler Street Bistro and Osaka Sushi Bar & Grill this past year.

Gold owns Hopscotch for Children consignment store on Tyler Street and Emily Rae's Bridal, Prom & Tux Boutique nearby on Center Street, both with her daughter, Emily Gorman.

However, she mentioned other businesses that have recently opened on Tyler Street, including Silver Grizzly Espresso, Oil Horse Brewing Co. and Lindsay Steele Photography. She said the location of Longview World of Wonders children's museum is a plus for downtown.

"I'm not really (pessimistic)," Gold said about the future of her businesses in downtown.

With the recent closure of two more downtown businesses — Funky Monkey Floral and Gifts and Bon Temps Sports Bar & Grill — some say parking remains a detriment to customers, and more downtown living space would naturally bring more activity to stores and restaurants.

Deborah Bolton opened Deb's Downtown Cafe in 2003 on West Tyler Street and has seen other businesses come and go over the years.

Bolton, who is open for breakfast and draws a busy lunchtime clientele, said the key to survival is "the friendliness. It's more like family. The food is good. ... My soups are made from scratch. It makes a difference."

Heather Scott walked across the street Wednesday from her office for lunch at Deb's.

"I have always enjoyed Deb's food," said Scott, who has worked downtown for a year. "They have a good variety on their menu. Daily specials. It's just easy to come across here for lunch."

Bolton acknowledged parking might be less than convenient, while adding downtown shoppers can find ample spaces if they are willing to walk a couple of blocks.

She said the owner of a former downtown salon told her that her customers were older and could not find a place to park.

Other merchants differ over whether parking is an issue.

"I always hear about a parking problem," said Anne Kelt, who opened Hick & Frog Bistro in March on East Tyler Street. "I don't believe there is a parking problem downtown."

Kelt, who lived downtown while growing up in her native France, said some people don't like to walk.

However, Kelt and Bolton share at least one thing in common: Their restaurants are next to empty buildings. Lauren LaBoyteaux closed a photo studio on East Tyler, next to Hick & Frog, in April, while Deb's is next to the Funky Monkey.

Vacant space is even more obvious elsewhere on Tyler Street. The Tyler Street Bistro on East Tyler and adjoining Gerald's Martini Bar closed in May after owner and downtown promoter Gerald Rodriguez died. Attorney Doug Monsour recently bought the Tyler Street Bistro building but has not gone public with his plans.

On the other side of Tyler Street is Osaka, and next to it is the shuttered Bon Temps, though owner LaCoya Plater said the closure is only temporary while she and her husband, Jonathan, assemble a new management team.

Other vacant commercial space bears the names of former tenants on the block, including Ellie Bee's — which moved from downtown— and Inspire Photography by Hannah, which are listed for lease.

Kelt and insurance agent Cole Tomberlain said they would like to see more businesses open downtown.

"I think if you get the right business down here, I think you will definitely get a lot of support from the community," said Tomberlain, who patronized a food truck at lunchtime Wednesday on Center Street.

"I think the (Silver Grizzly) coffee shop has been great," he said. "Deb's has been here forever. We come down to eat lunch (at Deb's) all the time. I would like to see somebody bring something back like Gerald's."

Businesses downtown would benefit if more people live there, Kelt said.

Downtown housing is in the works, but not immediately, with Saigewood Development of Austin qualifying for federal tax credits to finance the conversion of the former Petroleum Building at 202 E. Whaley St. into 49 apartment units.

"I am not going to leave," Kelt said. "It is what I like. Downtown is the American culture."

While other businesses have failed, Bolton's restaurant has thrived.

"I must be doing something good," she said. "I am truly blessed."



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