Tag Archives: Main Street

Olde Towne Elkhorn

December 4, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As with any small town in America, seasons change and visitors come and go. But one thing that remains the same is the locomotive’s plaintive whistle heard all up and down Main Street in Elkhorn. Just a stone’s throw from the tracks, Olde Towne, as some locals refer to it, has experienced a renewed vitality in the past eight years after a number of new businesses opened.

The town was just recovering from a 2005 annexation by the city of Omaha. The locals fought hard to remain independent but Omaha won out.

“The only thing they did was change the numbers on our street and changed the names of some of the streets,” says Leona Anderson, owner of Little Scandinavia specialty shop.

Across the tracks is a tidy, 3.6-mile stretch of bricks laid in 1920 as part of the Lincoln Highway connecting New York to San Francisco. The secluded and serene stretch was recognized as part of the National Register of Historic places in 2003. “You’ll see the markings on the poles. A lot of bike riders like to take that route,” Anderson says.

A regular at monthly merchant meetings, Anderson has played a revitalizing role in Olde Towne by writing TIF (Tax Increment Financing) grants for Mayor Jean Stothert’s Neighborhood Grants.

“We are the ones carrying the ball,” she says. Soon, they will be receiving more TIF money for streetscaping, planting, and parking. “We’re up for big changes here. It will be fun,” Anderson says. Other projects include funding for such public amenities as trash receptacles and park benches. The benches are certainly comfy, but some of the most prized perches are the bar stools at Boyd & Charlies BBQ, where locals flock for ribs and ribbing. At least a few of the tales told among the slabs and slaw are rumored to have at least an element of the truth to them.

Although much is changing, it’s clear the long-time residents prefer the quaintness of yesteryear. “People in Elkhorn don’t like to be considered part of Omaha, so we respect that. You learn that very early, especially with the oldtimers, ” says Andrea Ramsey, owner of Andrea’s Designs.

There is no shortage of special events to attend in Elkhorn. The Christmas Tree Lighting is a popular event, as well as the crowd-pleasing Elkhorn Days Parade held in June. The area merchants also hold a Ladies’ Day event every month to showcase various seasonal specials. There’s also a Farmer’s Market on Thursday nights throughout the summer.

Ramsey is a merchant who takes part in the ladies’ events and has also had a hand in grant-writing. The opening of her store happened rather organically about five years ago. “I knew I wanted to end up starting a shop somewhere.”  She spotted a building on Main Street that used to be welding business.

“We kept coming out and driving by, trying to get a feel for it.” She noticed tools in the window. After a few months, she realized those tools never moved. It was a challenge for her to find out who owned the building, because it still had the old Elkhorn number system on the window. “Before that, there was never a reason for me to come to Elkhorn, and I’m glad I did.”

Shelley Van Hoozer, a nurse and mother of three, has lived in Elkhorn since the early ’90s. “When we moved here,” she says, “it still had that country, small-town feel and everybody was really friendly.” She and her husband, Ross, chose the small-town vibe of Elkhorn after first checking out Gretna and then Millard.

Her favorite thing about living in Elkhorn is the schools, Elkhorn High School and Westridge Elementary School where her children attend. “The kids are getting a good education. The teachers are really good about staying in contact with the parents.”

Van Hoozer enjoys spending time with her family at Ta-Ha-Zouka Park (roughly translated as meaning an elk’s horn) along the river. “It’s pretty cool. There are soccer fields, baseball fields, and playground equipment.” She also frequents Common Ground Recreation Center for swimming and working out. She says that a visit to Elkhorn would not be complete with a trip to the Dairy Chef. “Everybody goes there. It’s a landmark, I guess you’d say. The Dairy Chef is a big deal.”

She says that Elkhorn feels safe and is a good area to raise her kids. “I think any of our neighbors would agree.”

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Rising from the Ashes

May 19, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For several decades, Plattsmouth’s downtown oozed a distinctly river-rat vibe. The city’s main street, once Victorian glorious thanks to vibrant river and railroad trade, was faded, mostly abandoned, adorned with kitsch and mismatched storefronts, and, at times, just plain scary due to the cavalcade of 18-wheelers on old U.S. Highway 34.

If you haven’t been to Plattsmouth’s main street in a few years, the transformation here will likely astound. Simply put: You’ll feel like you’re somewhere else: a lively, interesting, historic retreat with good food and, on some summer evenings, good music and fun.

The transformation of this Omaha bedroom community comes thanks to an aggressive push by Plattsmouth businesses and more than $10 million in public and private dollars. Main Street was torn up as part of a major project to improve the city’s infrastructure, and then rebuilt with businesses access and pedestrians in mind. Charming Victorian street lamps were installed. Music is now piped continuously into the streets thanks to more than 60 speakers suspended along four blocks.

There is even a new outdoor plaza where, for the last two years, numerous events have been held, including a summer concert series.

Then, disaster. On a recent day, charred bricks littered the plaza. Park benches sat buckled under the weight of fallen rubble. Chain link fencing surrounded the area, protecting pedestrians from a two-story wall rendered precarious by a massive fire last winter.

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The roofless shell of the 132-year-old Waterman Opera House, which housed three businesses, will have to be demolished.

“It’s heartbreaking, of course,” says Charles Jones, executive director of the Plattsmouth Main Street Association and a longtime businessman in town. “It’s a roadblock, to be sure. But it’s not an end by any means.”

Plattsmouth has more than 40 structures on the National Register of Historic Places still standing. The city still has the substantial 19th century architecture and ambience that goes with it. But the razing of the building has been slowed by the technicalities of legally removing a historic building, leaving the broad eyesore of the condemned site and useless plaza in the center of the still-emerging business district.

“Business is down for those around the (Opera House) site,” Jones says, pointing toward several storefronts on the street. “It does impact things. For one: I’m going to have to figure out how to keep some of the concerts going. It’s sad because you don’t want to lose any of the energy we’ve built.”
Erv Portis, the city administrator behind much of the downtown push, shares the concern about the effect of any pause of the city’s progress. But, like Jones, he believes the redevelopment is far too large to be upended by the death of one building. A plaza expansion with a permanent stage is already planned for the soon-to-be empty lot. Many of the second floors of downtown buildings are being converted to loft space.

“This was a very tired street and now . . . well, it still amazes me seeing it,” Portis says. “It’s just the beginning. The potential is all there.”

The impact of the Opera House fire doesn’t worry the owner of the newest business in town, Sisters Café. On a recent day, Sisters, which, interestingly, serves both German and Thai food, was full of customers enjoying a surprisingly upscale but affordable lunch.

“We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of customers, and that’s been through some weather that’s not great,” says co-owner Jit Kunkel. “We have high hopes for the future here.”
“We’re kind of at a ‘too-big-to-fail’ point here,” Jones says as he looks over the charred Opera House. “This is very sad. No doubt. But Plattsmouth will beat this.”

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.