Tag Archives: Retail

It Takes a Village

June 1, 2014 by
Photography by Omaha Summer Arts Festival

One of the most colorful of Omaha weekends awaits as the Omaha Summer Arts Festival prepares to launch its 40th season June 6-8.

“The Omaha Summer Arts Festival is like creating a village—a city within a city,” says Vic Gutman, founder and director of the event. “Hundreds of artists interacting with tens of thousands of our friends and neighbors turns Farnam Street into Omaha’s back yard for one brief but exciting weekend. It’s a social experience as much as it is an art experience.”

The history of the festival closely mirrors that of Downtown Omaha over the course of the last four decades. The now-venerable Old Market was in its infancy when the event first moved to abut an empty pit of a construction zone that would soon become the Central Park Mall, now known as the Gene Leahy Mall. City sidewalks were largely deserted in a urban area that had for years been on a slow but steady economic decline.

“The backdrop for the festival has changed dramatically since then,” Gutman adds, “and the event parallels how our city has earned its reputation as a thriving place for creativity, culture, performing arts, and retail.”

The festival’s artist market may be the main attraction, but the all-ages fun also extends to a hands-on, activity-packed Children’s Fair. Ready for a bite? Check out the savory offerings of the TasteFest to fuel your booth-hopping journey from 10th to 15th streets along Farnam. The soundtrack of the crowd-pleasing event will once again be provided by an eclectic array of artists playing on the World Music Pavilion Stage.

Over its storied history, the event has attracted more than three million visitors to Downtown Omaha and more than $15 million in artwork has been sold.

“The Omaha Summer Arts Festival rises above a mere arts festival,” Gutman adds. “It’s about celebrating Downtown. It’s about community and the life of a city. It’s about Omaha.”

The Olde Towne Elkhorn Girls

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

To some, “small town” can imply limits, not too much to offer, even boring. But to others who know better, the term small town suggests friendly people, strong values, and off-the-beaten-path variety. The merchants of Olde Towne Elkhorn are working together to promote the latter identity and are slowly but surely being discovered.

Just a few blocks west of the busy highway that is 204th Street, you’ll find a quiet street lined with plenty of unique spots that bring about a shopping experience that will satisfy and surprise those not already familiar with Olde Towne.

“We’re still kind of a secret, but I think it’s growing more and more,” says Andrea Ramsey, owner of Andrea’s Designs. It’s a unique combination of women-owned businesses, as well as the camaraderie that these women share, that has helped this small business district become a welcoming and fun place to spend an afternoon.

The shops range from home furnishings and décor, to clothing and jewelry, to a haven for local artists and those with a green thumb. And while the shopping will satisfy a variety of styles and tastes, the owners of these businesses have one goal in mind…to support one another.

“We’re still kind of a secret, but I think it’s growing more and more.” – Andrea Ramsey, owner of Andrea’s Designs

Andrea’s Designs specializes in traditional home décor and furniture. Ramsey is an interior decorator and works with fresh flowers as well.

Leona Anderson, owner of Little Scandinavia, has had her shop for seven years. This little haven of all things Scandinavian has more than the customary moose and Viking-related items. It also offers sweaters made of Norwegian wool, Danish jewelry, and a small section devoted to food and drink favorites from the region. The store is welcoming and cozy, especially when Anderson greets you with a cup of coffee and home-baked goodies.

Anderson has seen the community grow in recent years. “Each one of these women brings something unique and fun to our downtown,” she says. “We have a good time when we get together.”

Studioviews, owned by Deb Trowbridge, had its grand opening last April. The studio offers lessons in working with clay and slab pottery, as well as original works. Trowbridge and her partner, Colleen Riordan, also do commission work such as custom mosaic countertops and backsplashes.

“It’s really charming and has a lot of character. I think people miss that.” – Karly Van Wie-Olson, owner of Karly & Company

Across the street, Karly Van Wie-Olson opened Karly & Company last November. While she specializes in home décor and gifts, Van Wie-Olson describes her style as more rustic with a mix of contemporary. She is also an interior designer for both residential and commercial spaces. She says that her experience with Olde Towne has been wonderful. “It’s really charming and has a lot of character. I think people miss that.”

She also appreciates the way the women all support one another and work so well together. “I love the people here.”

One way the Olde Towne group has found success in promoting each other’s businesses is in starting “Second Saturdays.” The promotion, which includes several but not all of the 21 downtown shops and eateries, allows customers to earn one “Olde Towne Buck” for every $20 they spend at participating shops on the second Saturday of every month. The shopkeepers will hold an annual auction in which customers can bid on items donated by participating stores. This free event includes complimentary hors d’oeuvres and beverages.

An old church houses Kelli Fuglsang’s shop, This & That & Other Stuff. Since moving in last October, Fuglsang has enjoyed working with the other ladies along Main Street. “I didn’t know what to expect being down here…we’re kind of off the beaten path.” She adds that they all look out for each other. “It’s phenomenal. I’m so happy to tell anybody that comes in about any of the shops…how to get to them, what they have…”

“If somebody’s running late, we’ll go stick a note up on the door or we’ll go in and help them out in their shop. It’s just really supportive.” – Michele Minnick, owner of The Garden Gallery

Using the shortcut that Fuglsang tells her customers about, you can find The Garden Gallery. At first glance, it appears to be the yard of a busy gardener; you soon discover that this is not the run-of-the-mill flower garden. “I specialize in really unusual annuals, perennials, and tropicals,” says owner Michele Minnick. Open year round, she also works with mums, poinsettias, and bulbs. Visitors will also find fun potting containers and garden art and accessories to help create your own “Fairy Garden.”

“They’re one of the biggest trends,” says Minnick. Legend says that these miniature gardens and their fairies will watch over your own garden and can include anything from tiny bridges, trees, ponds, pathways, and birds and nests.

Inside the Garden Gallery house, shoppers will find more unique pieces for, well…inside the house. The rooms of the old home have been converted to showrooms filled with fun clothing, jewelry, home décor, and art, much of which is supplied by as many as 25 to 30 local artists, including Minnick herself. “I do more whimsical paintings,” she says as she points to the brightly colored canvases.

Minnick’s been in Olde Towne for several years and says that she loves the community of which she has become a part. “It’s neat, because all of us are different.”

The neighborly atmosphere cannot be missed. “If somebody’s running late, we’ll go stick a note up on the door or we’ll go in and help them out in their shop,” she says. “It’s just really supportive…It’s good.”

If you’re looking for a fun, friendly, and unique shopping excursion, Olde Towne Elkhorn will not disappoint. Bring your friends—and make new ones—in Olde Towne.

Be sure to check out Olde Towne Elkhorn’s blog at oldetowneelkhorn.blogspot.com and stop out for the next Ladies Day Out, Sept. 21 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Hutch

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It all started with a hutch.

From the moment Nick Huff and Brandon Beed traveled to Lincoln to retrieve the cabinet furniture piece, they knew that the thrill of finding the hutch would ignite a passion for preserving and selling Mid-Century furniture. Shortly after that trip, they transformed that passion into Hutch, Inc., an antique and vintage furniture shop with Huff and Beed both serving as president.

Hutch, Inc., specializes in “high-end, Mid-Century furniture finds.” Anything from lamps, coffee tables, and couches to record players and dishware can be found at Hutch, but each item must fall into the Mid-Century style—something modern with a Danish influence.

“We define Mid-Century to be 1950s to early 1970s. Now, not all pieces during this time are what we want. We specifically focus on the modern, bright color, pointy leg with beautiful, clean wood pieces,” Huff explains. “We have rummaged the Midwest to bring Omaha the finest Mid-Century furniture under one roof.”

What makes Hutch different from other antique shops is that Huff and Beed preserve the furniture themselves. Whereas similar shops may paint or distress the furnishings, Hutch focuses on making the original character of the furniture shine.

“The furniture is so iconic and beautiful as it is that the only thing we try to do is make it look like you went back in time and were buying these pieces new,” Huff says.

In July, Hutch moved from a shared basement retail space in the Old Market to their own shop in Midtown Crossing. Huff says that the reaction from the Omaha community was humbling, and they hope to continue that success at the new location.

“We always thought Hutch would be a hobby—something we do just for fun,” Huff says. “We thought we would sell a few pieces online here and there, and always keep our finger on the pulse of Mid-Century furniture. We couldn’t be more excited.”

Hutch
3157 Farnam St., Ste. 7111

402-995-9842
facebook.com/hutchomaha

The Best of All Worlds

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Let’s dispense with the references to a certain ’70s sitcom right off the bat. Yes, Jennifer and Bryan Yannone are the parents of a blended family of six kids. Yes, Bryan is project director for Lockwood Development and Bloomfield Custom Homes, a position with some surface similarities to the architecture job of his TV dad counterpart. And, yes, the Yannones are a telegenic couple with a warm, relaxed vibe.

But their new home, the first in Sterling Ridge at 132nd and Pacific in Omaha, represents more than just the union of two families. It is the convergence of several decidedly 21st-century ideas about diversity, work-life balance, smart-home technology, and the logistics of new urban planning in an already very established part of the city.Bryan-4_web

Sterling Ridge is a mixed-use development of commercial, residential, retail, and religious space. When completed, the 153-acre site will feature more than 700,000 square feet of office space, 30 high-end custom homes, 10 villas, retail, restaurants, an assisted living facility, a hotel, and the Tri-Faith Initiative: a collaboration of Temple Israel, The Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, and The American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture.

The very location of the site signifies this spirit of inclusiveness. It was once home to the venerable Highland Country Club, established in 1924 as a club where Jewish members would be welcome. (Highland changed hands in the 1990s and the newly-named Ironwood shuttered and was sold to Lockwood Development at a bank auction in 2010.)Bryan-12_web

In a city that is constantly expanding to points west, north, and south, the central location also acts as an integration point for several parts of town.

This was especially important to the Yannones, who had children in two separate school districts. “There was nowhere in Midtown Omaha where you could build a new, custom home without having to knock down an existing home,” says Jennifer, a gifted and talented facilitator for Omaha Public Schools.

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As members of the community and because of their family association with the development company, the Yannones are particularly sensitive to the historical and civic importance of the property. “People were disappointed when Ironwood closed,” Jennifer acknowledges. “Lockwood wanted to make this development worth the sacrifice. For every tree they took down, they planted five more. They spared no expense to provide a community feel.”

Inside the seven-bedroom, 5,700-square-foot Yannone home, that communal sense is most keenly felt in the open kitchen, dining, and seating area that serves as the focal point of the family’s activities. “We spend most of our time between these three rooms,” says Jennifer of the multi-functional space which features clean lines and cool, neutral colors. “I wanted it to look contemporary, but still homey and livable.”

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The family worked with Lisa Shrager of LMK Concepts and Megan Bret of Exquisite Finishes on the home’s interiors. “The trick was making the home durable and low-maintenance without compromising style,” says Shrager. She achieved the family’s desired blend of a sleek look and a warm vibe by balancing hard, manmade surfaces like the kitchen backsplash comprised of multiple metals including stainless steel and bronze, with natural materials like stained rich oak wood on the cabinetry and granite countertops.

This harmony reverbates around the room: a mantle of 12×24-inch tile acts as a horizontal counterpoint to the strong vertical presence of the fireplace itself. This is geometrically echoed in light, linear tiling that serves as bridge between the three sections of the main family space and on the flooring and walls throughout the home.


The children picked their own colors, themes, and bedding for their rooms: a Husker motif for the youngest, Brayden Yannone (9); sports for the two middle boys, Baylen Yannone (11) and Drew Gibbons (12); music and guitar for the eldest boy, Luke Gibbons (14); and inspiring quotes for Jennifer’s daughter, Michaela Gibbons (17). Her older daughter, Jessica Gibbons (21), lives away at college but has claimed a room on the lower level for school breaks.

The Mediterranean-inspired exterior of the home, which also serves as a model for Bloomfield Custom Homes, was Bryan’s idea. Its sand-colored stucco and stone ediface, crowned by hipped roofs, envelops an open, road-facing courtyard and would not be out of place among the revival mansions of Pasadena. “I wanted a home that was a vacation.”

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Before they could kick back and enjoy, the family had to educate themselves about the various “smart” features of their home, most of which, including cameras, garage doors, lights, and music, can be operated from an iPad. “When you walk out the door, there’s an off button. You can shut off the whole house!” Jennifer says with glee. “Before we moved in, we had to take the kids around, ‘This is how you shut off the lights…’”

And while the Yannone-Gibbons clan is clearly having fun with the more dazzling features of their new stomping grounds (such as the time Michaela called Jennifer from downstairs to tell her it was too warm and Jennifer “fixed it” without leaving the comfort of her sofa), their parents are careful to keep them grounded.


“They all think we live in a mansion,” Jennifer laughs. “But we remind them that we’re blessed to have this. When school’s out, we do a lot of volunteering, like at the Open Door Mission.”

“With the house came new responsibilities,” says Bryan. “It’s a group effort to keep a house this size, but the children have become very efficient about it.”

It’s a synthesis formula that the businesses, other families, and spiritual communities of Sterling Ridge would do well to copy. As Jennifer puts it, “We all pitch in and take care of what we have.”

For more information on this unique mixed-use development, visit sterlingridge.com.

The Light Palace/A Well Dressed Window

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

United Electric, a longtime, family-owned retailer of home lighting and accessories in Omaha, has expanded into window coverings with the acquisition of another veteran interiors retailer, A Well Dressed Window, formerly in Rockbrook Village. Both businesses now operate out of The Light Palace, UE’s showroom in southwest Omaha, serving both residential and commercial clients.

“For years, we’ve helped customers choose their interior and exterior lighting. Now, we can help customers control the natural light that flows into their home,” says Luz Vasques, UE’s marketing director. “Window coverings not only help to prevent sun glare and provide extra privacy but also help maintain the colors of your carpet and furniture and can help with energy efficiency.” And much like lighting, the right window treatments can completely change the look of a room, she adds. “These two businesses greatly complement each other.”

At 10,000 sq. ft., The Light Palace is one of the largest home interiors showrooms in the Midwest, featuring chandeliers, bathroom lighting, outdoor lighting, ceiling fans, and home décor, including artwork, cabinetry hardware, electric fireplaces, and more. The Well Dressed Window gallery features a wide selection of designer blinds, shades, and shutters, as well as valances. It is one of just two Hunter Douglas galleries in the Omaha area.

Staff can also assist customers with selection of custom draperies, stationary panels, cornices, furniture upholstery, bedding, and pillows. Design consultations are free.

“Our experienced, well-trained staff will take into account your unique lifestyle needs as well as your budget,” says Vasques. “We can guide you and take the guesswork out of selecting your lighting products and window coverings. A high level of customer service is our No. 1 goal.”

The Light Palace/A Well Dressed Window
4532 S. 132nd St.
402-334-5331
lightpalace.com

Retail Centers

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Malone & Co.

For some of the Omaha area’s newest and most cutting-edge retail developments, 2012 was a successful year during a time when the national economic climate was still uncertain, and 2013 is so far looking good, say representatives.

“Both shopping centers had solid sales performances overall for 2012 and the 2012 holiday season, and of course, some retailers reported considerable sales increases compared to last year,” says Kim Jones, marketing director for both Shadow Lake Towne Center, located at 72nd Street and Highway 370 in Papillion, and Village Pointe, located at 168th Street and West Dodge Road in Omaha. The two developments are managed and leased by RED Development, based in Phoenix, Ariz.

“Both centers welcomed new tenants in 2012. And we will be making announcements for both properties soon. There’s a great interest in both shopping centers and that just means that retail is certainly coming back after we’ve had some leaner years during the recession.”

“If we look at year-over-year sales development-wide, we saw retail sales up 12 percent. I think our retailers will tell you, they’re happy and cautiously optimistic about the future, given the trend lines,” says Molly Skold, marketing director for Midtown Crossing in the Turner Park area near 33rd and Farnam streets. “Our anchor tenants are also doing well. Wohlner’s (Grocery and Deli) was up 31 percent in March, year-over-year, and Element, Marcus, and Prairie Life have all seen double-digit growth.

“Our condo sales are doing extremely well also. From January to April 2013, we have had 18 new contracts; that’s a 63 percent increase, year-over-year, from 2012.”

Regarding plans for 2013, Skold adds: “We currently have two letters of intent from potential retail tenants. Tenants looking at our development are service-type tenants and specialty stores. And we have an olive oil concept store, Chef Squared, opening in June.”

The 2012 retail year wasn’t without its challenges. One retail sector that has struggled somewhat is apparel, Skold reports, and its performance has slightly modified the outlook for Midtown Crossing’s development.

“The apparel industry nationwide has performed lower than expectations. In 2012, we actually saw one of our apparel stores close its doors, a national chain,” she says. “The apparel industry is opening fewer and fewer stores nationwide. We would have thought that, at this point, we’d have more boutiques or apparel stores.”

“Having community ties is very important to us because we want to make sure that our community knows that we’re invested and that we want to serve them beyond just providing great retail.” – Kim Jones, marketing director with Shadow Lake Towne Center and Village Pointe

However, the apparel sector may be gaining some steam in 2013, Skold says. “Currently, we have five apparel retailers interested in specific spaces—doing drawings, looking at plans, expansions, etc. We are encouraged by the activity.”

Another ongoing concern in the retail industry is that online shopping, which continues to grow, may funnel away sales from its tangible counterpart—shopping centers and freestanding stores. Jones says, however, that there is plenty of room for both channels. “While online sales are certainly not going away, you can continue to see lots of brick-and-mortar and online retailing in concert together, so it’s really just giving the shopper more of an advantage,” she says.

Both Skold and Jones say some of the success of their respective developments lies in how they are structured to reach beyond merely retail services to support a lifestyle and serve as neighborhoods in and of themselves.

“The lifestyle center is currently predominant, but you’ll see it evolve in what kind of tenants it brings in. In some cases, it will hybridize. For example, Shadow Lake is a hybrid with the power center, which is on the perimeter with the big boxes, while the lifestyle center is on the main street,” Jones explains. “So together they offer a different kind of shopping center for Papillion and the community beyond.”

Skold says Midtown Crossing’s growth and development centered around four anchors, with restaurants and retailers developing out next, and service providers coming onboard more recently to round out the development as it passes 90 percent occupancy.

“Those last 10 percent of types of retailers we’ll be looking for are those service-type of stores that really will be providing services and products to our guests and visitors and residents alike,” Skold says, adding that 2012 events and activities, including the new holiday celebration Miracle on Farnam and the summer Architects of Air exhibit, add to Midtown Crossing’s ambiance and image. “I think we have moved from development to a neighborhood,” she says. “I think we have met our goal of Midtown becoming a destination rather than a pass-through.”

Midtown Crossing will also open The Pavilion at Turner Park, which will provide a permanent stage and infrastructure to the center, ideal to host many entertainment and shopping events on the grounds and predicted to draw many new shoppers. “The Pavilion is a stunning addition to Omaha’s Turner Park,” Skold says. “Omahans are in for truly amazing treat!” The structure is scheduled to be complete by the first Jazz on the Green concert July 11th.

Creating community spirit is also an important part of Village Pointe’s and Shadow Lake Towne Center’s identities, Jones says.

“Having community ties is very important to us because we want to make sure that our community knows that we’re invested and that we want to serve them beyond just providing great retail,” Jones explains. “We want to be a place where they come even if they’re not going to shop. It may be to enjoy one of the concerts during one of our concert series or an event that’s going on like a charity walk or something of that nature, or various attractions we have throughout the year. So while they’re retail centers, we also like to consider them community centers.”

Seth McMillan

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Seth McMillan, is a self-proclaimed “accounting nerd” by day at Infogroup and by night he’s owner and renaissance man of the quirky downtown men’s boutique McLovin on 10th and Mason streets.

McMillan considers himself an intense and multifaceted person, which definitely lends itself to his careers in two vastly different fields. “I am an economics nerd, and I like to read biographies, but I also like to watch stupid teen comedies, and I enjoy people. I think you just need a bit of different things in your life.”

Having his hand in a multitude of pots is something McMillan says is not a new lifestyle for him. “Work is great, and the store is off to a good start, and I’m happy, but it’s a struggle to balance. It’s hard work, but at the same time it’s really fun.”

Originally from East Tennessee, the University of Memphis graduate studied both accounting and music. He earned his stripes in accounting at PricewaterhouseCoopers firm in Atlanta before being recruited to act as Director of Revenue Accounting at Infogroup here in Omaha.

His path to Omaha wasn’t intentional, McMillan says. “I knew that I wanted to have a segue job into being an entrepreneur. I saw that I could do all these things in my current job that would help me get the skills I need while I’m figuring out my segue.”

McMillan gives big compliments to his boss at Infogroup for allowing him these opportunities to pursue his passions. “I think he’s very progressive and sensitive to unique situations…and he has a really high tolerance.”

“I didn’t know retail, but what I do know is fun, and I do know how to engage people.”

Since moving to Omaha in June of 2011, McMillan has settled in nicely. “In January [of last year] was when things really started cooking. I bought a truck, a piano, and my partner came into my life. All of these things I’ve always wanted started happening.”

McMillan says he also fulfilled a life-long passion of being an entrepreneur with McLovin. “I had never had an interest in retail prior. It was principal, supply, and demand. I didn’t know retail, but what I do know is fun, and I do know how to engage people.”

Brian Williams, a friend of McMillan’s and one of his best customers, says it’s his personality and passion that have made his transition into his jobs as well as into the community so smooth and rewarding. “It’s his drive more than anything. He puts in a lot of hours, and I don’t know how he does it,” Williams says.

“One of my mottos is whatever you do, add value,” McMillan says. That seems to be his plan not only for his career but as a larger plan for Omaha.

McMillan says that down the road, he hopes to help brand the area south of the Old Market, where his shop lies, as well as brand Omaha as a whole. “We need to recruit more young professionals here, so they don’t move to Chicago, Denver, New York, or Los Angeles. The way to do that is to do cool things here. We need to have fun, and we need to invite more people to the party.”

“He’s not afraid of new challenges like bringing a new business to Omaha,” Williams says. “He’s very driven and outspoken.”

McMillan says what he wants to do is simple. “If I can help take care of people’s needs along with helping elevate Omaha’s cool-factor, it’s enough for me. At the end of the day, it’s about having fun.”

In Bloom

November 25, 2012 by

In Bloom is a local, family-owned flower shop and home décor/gift store that serves businesses and individuals year-round with floral arrangements and seasonal decorating, as well as Christmas tree decorating seminars.

Since opening in 2008, the Fremont business has been able to grow through word-of-mouth and advertising in the local area and surrounding cities. “Due to our increasing customer base and expanded inventories, we were required to move to a larger building,” says owner Jenefer Backhaus. “Two years ago, we moved our business to its current location. Moving has allowed us to keep a larger fresh flower inventory, and it has enabled us to expand our gift lines.”

In Bloom’s mainly female clientele come from Fremont and surrounding areas to the shop because the shop offers unique gifts that aren’t available elsewhere. “Our customers like to stop in often to see what new items we have because our inventory is always changing. [But] some people just stop in to see [our dog] Lily, In Bloom’s four-legged mascot,” says Backhaus, who has designed arrangements for Ted Turner and Willy Theisen.

Backhaus, who friends describe as creative, funny, and a little crazy, wanted to be a florist since she was about 10 years old. She went to Metro Tech for floral design right after high school and has been doing it ever since. Throughout her 27 years of being a designer, she has had the opportunity to work with many talented designers, picking up little bits of knowledge from each of them along the way. “This has allowed me to create a style all my own,” she adds.

What Backhaus has learned while running In Bloom is that there are always challenges. “Some days have big challenges, but most days have only a few small challenges. A business owner just needs to learn how to manage stress.” But the challenges and stress of business are definitely outweighed by the personal satisfaction of Backhaus’ job. “Being in the floral business makes you find yourself being a small part of a person or family’s very important day, whether it’s a new baby, a wedding, or even a funeral. I always feel very honored to take part.”

In Bloom
520 North Main St.
Fremont, Neb.
402-721-5700
inbloomoffremont.com

Downtown Fremont, Neb.

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Katie Anderson

New visitors to Fremont—a community of just over 26,000 nestled in the plain between the Platte and Elkhorn rivers 35 miles northwest of Omaha—might be surprised to discover what a vibrant downtown area the city has. Customers pop in and out of storefronts at a steady clip, business owners regularly stop over to visit with their neighbors, and cars pull in and out of parking stalls, which are snapped up quickly. The area is a buzz with activity—a claim many downtown areas, which have succumbed to urban sprawl, decay, and crime, would love to boast, but cannot.

Fremont businesses, many of them long-term tenants and family-operated, are immensely proud of their downtown business district, which spans Main Street and a few blocks beyond, and are happy to see a growing number of customers from outside city limits discovering what Fremont has to offer. At the same time, they’re working hard to retain the area’s small-town sense of community and quaint charm.

Michelle Kaiser, owner of Alotta Brownies Bakery

Michelle Kaiser, owner of Alotta Brownies Bakery

One of the longest-running businesses in Fremont’s downtown is Sampter’s, a men’s and women’s apparel and formals rental store on Main Street that dates back to 1890, when Nathan Sampter opened his doors. The founder’s great grandson, Bob Missel, who’s run the business since 1984, is a big proponent of Downtown Fremont. “I refer to our location in all my advertising as ‘historic Downtown Fremont,’” he says. “I love being downtown…the history, the people, a sense of place. We’ve been at the same location since 1925, so people know where to find us.”

Another longtime tenant is Park Avenue Antiques, owned by Duane and Nan Baker and John Wolfe. The shop specializes in pine and oak antique furniture and sells furniture made from recycled lumber from old barns, crafted by Duane’s two sons. Shoppers can also find gifts and home décor items in their adjoining gift store, Country Choice. “Fremont is a short distance from Omaha and a great little town with several stores to shop at, reminisce at, and make a day of it,” says Wolfe. “Our business has been here over 19 years.”

Sue Harr of The Studio and Nancy Hosher of Nancy's Boutique.

Sue Harr of The Studio and Nancy Hosher of Nancy’s Boutique.

L&L Gifts & Engraving, on historic Highway 30 on the east edge of town, has been in business for 31 years, says owners Lucinda and Leonard Brester. The store carries something for everyone, Lucinda said. “Precious Moments are still our top-sellers. But we also are a toy store, boutique, kitchen store, sell memorial items, Terry Redlin prints, special occasion gifts…Customers come from a 75-mile radius to shop here. [Fremont] offers a wide variety of specialty shops…and it’s laid out [so well], it’s easy to find streets.”

Buck’s Shoes just celebrated its 90th year. The Fremont shop is the last remaining of what was once a 30-plus chain throughout the Midwest. “We have a large inventory of name-brand shoes, boots, and accessories for both men and women,” says owner Kirk Brown. “Our niches include sizes and widths, especially narrows. We see customers from 40 states.” Brown credits the store’s survival in part to a very supportive business community. “There are many business owners and downtown employees who have worked diligently over the years…to keep downtown alive and thriving. And Buck’s has always been a member of Main Street Fremont and a supporter of its projects, including promotions, physical improvements, and beautification projects.”

Kirk Brown, owner of Buck's Shoes.

Kirk Brown, owner of Buck’s Shoes.

The Main Street Fremont group to which Brown refers is an independent business organization for Main Street businesses based downtown, headed by Director Sheryl Brown. The group and Sheryl Brown are credited by many as being key to downtown’s success.

Lisa Lamb, owner of My Blue Whimsy, a new bridal and special events studio carrying couture bridal gowns, bridesmaids dresses, children’s gowns, and more, is a big advocate as well. “I’ve recently become a member of Main Street Fremont, which is always developing ideas…to beautify, market, and mentor new businesses on Main Street,” she says. “[Sheryl Brown] has been a great asset to all the great change…I see the excitement in everyone downtown as they work together and see the changes and improvements being made. And I see the traffic flow building and curiosity peeking from other areas of Nebraska with new businesses coming in.”

Michelle Kaiser is also a newer business owner in Fremont, having opened Alotta Brownies Bakery on Main Street three years ago. The gourmet bakery and café is known for their wedding and specialty cakes and dessert bar buffets, but also sells bread, sandwiches, and other treats. Kaiser also has kudos for Brown, and others. “We have seen many changes in our Main Street with grants to better our downtown community…new street lights, sidewalks, plants, trees, benches. I credit Director Brown and all the business owners who put so much into helping the events become successful. Our Conventions and Visitors Bureau and Shannon Mollen have also helped drive business to Fremont, while our Chamber helps us educate residents about what we have to offer…Many people don’t realize what’s in their own backyard, our downtown.”

Tammy Russell, daughter of the Bresters, who own L&L Gifts and Engraving.

Tammy Russell, daughter of the Bresters, who own L&L Gifts and Engraving.

Nancy Hosher and Sue Harr, owners of Nancy’s Boutique and The Studio, not only support one another; they share space on Main Street. Cooperatively they provide select women’s accessories and apparel and custom jewelry design and repair. While trunk shows and open houses for new merchandise generate interest and traffic, Harr and Hosher say they enthusiastically participate in Main Street Fremont promotional events throughout the year also. Two of those events—Christmas Express, where businesses host seminars and demonstrations for guests and in-store specials (Nov. 8-10), and Christmas Walk, a downtown parade, which attracts hundreds of potential shoppers to the area (Nov. 23)—are on the horizon.

Jenefer Backhaus, owner of In Bloom, a full-service flower shop and gift store on Main Street offering quality artificial arrangements for home and holiday, will also be taking part in these Main Street Fremont holiday events. Backhaus, who’s owned the store for four years, says she’d like to see even more new businesses open downtown to enhance the shopping experience and boost traffic.

Jenefer Backhaus, owner of In Bloom.

Jenefer Backhaus, owner of In Bloom.

Fremont’s Main Street businesses are also benefiting from area attractions and entities growing in popularity, says Jen Struebing, general manager of Holiday Inn Express, off Highway 77 in Fremont. Among them, Midland University, Fremont Area Medical Center, Fremont Splash Station water park, and Fremont State Recreation Area. Omaha attractions and events mean spillover business for the hotel as well. “Summer months are always our busiest, especially June with the College World Series. We offer the small-town hospitality with the convenience of a big city nearby.”

Many business owners feel there’s even more that should be done to boost downtown traffic and sales. Fremont native Meldene Cushman with Interiors Plus, a home interiors showroom on 6th Street just two blocks off Main Street, now in its 31st year, would like to see more storefront improvements being initiated. She cites the downtown business district of Sioux Falls, S.D., as a model for Fremont businesses to follow.

Another proposal: “Have businesses adjust their hours so they stay open later, and put a park or some type of attraction in to draw families or people traveling through,” says Bryson of Bryson’s Airboat Tours, which hosts team-building events, corporate outings, and private groups for rides via airboat down the Platte River.

Jen Struebing and Lisa Shipman of Holiday Inn Express.

Jen Struebing and Lisa Shipman of Holiday Inn Express.

Ron Tillery, executive director for the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce, says a rebranding initiative launched by the chamber in 2012 will further enhance Fremont’s appeal to prospective homebuyers, business owners, and shoppers. The “Fremont, Nebraska Pathfinders” campaign promotes the community as “[a city] that’s transforming…a place to thrive…where opportunities are made.

“The campaign is already utilizing print and outdoor advertising, and we plan to roll out additional radio and TV ads in coming months to reinforce that general theme,” Tillery says. “In 2013, they’re run in regional markets, including Omaha.

“We want to promote Fremont as a great stand-alone community, close enough that residents can enjoy amenities and attractions in Metro Omaha, and well positioned for families and businesses,” Tillery adds.

To learn more about Fremont business community, visit pathtofremont.com and mainstreetfremont.org.

Karen Levin

October 20, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When you first meet Karen Levin, you see an attractive, petite, smiling woman whose eyes sparkle with passion—her smile radiates from across the room. She is dynamic and persevering in all that she does and has done for the Omaha community. She is a true visionary in every respect.

Levin is definitely a mission-driven mover and shaker with regard to helping Omaha organizations find development avenues, donors, board members, and volunteers.

Early on, retail involvement was also one of her passions and successes. She and former husband, David, owned the women’s clothing store The Avenue. She was very involved in the day-to-day aspects of the family business.

“Loyal customer associations and interactions for The Avenue were a primary goal of Karen’s, as well as with her charitable pursuits. Her input of energies helped everything come together for the long-term family business,” states David.

Currently, Levin serves as Director of Development for the Colleges of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Nebraska Foundation. She has been with the foundation since 2007. Previously, she worked at the Nebraska Cultural Endowment and Metropolitan Arts Council, on which she still advises.

“I’m all about dreams, passion, mission, generosity, building, and nurturing relationships, gratitude, and education,” Levin says. “My vision of myself is someone that holds the door open for the next person to walk through.

“I joined the University of Nebraska Foundation because I resonate with how we describe our organization. Since 1936, the University of Nebraska Foundation has existed to accomplish one goal, which is to advance the University of Nebraska. While independent from the university, we are intrinsically linked to it, connecting the dreams and passions of donors to the mission of the university, and stewarding donor generosity across its four campuses.

“Everything that I do is done with a labor of love and from the heart.”

“I am honored to be a member of the team that raises money for UNMC. The medical center’s mission is to improve the health of Nebraskans and beyond,” she adds.

“When I hired Karen a number of years ago, she told me that I was getting ‘designer shoes at T.J. Maxx prices.’ She was absolutely correct,” comments Amy Volk, Vice President of the University of Nebraska Foundation. “Karen brought tremendous experience in fundraising to our organization, [as well as] her personal philosophy of generosity to the University of Nebraska Foundation…She gives financially to organizations that she loves, but she also generously gives her time, experience, and compassion for people. All of this giving has enriched the University of Nebraska Medical Center, but it has enriched my work and the work of our entire team at the University of Nebraska Foundation. We are all thankful to have ‘designer shoes.’”

Levin is also a very active member of the Omaha community and a co-founder of the Omaha Children’s Museum, the primary participatory museum in the heart of Downtown Omaha dedicated to engaging the imagination while creating excitement about learning for children—though not many people know just how diligently she worked to get the museum started.

In 1976, Levin saw a need in the community for such a hands-on learning environment. Having previously worked at the Boston’s Children’s Museum, she knew that education for art and creativity was greatly needed for Omaha youth. Initially, she pursued the endeavor by beginning a traveling art program throughout the community. It all began in the trunk of her station wagon. Betty Hiller and Jane Ford Hawthorne were two of her colleagues who helped her bring art activities and creative experiences to children at community centers, libraries, schools, and malls.

Levin goes right to the heart of things as she spurs onward with her quests. She obtains help from local philanthropists, such as Susie Buffett. She even got former Senator Dave Karnes to help her get the Omaha Children’s Museum endeavor rolling.

“Everything that I do is done with a labor of love and from the heart,” Levin says with a smile.