In 2010, Crescent Hill was named by Southern Living Magazine as one of the top comeback neighborhoods of the South. The article touted the Frankfort Avenue business corridor as a major contributing factor in the resurgence of community pride by Crescent Hill residents. The small-town and family-friendly feeling along Frankfort Avenue is no accident, and events over the years have hinged on a simplicity that draws from previous generations.
To fully appreciate the extent of the area’s comeback, you need to see just how far down the tubes Frankfort Avenue had slipped. Exodus to the suburbs back in the 1950s and the blow of a massive tornado in 1974 caused many of the old landmark buildings in Clifton and Crescent Hill to fall into disrepair. The residential base managed to hang on, but by the late 1980s, a description of Frankfort Avenue in The Louisville Times as “a less than vibrant commercial district” was charitable, given the boarded-up storefronts and condemned buildings that littered the corridor.
But there were signs of hope even as far back as 1989, when Courier-Journal reporter Martha Elson, a Crescent Hill native herself, wrote that “plans pushed by the neighborhood community council are being carried out to further restore, rebuild and preserve the commercial district on Frankfort Avenue.”
Elson was referring to people like Margaret Browning, owner of Margaret’s Consignment & Collectibles in the 2700 block of Frankfort Avenue – now called “the model block” or “the perfect block,” because it demonstrates what smart neighborhood retail development can do to improve an area.
Twenty years ago, Browning mended together several buildings that had been condemned by the city to expand her now-thriving retail business. Over the years, Browning has headed up The Olde Tyme Christmas celebration, including the Santa Sprint – a fundraiser for United Crescent Hill Ministries – as well as the Dog Walk and the annual presentation of the Mayor’s Good Neighbor Awards, which recognize those who improve the quality of life in the community.
Both the Crescent Hill and Clifton neighborhoods host a long list of events, including an Easter parade and the F.A.T. Friday Trolley Hop. “Trolley Captain” John Johnson, owner of The Wine Rack and vice-chair of the Frankfort Avenue Business Association (FABA), says the trolley hop has been thriving since its inception more than seven years ago. “It’s been a concerted team effort involving the individual sponsor businesses, the Frankfort Avenue Business Association, and the neighborhood itself,” he says. “People flock to the corridor to shop and try new restaurants. It seems that they come from a broader and broader area each year.” Johnson says major sponsors like Maker’s Mark, BBC, Brown-Forman and the Mellwood Arts Center have substantially contributed to the success and longevity of the year-round monthly event.
The latest addition to the trolley hop route is The Comfy Cow, with a scheduled opening of October 26. Owners Tim and Roy Koons-McGee had originally intended to build their first ice cream shop on Frankfort Avenue, but that plan was delayed. “We just thought the area was under-served for ice cream, but then we stumbled on Westport Village,” says Tim. “We talked to the developers and got a great opportunity, but it came full circle when we wanted to grow the business – we returned to our first thought, Frankfort Avenue.”
The Koons-McGees found that the beleaguered Queen Anne building in the 2200 block was available and set out to bring it back to life. “We knew it would be a challenge, but we thought it was calling out to us. It seemed like the right thing to do,” says Tim. “We believe that when you try to do the right thing, good things happen.”
Don Burch, former co-owner of Quest Outdoors and immediate past president of FABA, lives just a few blocks off Frankfort Avenue. He sees the area as a Louisville hot spot that’s gained some recent momentum in spite of a down economy. Burch believes part of the avenue’s attraction has to do with its human-scale environment, but says a lot of people can share credit for the way the avenue has evolved.
“We have a bunch of early pioneers, like Tim Coury of Porcini, Mike Mays and Gary Heine of Heine Brothers’, and Margaret Browning of Margaret’s Consignment. Galleries like B. Deemer have been here for a long time. The North End Cafe came in and sort of started things moving at that end of the street,” says Burch. “When we brought Quest down here about eight years ago, it was kind of a bold move for a retailer because there really wasn’t that much retail on Frankfort Avenue.”
Burch says the success of the corridor, though not something that has happened overnight, has developed steadily because of the people involved. “You have to give the Clifton and Crescent Hill neighborhood associations a lot of credit. They have worked in conjunction with the Frankfort Avenue Business Association, and together we’ve done a lot of things that make this a very desirable place to live, work and play.”
Burch recalls another Crescent Hill resident, Lynn Winter, owner of Lynn’s Paradise Cafe (which began on Frankfort but is now located on Barret Avenue) telling him some years back, “‘If you think Frankfort Avenue is on a roll now, I’m telling you it’s just beginning.’ She got it right,” he says. “Since she said that, some things have really taken off.”
In July of 2010, FABA partnered with 9th District Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh to launch the Green Triangle Business Recycling Pilot Program. Now, over 200 businesses along Frankfort Avenue have the benefit of curb side recycling. The program – the first of its kind in Louisville outside of the downtown business district – offers businesses a cost-effective means to recycle by providing orange 95-gallon recycling containers for $50 each, funding that equips the solid-waste packer trucks with special arms to empty the containers.
Ward-Pugh says she’s proud to see public infrastructure improvements by city government that began some 20 years ago become a top priority, citing residents and business owners who volunteered their efforts and partnered with government to improve their neighborhoods. “Those partnerships have grown and led to stronger neighborhood associations, new business associations, hundreds of retail investors, local entrepreneurs, and creative problem-solving,” she says, adding that the focus on developing “through a green lens” will help the area become a more sustainable and resilient community.