Tag Archives: community

Home Is Where the Oven Is

July 18, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Nicola Shartrand decides to spend a lazy summer morning with her two young children in their home near Lake Manawa, odds favor the happy trio baking sheets of cookies before noon in their newly renovated kitchen.

When she drives deeper into Council Bluffs to the family’s bakery, often with kids in tow, she makes hand-painted macarons, tortes, breads, cookies, and dozens of cupcakes, which then fill space in the display case, ready for public consumption.

And when John Shartrand takes the family across the Missouri to their restaurant that bears Nicola’s name, they no doubt top off the meal with Nicola’s award-winning Italian lemon cream cake.

The Shartrands’ life revolves around the food created in three different kitchens. The family travels back and forth along the routes that connect the points in their life: Nicola’s Italian Wine and Fare at 13th and Jackson streets in Omaha’s historic Old Market; Stay Sweet, Nicola’s—their bakery at 805 S. Main St. in Council Bluffs; and their gracious home in hues of gray on a quiet cul-de-sac.

The restaurant represents 15 years of ambition, hard work, and faith rewarded; the bakery, which opened in December, symbolizes dreams fulfilled; the new home kitchen has its own story, one with deep meaning for the family.

“John knew I had been putting in all these hours all these years at the restaurant, and he said, ‘You’re going to wake up one day and the kids will have graduated high school, and you will have missed the whole thing,’” Nicola recounts. “He said, ‘You love baking, you’re really good at it, why don’t you practice while you’re at home? Let me run the restaurant at night.’”

And so the original home kitchen became a laboratory for perfecting and tweaking popular dishes served at Nicola’s Italian Wine and Fare, creating new dishes, and developing recipes for baked goods. Nicola experimented for six months on the lemon cake “because Martha Stewart said every restaurant should offer something lemony.” Once perfected, the light, moist, not-too-sweet lemon cake exploded on the scene. As a result, demand for all her baked goods exploded.

So did the family kitchen.

“I pretty much destroyed it from overuse,” Nicola says, laughing as she proceeds to list a litany of problems. “We went through every single major appliance. The cabinet doors fell off from constant opening and closing. The stove went out. We needed a bigger refrigerator. And it was a really cramped working space.”

For Nicola’s birthday two years ago, John announced he would build her a new kitchen. “I wear many belts,” he quips.

The couple used a computer program offered by an assemble-it-yourself home furnishings store to measure, design, and order the materials for the new kitchen. The transaction could have gone better.

“They told us our plans were too ambitious, that we were out of our league,” John says. And when it came time to lug 279 flat boxes out of the store, “they said they wouldn’t help me.”

Undeterred, John loaded a U-Haul truck by himself, drove home, and emptied every little chrome knob and handle, every shelf, drawer, door, and cabinet from the containers. It only took a month to transform the culinary space.

They painted the new cabinetry gray to match the wall coloring. The cabinetry—above and below the long kitchen counter—helps provide 50 percent more storage space than before.

A narrow floor-to-ceiling pantry pulls out shelves and drawers to hold foodstuffs categorized by cans, bottles, and paper, “so nothing gets lost inside it,” Nicola says. Two bottles of industrial-size Worcestershire sauce appear prominently in front, as does a gallon of olive oil, which she affectionately refers to as “the best stuff on earth.”

A backsplash made of off-white, 3-by-6-inch glazed subway tiles provides a simple, clean, classic look.

The couple complemented the backsplash tile by placing an off-white, solid slab of quartz on top of the kitchen island, located in the middle of the open floor plan.

Underneath, a cabinet with 20 drawers of different depths neatly holds everything from dozens of spatulas (Nicola keeps breaking them) and half-used bags of fennel seeds to large pots and pans.

A two-door stainless steel KitchenAid refrigerator shares the kitchen’s color scheme with its gray interior, and the double-oven stove “makes cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the family really easy,” Nicola says.

The doting husband’s wish for his wife, to spend more time with Stavros, 9, and Gigi, 7, has resulted in personal growth for Nicola. Her stay-at-home baking experiments proved so popular she now supplies other restaurants and coffee shops with her sweets. She also takes special orders.

The extra income enabled John and Nicola, who both grew up in Omaha, to purchase a brick-and-mortar commercial space in Council Bluffs last November, which handyman John transformed into a full-service coffee bar and bakery. With its commercial-grade mixers and appliances, Stay Sweet, Nicola’s has taken over as the primary baking site.

John now works 14-hour days. He opens the bakery to start the espresso machine and bake muffins, intersects with Nicola and the kids in the afternoon, then crosses the bridge to oversee the restaurant.

The reward for all this hard work: a happy family.

Visit nicolasintheoldmarket.com and staysweetnicolas.com for more information about Nicola Shartrand’s culinary enterprises.

From left: Stavros, Nicola, and Gigi Shartrand.

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of Omaha Home.

A Fresh Homemade Kitchen

June 21, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Out of all the genius quotes from world-renowned architects and designers, Kylie Von Seggern’s favorite comes from a celebrity chef.

Her profile on Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture’s website lists the words of Anthony Bourdain as her favorite quote: “Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them—wherever you go.”

The mantra manifests itself throughout the architect and interior designer’s professional work and private life.

Von Seggern prefers adaptive reuse to high-profile mega projects, and she embraces community engagement and activism. Her responsive ideology is likewise evident in the renovation of her home in the Hanscom Park neighborhood.

Kylie Von Seggern

While house shopping in 2015, she wanted to find an older home with built-in character. That’s exactly what she found in her current residence, built in 1908.

The previous owner had lived there for 50 years. The warm gray interior featured dense wood trim, exquisite detailing, and the creek of wood floors. It was the perfect combination of good bones and room for updates.

For the interior remodel, she proposed “more of a modern upgrade” than a total overhaul. The kitchen, however, lacked the rest of the house’s inherent character.

She recently renovated the kitchen to achieve a crisp, airy gathering space. She replaced the limited cabinetry and floors. But she kept the kitchen’s existing plaster walls.

For Von Seggern, the kitchen is important because everyone is always there—regardless if there’s a party or not. Part of the reason stems from her roommate being a chef.

Throughout and beyond her home, Von Seggern’s approach to design and architecture resonates with creative culinary instincts: Like a great homemade meal, “It tastes so good because you made it,” she says. 

Growing up in Lincoln, design-oriented interests eventually led her to the architecture program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

While at UNL, she participated in a 2010 study abroad program to Guatemala where she learned vernacular cinder-block building techniques.

In Guatemala, she began hypothesizing the duplicitous meanings of a home. Von Seggern ultimately realized, “Not everyone wants a McMansion,” and more importantly, “functionality over aesthetics” takes precedence.

She also studied abroad in Germany before completing her degree in Nebraska. With such international experience, her attraction to the Bourdain quotation becomes obvious. The preceding sentence of the full direct quote is: “If you’re [young], physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel—as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to.”

She began working at Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture after completing her Master of Architecture in 2013, and she began lending her voice to local architectural advocacy efforts as a volunteer at Restoration Exchange Omaha.

Von Seggern’s volunteer work allows her to have a direct impact in Omaha while developing skills in navigating city bureaucracy and finding ways to remain responsive to older architecture instead of reactively always looking for the new.

Back in her home on the edge of Hanscom Park, her kitchen is a perfect example of her finding this balance on her own terms.

Visit alleypoyner.com/kylie-von-seggern for more information.

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of Omaha Home.

Transitorily Yours

June 15, 2017 by
Photography by Amy Lynn Straub

As a millennial in the midst of fatherhood, there’s a range of interesting observations and surprising lessons I’ve taken in along the way.

I somehow evaded having a child throughout most of my adult life. As it turns out, I was terrified at the thought of being a progenitor. But now that I’m in the process of fatherhood with my 17-month-old, I’m here to say—it’s not that bad. In fact, the first lesson I learned came when I realized that fathering is actually quite a bit more enjoyable and easygoing than I thought it would be.

The second is that while the breast-feeding, co-sleeping, and full-time co-parenting strategy has observationally been of great benefit to our child, I’m convinced that my baby already came into this world packaged with her sassy wit, charming curiosity, and giggle-box antics. Knowing that makes my job simple: Love her, keep all her limbs intact, and equip her to be the person she’s predestined to be.

Thirdly, it’s pretty f@#%ing weird when a complete stranger tells you they want to eat your child. It happens a lot.

You’re walking through the grocery store, an old lady passes by and starts to geek out on your kid (normal). But then you’ll hear a line like, “She’s so absolutely adorable I could just eat her!”

What?

Truthfully, I’ve had the same thought thousands of times. Every day. I look at my daughter and I get this emotional reaction that I just can’t seem to process, so an urge comes about where I just want to dive into her sweet little rosy cheeks or nuzzle and gobble on the neck rolls. And because we relate to such statements, we just accept them as culturally permissible forms of endearment.

But if you think about it from another angle, it actually sounds like we’re sugar-coating the urge of cannibalism. Like, you really want to tear chunks of a child’s face off with your teeth?

No, of course you don’t. So how did our culture land on this odd expression?

Well it turns out there’s such a thing as “cute aggression.” It comes down to a fundamental biological feature of our humanity: Sometimes our brain can’t seem to process an overabundance of an emotional reaction, and so we balance ourselves out with a negative expression.

Have you ever responded to something insanely cute or arousing with a “grrr” sound? Had the urge to squeeze something? Tears of joy?

That’s all cute aggression. Yale graduates Rebecca Dyer and Oriana Aragon came up with the term via their research. They observed hundreds of people and recorded their emotional responses upon looking at pictures of cute babies. What they found is that while folks would express a desire to care for and protect a child, they’d also mention that they’d like to eat them up as well. The more a person elicited this aforementioned type of aggression, the quicker they were able to come back to a normal state of emotion.

The researchers surmised that from an evolutionary standpoint, our body yearns for emotional homeostasis. If we expend too much energy on emotional highs and lows, it’s taking away from our ability to get other tasks accomplished (like staying alive).

Dyer and Aragon pointed to instances in other cultures of this type of expression, such as with the Phillippines’ Tagalog people, who use the word “gigil” to mean “gritting of teeth and the urge to pinch or squeeze.” Or for folks that use the Farsi language, it’s common to compliment a baby by saying that you want to “eat their liver.”

These are also called “dimorphous expressions,” which occur when two juxtaposed responses come from the same situation. This means that negative emotions also can be met with seemingly opposite reactions, such as laughter. We see this in our culture with nervous laughter, or hysterical laughter that comes with a particularly desperate moment of sadness.

There’s a bunch of research that talks about how our brain’s release of dopamine is cross-wired with our pleasure and aggression centers, but I’ll let you Google search all this if you wanna get in deeper.

The important and odd thing to note is that from how we experience food, sex, and celebratory moments, cute aggression or dimorphous expressions are incredibly revealing of how humans express ourselves in a wide range of circumstances.

With that in mind, when a stranger at the grocery store is having a pleasure/aggression brain meltdown at the sight of your child, just know that it’s not about cannibalism. They’re just working through something so that they can get back to picking out some celery sticks.

This column appears in the July/August 2017 edition of Encounter.

To share your life perspectives—or whatever—with Brent Crampton and Encounter, email millennials@omahapublications.com.

 

June 15-18 Weekend Picks

PICK OF THE WEEK—Thursday, June 15: David Sedaris is back in Omaha and ready to draw you a little something to remember him by. Sedaris will be speaking and signing books at The Bookworm TONIGHT, promoting his latest book, Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002. The line forms at 5 p.m. Outside seating will be available and he will sign autographs. The acclaimed author is always a big draw, so be prepared to wait in line for one of his signature “signatures.” But regardless of how far back you are, don’t worry: He’s there for as long as it takes to greet everyone. To find out more, go here.

Friday, June 16: The standup scene in Omaha is slowly but surely growing, with special help from The Backline comedy theater downtown. But this weekend you can head to The Sydney in Benson to catch Gay Standup Comedy: Pride Edition. This is a recurring show that normally happens on the third Saturday of every month at The Backline and includes LGBT comics and allies of the LGBTQIA community. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the scene, now is the time. Show starts at 9 p.m. For more information, click here.

Friday, June 16: It’s that time of  year again, when Omaha becomes the home of college baseball and you start overhearing Southern drawls asking for sweet tea. And since the CWS moved to NoDo, Slowdown has been a go-to spot for all the fans looking for a break from the stands. This Friday DJ Werd and Satchel Grande play a free “dance party” for those fans and for anyone else willing to brave the heat and the crowds. To check out all Slowdown has to offer during the series, click here.

Saturday, June 17: If you want to avoid the crowds downtown this weekend, now is the perfect time to check out what Stinson Park in Aksarben has to offer this summer. The Stinson Concert Series brings local bands to the park for free Saturday evening shows throughout the summer. This week’s free show starts at 7 p.m. and will feature cover band Finest Hour. So get out and get down this weekend. To see what else is going on at Aksarben, take a look at the calendar here.

Saturday, June 17: Start Pride Week off right by checking out the Heartland Pride Parade in Council Bluffs this Saturday at 10 a.m. The parade kicks off a week-long celebration of LGBTQIA people and culture here in the Midwest, but it is just the beginning. To find out about other Pride events or to volunteeer, head here and see how you can become “alive with pride.”

Sunday, June 18: For those whose fathers could care less about baseball, the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum is offering free admission this Sunday for Dads who want to spend Father’s Day checking out some cool planes and maybe taking a crawl through the C-47 Skytrain. This is a family outing, so sorry if you were looking to escape, Dads. The kids have to be with you if you want to qualify for the free entry. For full details, buzz on over here.

Sunday, June 11: Still trying to figure out what to get your dad for Father’s Day? How about a rescue dog? This Sunday, Taysia Blue Rescue will have volunteers hanging out from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at The Green Spot with some of their adoptable huskies and malamutes. They will answer any questions you might have about what it takes to become a rescue parent for these lovable creatures. For more info, click here.

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AIGA

June 14, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you’re passionate about an activity, you want to seek out others who share your interest. The more niche an activity, the harder it may be for those with a common interest to come together.

Nebraska’s design community, though, has just the organization to meet that challenge.

The American Institute of Graphic Arts calls itself “the profession’s oldest and largest professional membership organization for design,” and it features an active chapter in Nebraska.

Amy Markham, 33, is a user-interface designer for Kiewit and the current president of AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) Nebraska. She studied graphic design at the University of Nebraska-Kearney and became involved with the organization because her professors stressed
its importance.

Amy Markham

“They were the ones that really pushed the idea of being a member of AIGA because being a part of that community is essential to your career as a designer,” she says.

AIGA Nebraska, Markham says, is all about bringing people in Nebraska’s design community together, putting potential collaborators in touch with one another and providing each other with job opportunities. The organization caters to graphic designers, web designers, user-interface designers, and the like, but AIGA has started connecting with other design professionals such as coders, videographers, architects, and animators.

“It gives them a platform to come together so they can have a voice as a whole entity,” says Cathy Solarana, 51, AIGA Nebraska’s diversity and inclusion director.

Mary Allen, 34, AIGA Nebraska’s director of communications, discovered a passion for design when she made graphics for the Facebook account of the parent-teacher organization at her daughters’ elementary school. Now she’s a full-time graphic design student at Metropolitan
Community College.

“In addition to hosting valuable events and providing design resources, AIGA offers discounts on products, software, and event admission,” Allen says. “Really, though, it’s the intangible things—friendships forged, passions discovered, and changes made—which make AIGA membership so rewarding.”

This year, many of AIGA Nebraska’s events are focused on helping its community to become more diverse and inclusive. Holding events, Markham says, is one of the local chapter’s hallmarks.

“Since we are an organization that is mostly events-focused, the events that we put on kind of create that sense of community,” she says.

“We’re not communicating particularly well if we communicate to only one particular culture or community,” Solarana says.

Cathy Solarana

On May 17, AIGA Nebraska, the Omaha Public Library, and 1877 Society hosted the Human Library at the W. Dale Clark Library. Visitors had the opportunity to come to the library and “checkout” people by speaking with them for 20 minutes, people with whom the visitors may not typically have the chance to interact, including Muslims, sex-trafficking survivors, and transgender people.

“It’s really hard to dislike someone when you are standing in front of them,” Solarana says. She also says that AIGA Nebraska hopes to hold another one in November and to hold two every year
going forward.

Allen recognizes that committing to the organization can be demanding.

“I understand that our membership and potential members are busy people, because I’m a busy person myself,” Allen says. “But something else I have in common with our membership is that we’re passionate people—passionate about design and about serving this community.”

Visit nebraska.aiga.org for more information.

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.

A New Day Arisen

June 7, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Kelly Hill stands on the corner of 30th and Lake streets admiring Salem Baptist Church’s towering cross, which looms over the landscape. A member of the church for more than 15 years, Kelly grew up in the now-demolished Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects not far from the area. He can remember a time before Salem sat atop the hill, when the Hilltop Homes housing projects occupied the area.

“I left Omaha to join the military in 1975, and I didn’t return until 1995. I missed all of the gangs and bad stuff in Hilltop,” Hill remembers. “When I was a kid, it wasn’t a bad area at all. Me and my sister would play around there all the time.”

Within those 20 years, Hill was fortunate to have missed Hilltop’s downfall, as it would eventually become one of Omaha’s most notorious housing projects.

A major blight on North Omaha’s image in the 1980s to mid-1990s, Hilltop Homes would eventually be the second major housing project demolished in the metro area after Logan Fontenelle.

Before Hilltop Home’s razing in 1995—which had the unfortunate consequence of displacing many lower-income minority residents—the plague of drugs, murders, and gang activity had turned the area’s housing projects into a localized war zone.

It was a far cry from their humble beginnings as proud housing tenements for Omaha’s burgeoning minority population that exploded in the 1940s.

Edwin Benson

Built around Omaha’s oldest pioneer resting place, the neighborhood takes its name from Prospect Hill Cemetery on 32nd and Parker streets. Prospect Place was repurposed by the U.S. government to house a large influx of minority and low-income residents, mostly African-Americans, who migrated to Omaha seeking opportunities outside the oppressive South during the mid-20th century. Some 700 units of public housing emerged across the city in the 1940s, including Hilltop Homes and the nearby Pleasantview Apartments.

The projects were conveniently situated. Hilltop’s 225 units were positioned in a centralized location along 30th and Lake streets, near the factory and meatpacking plants on 16th Street to the east, with Omaha Technical High School to the south (the largest high school west of Chicago at the time).

Multiple generations of families would come to call Hilltop and Pleasantview their first homes; however, the collapse of the job structure on the north side of Omaha in the late 1960s would be a major catalyst in Prospect Place’s eventual downfall.

Successful factories and stores that kept the area afloat—such as The Storz Brewery and Safeway Grocery Store—closed their doors. At the same time, new civil rights laws prohibiting job discrimination were being passed. Some believe that fear of change, and fear of civil rights era legislations, motivated major employers in the community to move from northeast Omaha westward. A disappointing trend of joblessness and poverty would eventually devolve the community into a powder keg ready to blow.

Multiple riots at the tail end of the 1960s would take an additional toll on North Omaha. Four instances of civil unrest would erupt from 1966 to 1969, decimating the community.

“Too many kids were getting shot, killed, it was pretty bad in Hilltop.” Benson says.

The last North Omaha riot would happen a day after Vivian Strong was shot and killed by Omaha police in the Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects not far from Prospect Place. Rioters would go on to fire-bomb and destroy a multitude of businesses and storefronts in the neighborhood.

The local chapter of the Omaha Black Panthers would stand guard outside of black-owned businesses like the Omaha Star building at 24th and Lake streets in order to prevent its destruction. Many businesses would never recover from the millions of dollars in damages caused by the riots.

These disturbances would mark an important time-frame for Hilltop and Pleasantview’s gradual downfall. The turbulence within the community, spearheaded by systematic racism and poverty would take its toll on the area.

The Prospect Place projects would devolve into a dilapidated ghetto, with even harsher times awaiting the neighborhood as gangs and crack-cocaine would hit the city hard in the 1980s.

Omaha wasn’t a place people would have thought the gangs of Los Angeles, California, would make a strong showing. Quite the contrary,  gang members from the West Coast would eventually discover Omaha’s smaller urban landscape to be an untouched and lucrative territory.

Ex-gang member Edwin Benson can remember the switch taking hold in his later teenage years.

“The Crips came first, I’d say around the mid-to-late 1980s. They took over areas like 40th Avenue and Hilltop,” Benson says. “The Bloods’ territory was further east, big in the Logan Fontenelle projects and up and down 16th Street. So, gang-banging kind of took over the city for a long while.”

The isolated, maze-like structure of Hilltop and Pleasantview, along with the high-rise apartments added in the 1960s by the Omaha Housing Authority, would make them ideal locations for the burgeoning Hilltop Crips and other smaller street gangs.

“I can remember kids from Hilltop coming over to Pleasantview and starting trouble.” Benson recalls. “We would fight about who had the better projects! We fought with our fists, rocks, sticks…whatever was close you got hit with!”

A refuge for illicit activity had sprung to life within Prospect Place in the 1980s. Members of the community, as well as police officers, grew hesitant to venture into the area. Hilltop became a forgotten segment of the city, lost to the surrounding metro’s progress, marred by a decade of violent crime and drug offenses.

Hilltop would see an unfortunate trend of senseless homicides and gun violence that would peak in the early ’90s.

In 1990, two young men from Sioux City were shot outside of Hilltop when they stopped to ask for directions to the Omaha Civic Auditorium on their way to an MC Hammer concert.

In 1991, a 14-year-old boy was arrested for stabbing a 13-year-old boy during a fight. That same year, a local Crip gang member was gunned down at the 7-Eleven on 30th and Lake across the street from Hilltop.

In 1993, the pointless murder of another teenager may have finally spelled Hilltop’s doom. 14-year-old Charezetta Swiney—known as “Chucky” to friends and family—was shot in the head from point-blank range over a parking space dispute on Oct. 22. A sad occasion at the beginning of the school year, Benson High School was gracious enough to host the high school freshman’s funeral with more than 700 people in attendance. She was the 31st person slain in Omaha that year.

Jay W. Green, 27, would eventually be found guilty of Swiney’s homicide, charged with second-degree murder and use of a firearm to commit a felony in the summer of 1994. At the end of that same year, Omaha’s City Council would begin laying the groundwork for Hilltop Homes’ eventual razing in 1995.

Benson, the former gang member, believes Swiney’s murder and the rampant gang activity within Prospect Place were the main reasons for Hilltop Homes’ demolition.

“Too many kids were getting shot, killed, it was pretty bad in Hilltop.” Benson says. “Once the projects were gone, I think the Hilltop Crips just kind of faded out. We would joke and call them the ‘Scatter-site Crips’ since everyone was being moved to the scatter-site housing out west! If you hear someone claiming Hilltop these days they are living in the past.”

The demolition would leave a desolate space in its wake. Fortunately, the barren eyesore would not last long, as Salem Baptist Church would make their ambitious proposal for the site in 1996.

“I can remember me and my sister marching from the old church grounds on 3336 Lake St. to the new site on the hilltop,” Hill says, reminiscing with vivid recollection of April 19, 1998, the church’s groundbreaking. It was a glorious Sunday for church members, led by then-senior pastor Maurice Watson, a culmination of Salem’s proposed “Vision to Victory.”

Salem’s groundbreaking ceremony was heralded, marking the once-troubled land of Prospect Place as an “oasis of hope.” The community witnessed the progress as the newly razed 18 acres of land transformed from a vestige of poverty into a church sanctuary seating 1,300 people, in addition to classrooms, a multi-purpose fellowship hall, a nursery, and ample parking. Prospect Place was undergoing a new renaissance which would continue well into the new millennium.

Othello Meadows is the newest pioneer at the head of changing the image of Prospect Place. Having grown up on Omaha’s north side, Meadows remembers the projects as “a place not to linger if you weren’t from there.” After years away from his hometown, seeing the remnants of Hilltop Homes and Pleasantview Apartments was eye-opening.

“When I came back to Omaha, I was surprised by the disinvestment in the area after the projects were gone,” he says. “It went from housing thousands of people, to a sense of abandonment; like, only two houses were occupied on the entire block.”

Meadows’ words ring true. Other than Salem’s deal with Walgreens, which acquired acres of land for around $450,000, no additional development had taken place for years within Prospect Place. Fortunately, Meadows and the 75 North Revitalization Corp. are looking to reinvigorate the area.

As the executive director of 75 North, Meadows refers to Prospect Place as the “Highlander” area, which helps to separate the land from its troubled past. His goal is to bring life back to the area.

The development company now owns the land where the Pleasantview apartments resided before being demolished in 2008. A plan for a new neighborhood with continued growth is the main focus for the area, and he expects tangible progress in the coming months.

“If you drive down 30th Street between Parker and Blondo, you’ll see real work happening and real things going on.” Meadows says. “We have about 12 buildings under construction that are 50-70 percent complete [as of early February 2017], including a community enrichment center called the Accelerator that is 65,000 square feet, a very beautiful building. By late April to early May 2017 we should have some apartments up, and we already have people putting down deposits and signing leases. People are excited to be moving into the neighborhood.”

When asked about the targeted clientele for the new apartments and retail space, Meadows provides a broad answer: “The motto that we follow is—trying to create a mixed-income community. We’re not trying to recreate the projects, of course, but we also don’t want to create a neighborhood where longtime residents can’t afford to live. We have to balance the prospects of affordability and aspirational thinking.”

Indeed, when looking at the seventyfivenorth.org website, the ambitious vision for the Highlander Apartments is a far cry from the projects. Photo galleries and floor plans envision a renewed community akin to Midtown Crossing and Aksarben Village. The images are cheerful, depicting people riding bikes and walking dogs, even an imagined coffee shop.

In a way, the renewed development, optimism, and potential for economic growth in the Highlander area can trace its roots back to the members of Salem and their desire to build a signal of hope where it once was lost.

But Hill (the former Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects resident who left Omaha in 1975 and returned in 1995) doesn’t think the church is given adequate recognition for its contributions.

“If a person didn’t know this place’s history of violence and poverty before Salem was built, they would only see the progress in this area as simple land development,” Hill says. “Salem doesn’t tend to broadcast the things they do for the area other than to its members, so those on the outside don’t necessarily recognize its lasting influence.”

It’s undeniable that the soaring church spire on the hill is a spectacle to behold on a bright, sunny day. It stands as a symbol of hope and belief. Benson still looks at the former site of Prospect Place with a hint of longing.

“I know it might sound crazy, but I was a little sad when Hilltop was torn down.” he admits. “A lot of good memories were made in those projects. But I love seeing the church up there. I hope whatever comes next is good for the community.”

Visit salembc.org for more information about Salem Baptist Church. Visit seventyfivenorth.org for more information about 75 North.

Salem Baptist Church

Broom Man

June 1, 2017 by
Photography by Kent Sievers

Sculptor John Lajba has made a name for himself by documenting Omaha’s most iconic figures. His subjects range from joyous to somber.

One of his bronzes, The Road To Omaha, is a familiar image broadcast during ESPN coverage of the College World Series.

When police officer Kerrie Orozco was killed in 2015, hundreds of mourners left flowers and mementos at the foot of Lajba’s fallen officer sculpture, just outside of Omaha police headquarters.

Now, a group hopes another unforgettable figure will join the ranks of Lajba’s definitive sculptural portraits of Omaha history.

Family and friends knew the bronze-to-be as the Rev. Livingston Wills. For the rest of the city, he was “The Broom Man,” a man born with only 5 percent of his vision who traversed the city on foot, for decades, selling his brooms.

The Broom Man Project—formed in March 2016—is an effort by David Jensen, Jim Backens, Marc Kraft, and Lajba to memorialize Wills, who died in 2008 at the age of 91. Almost 10 years after his death, people still vividly recall Wills selling his brooms on routes that took him through North Omaha, Benson, and up through Countryside Village.

The Broom Man Project launched a GoFundMe campaign last October to fund a sculpture in honor of Wills. Since its launch, the site has raised approximately $9,000 of its $150,000 goal. Downtown Omaha Inc. has almost matched that amount, bringing the total raised so far to about $15,000.

“Our very first contribution was five dollars,” Jensen says.

A Facebook page, dedicated to Wills, is filled with posts recounting memories of meeting him. One post called for people to post pictures of brooms purchased from Wills.

While many fondly recall long conversations with Wills, at times, he could be very business-oriented: Get the sale. Move on to the next customer. Get another sale.

Jane’s Health Market in Benson is situated at the location of one of his many regular stops. Owner Jane Beran says she bought several brooms from Wills.

“I can’t remember him sticking around much. I would just buy a broom from him, and he’d be on his way,” Beran says.

Wills was born in Brownsville, Tennessee, about 60 miles northeast of Memphis. In Brownsville, he began making brooms out of cornstalk. He eventually moved to Nebraska, where he studied English and history at Union College in Lincoln. He then moved to Omaha, where he was a pastor at the Tabernacle Church of Christ.

For decades, to support his family, he would sell brooms, going door-to-door and to businesses. Toting brooms over his shoulder, and using a cane for support, he would use his whistle as a sort of a sonar to detect nearby obstacles. Lance Criswell, grandson of Wills, would see him when he was done with a typical workday.

“I’d say, ‘What have you been doing, Rev.?’ and he’d say ‘scratchin,’” Criswell recalls. “‘Scratchin’—that means he’s been working.”

In 2006, Barbara Atkins-Baldwin wrote a book based on her family’s experiences with Wills. The book, The Blind Broom Salesman, was reissued with a new cover last year. Atkins-Baldwin pledged to donate all of the profits from her book to The Broom Man Project. In November, Leavenworth Bar posted a check for more than $550 to go toward the sculpture on The Broom Man’s Facebook page.

When it came time to choosing a location for the proposed statue, Lajba wanted the Douglas County Courthouse because of the building’s downtown location and its historical significance. When he first heard about making a sculpture in Wills’ honor, Lajba envisioned him in his usual routine: walking the streets of Omaha with his array of brooms.

“I want him to be well dressed,” Lajba says. “I really want to show how he cared about himself.”

Criswell says his grandfather had more than a hundred suits. “He’d always like to look professional when he was out selling his brooms,” Criswell says.

Criswell sat with Jensen, Lajba, and Tom Hanus at Tourek Engraving to discuss his grandfather and his impact on the Omaha community. As they conversed, the temperature outside was a crisp 18 degrees, much as it would have been when Wills walked his routes in winter.

Tourek Engraving has become sort of a centralized headquarters for the Broom Man Project, with copies of The Blind Broom Salesman stacked beside flyers that detail the Broom Man Project’s ambitions.

“If he walked through this door right now, he’d squeeze through the door, because the brooms would be over his back, and he’d say, ‘My friends!’” Criswell says, pointing to the front door. “He’d always come in with that presence. He became a part of the fabric of Omaha.”

Visit gofundme.com/thebroomman and facebook.com/livingstonwills to learn more about The Broom Man Project.

May 25-28 Weekend Picks

May 25, 2017 by

 

PICK OF THE WEEK—Saturday, May 27: Benson’s annual Memorial Day Massive Block Party is back, and this time, you might just see Jesus. Space Jesus, that is. He’ll be performing at The Waiting Room’s after party later that evening. But to see the full show, you’ll need to head to Benson a little earlier in the day. Festivities start at 4:30 p.m. and last well into the night, with outdoor performances by Snails, Boombox Cartel, ARMNHMR, and PRXZM. These shows are all ages, but if you want to enjoy yourself in a more adult-oriented atmosphere, check out the after party at Reverb Lounge, which will be 21-plus. Outdoor amenities at Reverb include a full bar, food vendors, portable restrooms, and non-alcoholic drink stations for those who wish to remain well-hydrated. For more details and to find our more about the performers, click here.

Thursday, May 25 – Sunday, May 28: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert may just be one of those adaptations that’s even more fun on stage than on the big screen, which you can now see at the Blue Barn Theatre. Based on a cult film from the ’90s, this musical extravaganza is filled with popular, easy-to-sing-along-with dance tunes that will make it hard to stay in your seat. The story follows two drag queens and a transsexual as they travel across the Australian outback in a lavender van they’ve nicknamed, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” The trio encounter hardships and make friends, and, of course, do a lot of singing in the process. The show will run Thursday through Sunday until June 25. Get your tickets now here.

Friday, May 26: Do farmers markets sound like they could be fun, but they just happen a little too early in the morning? If this sounds familiar, get ready to rejoice. This Friday is Omaha’s inaugural Turner Park Night Market. While they may not have the selection of produce one would find at typical farmers markets, there will be a vendor village, with more than 20 local vendors, and a small food festival featuring food-on-a-stick from Midtown Crossing area restaurants. Attendees can play giant outdoor games, from chess to Jenga, or they can participate in some moonlight yoga, with local yoga guru Lora McCarville. Of course, what would a night market be without a little live music? Best of all, it’s free and dog-friendly, so bring the pooches out for some quality get-down time. For more details, go here.

Saturday, May 27: Everyone knows you should eat a little somethin’ before heading out for a day/night of drinking, so check out the Food Truck Extravaganza at the Infusion Brewing Company southwest Omaha location. There will be BBQ, tacos, pizza, and fish and chips to soak up all the tasty beer you’ll want to try. But if you plan on doing some blow-up sumo wrestling, you might want to wait until afterward to check out all the beer and food so you don’t accidentally throw up. Money raised from the wrestling and from a ring toss will go to Food Bank of the Heartland and Team Blake: Fighting Against Leukemia, so make sure you have a great time for some great causes. Find out more here.

Sunday, May 28: If you’re not the camping type and you’re looking for something fun to do this Sunday, take yourself out to the Alamo Drafthouse and watch one of your favorite ’80s stars do everything in his power to get the girl. Say Anything is a classic everyone can enjoy, either with your significant other or a group of your best friends. John Cusack delivers the charm in one of his most iconic roles. Hopefully it will erase his Hot Tub Time Machine performance from your memory. To learn more about seeing Lloyd Dobler’s finest hour-and-a-half on the big screen, click here.

Big Omaha

May 24, 2017 by
Photography by Big Omaha

Rewind to May 8, 2009, and you will find a community of 400-plus graphic designers, entrepreneurs, creatives, developers, small business owners, and even a handful of investors seated in tidy rows at KANEKO in the Old Market. It was a first-of-its-kind conference for Omaha.

Many of these people knew of this event through casual conversations—mostly on Twitter—about a little-known conference coming to town called “Big Omaha.” It was the brainchild and second-born of friends Jeff Slobotski and Dusty Davidson (the previous year’s Silicon Prairie News being their firstborn). The two recognized a movement and a simmering energy surrounding the local tech community. It was a cadre of women and men who decided start-up and tech success could happen not on the West Coast but in their own backyards.

The inaugural Big Omaha sold out 10 days prior to the conference. The energy it created has sustained these past eight years. The result? Omaha is now a destination for start-ups seeking new ideas, new energy, and even new money in the form of investors.

“Big Omaha provides inspiration for people to start something,” explains Brian Lee of AIM, a not-for-profit organization that promotes technology to empower people, enhance organizations, and create brilliant communities. Lee serves as managing director of Big Omaha and Silicon Prairie News.

Two years ago, Big Omaha and Silicon Prairie News were acquired by AIM. Although the ownership structure has changed, the Big Omaha experience remains true to what Slobotski and Davidson created with the first conference in 2009.

“Big Omaha has had a huge impact on our community,” Lee says. “It is part of a larger movement in the past eight years that started with Big Omaha.”

Now the conference welcomes a sold-out audience of 700 attendees with guest speakers in a range of tech- and entrepreneurial-based industries who have crisscrossed the globe. When the speakers take the stage, the majority are candid about their successes and their failures, which they are encouraged to share in engaging, meaningful, transparent, and memorable ways.

“We ask our speakers to address overcoming challenges, which helps our audience find inspiration,” Lee says. “In the Midwest, we appreciate authenticity. Hearing those struggles helps a lot.”

Part of the splash of Big Omaha’s first conference in 2009 was its clever cow branding, developed by Omaha-based Oxide Design Co. The cow visuals have remained, although design duties changed hands in 2015 from Oxide to Grain & Mortar.

Now that Big Omaha is owned and operated by AIM, its goal is to cover costs through sponsorships and ticket sales, Lee says.

The conference continues to be a hot event. Tickets that cost as much as $599 are scooped up annually by local, national, and even international attendees.

Big Omaha could move to a larger venue, selling more tickets and earning more revenue. But Lee says from his vantage point, the Big Omaha culture isn’t about a bottom line.

“Our goal is not to outgrow KANEKO. We want to preserve the charm and the experience (of Big Omaha) for as long as we can.”

Part of this charm is the togetherness. Everyone who attends Big Omaha hears the same speakers in the same order. Speakers are encouraged to remain the entire two days of the conference, immersing themselves in the experience and networking with Big Omaha ticket-holders. (The pre-party and post-party have become a popular part of the two-day conference.)

Graphic design, architecture, tech innovation, and entrepreneurship ideas abound here. UNL architecture students provided an art installation in 2016, and a guest speaker in 2015 and 2017 was fashion entrepreneur Mona Bijoor, a favorite among the fashion designers and fashionistas
in attendance.

The conference’s first row is filled with familiar faces each year. One of them is Megan Hunt of Omaha, who has attended every single Big Omaha since 2009.

“I remember the incredible momentum that had built up in the Midwest startup community for this event,” Hunt recalls. “The desire we all had for a space to come together, share the work we were doing, and learn from the superstars in our field was palpable. The way that Dusty and Jeff harnessed that energy and built Omaha’s reputation as a hub of entrepreneurship is nothing short of legendary.”

Hunt has owned a web-based bridal design company, a co-working space, and, most recently, a web-based clothing retailer known as Hello Holiday that also boasts a very visual storefront in the heart of Dundee.

“I love going to Big Omaha because, for me, running a business is not just dollars and cents and strategy around growth,” Hunt adds. “It takes a lot of creativity and ingenuity. Big Omaha is my favorite conference because they do understand this so well, emphasizing how interdisciplinary business and technology can be, and welcoming artists, musicians, designers, and writers—people who may normally be in the minority at
other conferences.”

Big Omaha 2017

Big Omaha returned to KANEKO for the ninth consecutive year May 18 and 19. Below is the lineup of speakers.

Joe Ariel, co-founder and CEO of Goldbely

Mona Bijoor, managing partner at King Circle Capital and founder of JOOR

Christina Brodbeck, founding partner at Rivet Ventures

Daniel Burka, design partner at GV, formerly Google Ventures

Shirley Chung, chef and owner at Steamers Co.

Baldwin Cunningham, vice president of strategy at Brit + Co., co-founder of Partnered

Diana Goodwin, founder and CEO of AquaMobile

Alex Klein, co-founder and CEO of Kano Computing

Brandon Levy, co-founder and CEO of Stitch Labs

Mitch Lowe, co-founder of Netflix, CEO of MoviePass

Margenette Moore-Roberts, global head of inclusive diversity at Yahoo

Nish Nadaraja, former Yelp brand director, partner at Rich Kid Cool

Brian Neider, a partner at Lead Edge Capital

Vanessa Torrivilla, co-founder and creative director of Goldbely

Shandra Woworuntu, founder of Mentari

Matt Zeiler, founder and CEO of Clarifai

Visit bigomaha.co for more information.

Big Omaha participants try virtual reality goggles at a previous year’s event.

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.

May 19-21 Weekend Picks

May 17, 2017 by

PICK OF THE WEEK—Sunday, May 21: Ladies, if whiskey and dogs are two of your favorite things, then Havana Garage is your destination this Sunday. The Nebraska chapter of Women Who Whiskey is getting together at Havana Garage to sample some hand-selected Blanton’s Bourbon Barrel they recently acquired. The best part, though? Your babies are welcome in this bar! So bring out the pups and have some lazy Sunday afternoon fun. To join the group and stay updated on the fun, go here.

Thursday, May 18 – Friday, May 19: The Big Omaha 2017 Conference started this Wednesday, but if you missed the kickoff party at Berry & Rye (1105 Howard St. in Old Market), you can still make it to the midway party across Howard Street at Laka Lona Rum Club tonight. Friday’s adventures begin with coffee from Beansmith and end with the closing party at Hotel Deco. If you don’t have a conference ticket, be sure to RSVP. For a complete list of all the happenings (and to RSVP), head here.

Saturday, May 20: The 2nd Annual Omaha Food Truck Rodeo: Part 1 is coming to Benson this Saturday and attendees will have all day to sample food from the 15-20 local trucks who stake their claim. Outdoor seating areas, bars, and beer garden will be set up and ready to satisfy your drinking/lounging needs. For the more active, there will also be a DJ spinning, so you can shake off some of the stress from the week. Should the weather get a little iffy, no worries. You can take refuge in Reverb Lounge or one of the many other favorite stops in downtown Benson. Round up your friends and head out to taste some of the best curbside fare Omaha has to offer. Find out more here.

Saturday, May 20: Harrah’s Stir Concert Cove is bringing Grammy-award-winning indie darlings The Shins to Council Bluffs. The band is promoting their fifth studio album, Heartworms, released in March of this year. Chances are, they will still play some fan favorites, like “Caring Is Creepy” and “Kissing The Lipless,” but be sure to check out their latest tunes so you can sing along, especially to the catchy “Cherry Hearts.” For ticket information, sail here.

Saturday, May 20 – Sunday, September 17: Have you ever wanted to experience the thrill of being a spy? Then you need to check out The Durham Museum’s upcoming exhibit, Top Secret: License to Spy. This interactive display will test your skills in the psychology, technology, and science of being a real-life spy. You will receive your top-secret “Spy File” when you arrive and from then on, the mystery unfolds. Night vision cameras and laser beams will be involved, but that’s all you can know for now. To get to the full story, you will have to infiltrate The Durham and bust out your sleuthing skills. But hurry! You only have until Sept. 17 to uncover the truth. To get started, head here to start uncovering your clues.

Sunday, May 21: Looking for opportunities to help out in your community? The Omaha Girls Rock Volunteer Expo can help you out with that! There will be information tables and facilitated discussions about our community. The talks start at 1 p.m. and cover social justice through music, being an ally, and creating safe spaces within the community. You can also sign up for Omaha Gives, and if you’re worried about missing lunch, there will be food provided by Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob. So no excuses! Get down to KANEKO and start making the world a better place. For more info, take a look here.