March 25, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Potential business owners often dream of being independent and making their own decisions. Businesses in Omaha’s Old Market district have that freedom.

“We’re not in a mall where one management company organizes us,” says Troy Davis, the group’s president. Davis has owned Curb Appeal Salon & Spa at 10th and Jackson streets for 17 years.

At the same time, the business owners are not isolated. The common thread between these independent companies is the Old Market Business Association (OMBA).

The OMBA has neither office nor staff. But the nonprofit does have 50 members who meet monthly and share information about what’s going on in the historical business district. There are two member categories. An active member must have a business located at either side of 10th to 14th streets and Leavenworth to Farnam streets. Businesses outside the area can join as associate members.

Troy Davis

Troy Davis

They’ve got each other’s backs. In January, when a fire destroyed M’s Pub and devastated nearby businesses, the OMBA immediately jumped into action. Member David Kerr of The Tavern started a crowd funding page for the displaced employees within 12 hours of the disaster. Members called an emergency meeting and discussed how they would help.

“We’ve always been a tight-knit group, but it really shows in times of tragedy,” says Davis. “The whole Old Market community came together for the businesses, their employees, residents, and everybody who was touched by the tragedy.”

Shoplifters in the Old Market also face a band of brothers and sisters. “Within minutes, the police department notifies the Old Market Business Association, and we immediately notify members,” says Davis.

Sharing information at the group’s monthly meetings are representatives from the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau, MECA, the Downtown Improvement District, and the City of Omaha. Representatives from major events, such as concerts or conferences, also attend.

“We learn what groups are coming to Omaha, where they are staying, the demographics and how many [people], so we can be better equipped to take care of those people,” says Davis.

Another major member benefit is the website—oldmarket.com—which collected more than 170,000 visits last year. The website is a perk for members who can advertise their business and promote specials.

The group’s largest and best-known event is the annual “Old Market Trick or Treat.” Held the Sunday before Halloween, the event is a partnership with Metro Area Transit, Metro Community College, the Literacy Council, and a private donor. It provides children a safe place to trick or treat.  A unique event-within-the-event is “Books Are A Treat.” In October 2015, 12,000 new books—all from a private donor—were handed out to families.

Independent but united through the Old Market Business Association, the active businesses are an eclectic group ranging from galleries to restaurants. Contributing to this independence is the decision by property owners not to rent to franchises in the Old Market district, except those that are locally owned or businesses that started in Omaha.

“Unique, small, independently owned businesses are what makes the Old Market have the charm it has,” says Davis.

“That’s why the Old Market is cool. And the place to be.”

Visit oldmarket.com for more information.