Revitalizing Butchertown

Portland, Jeffersonville, New Albany, Old Louisville, The Highlands – none of these neighborhoods felt quite right to William Ashton. New to Louisville from Cincinnati, Ashton was trying to break into the  city’s art circles and find an ideal spot for his new gallery project, something he’d been considering since he grew out of the space in the gallery he owned in Denver a few years back. Then, late last year, he visited Butchertown and felt completely at home. He also saw a vacancy in the market that he could fill.

So Ashton opened Gallery K, a combination art gallery and coffee shop, soon after.

“Louisville has some amazing galleries and art events, but I noticed a lack of galleries that were what I was looking for,” he said. “So having (run) a gallery, I decided to open one up. Now,  that being said, running a gallery to try and make money is a terrible idea. The gallery needs to have a way to offset the sales of art. I have a background in coffee and this neighborhood had a lack of coffee houses, so I felt it was a natural combination.”

TVT_6000Laughing, Ashton added: “My joke is, all the other coffee shops in town serve coffee and happen to show art, so I show art and happen to serve great coffee.”

Aside from the business opportunity, a combination of things attracted Ashton to Butchertown. “The community of Butchertown is so strong and organized and developed,” Ashton said. “It is what I want to be part of. The art, the history, the Frankfort Avenue Trolley Hop and, most importantly, the future of this area is on the uptrend and, over the next few years, will explode.”

Oertel brewery at Story Avenue and North Webster Street.  Photo Courtesy of Royal Photo Company Collection, 1982.03, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky

Oertel brewery at Story Avenue and North Webster Street. Photo Courtesy of Royal Photo Company Collection, 1982.03, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky

Built from the river out, Butchertown boasts more diversity in architecture than, say, Old Louisville, where many of the wealthier homeowners moved to separate themselves from some of the neighborhood’s working-class residents.

Now, Butchertown is among several neighborhoods in Louisville that are undergoing a renaissance of sorts. But Preservation Louisville’s Marianne Zickuhr says that when it comes to the inclusion of small businesses, Butchertown, like other communities, is simply returning to its roots.

“Butchertown, historically, has always been a mix of residential and light industrial,” Zickuhr explained. “Moving forward, the community has been given a really interesting opportunity in reimagining that unique mix.”

Mixed-use development is a term that refers to areas with a healthy blend of residential, commercial and industrial properties – something from which Butchertown has historically benefited.

Numerous trucks and horse-pulled wagons carry barrels along Story Avenue.  Photo Courtesy of Caufield & Shook Collection, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky

Numerous trucks and horse-pulled wagons carry barrels along Story Avenue. Photo Courtesy of Caufield & Shook Collection, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky

Mixed-use development can yield several positive results for a community. Such possibilities include more affordable and varied housing options and more proximity between homes, offices and shops. It ultimately creates a true sense of community by bringing different kinds of places into one centralized neighborhood. Residents can walk to work, greet each other on their way to the grocery store and easily find whatever they need within the neighborhood’s rich pool of nearby resources.

The community’s history of mixed-use development, as well as its unique older architecture, is a clear draw for homeowners and business owners alike. Mo McKnight Howe, owner of Revelry Boutique Gallery in NuLu, recently moved to Butchertown with her husband.

William Ashton.

William Ashton.

“We decided to move to Butchertown because we work and play in the NuLu neighborhood,” Howe said. “I’m always an advocate of living where I work and like to hang out. This is for economic reasons and for the environment.”

She continued: “I have always believed in walking neighborhoods. I want to be able to walk to everything: work, shops, coffee, parks, etc. The Big Four Bridge is in my backyard, so who needs a yard when you have that? Butchertown is extremely easy to walk, and it already seems all the neighbors know each other, which creates such a sense of community. We haven’t even moved in yet – still renovating – and it seems everyone knows us on a first name basis already.”

Ashton seconded this sentiment: “Best part of the neighborhood is the people. The community around here is awesome and supportive and so very welcoming. The next is the amazing businesses around here within a short walk; I can hit just about any shopping or dining or nightlife event I want.”

Howe went on to say that she and her husband also moved because prices are still affordable in Butchertown, which won’t last long with the hotel going in and the NuLu streetscape happening. “Right now is the time to buy in this area,” she said.

TVT_5936Andrew Cornelius, the head of the Butchertown Neighborhood Association said that there are other reasons that he and his family chose the neighborhood when they relocated from Michigan in 2005.

“NuLu wasn’t really a thing yet, and we chose the neighborhood for its proximity to downtown where I work,” Cornelius explained. He continued on to say that Butchertown is truly the closest true neighborhood to downtown Louisville.

The term “neighborhood” in itself is contentious in urban planning circles due to its loose definition, though it’s generally agreed upon that Butchertown is the area bounded by Main, Hancock, Geiger and Quincy streets, US Highway 42, the South Fork of Beargrass Creek, and Baxter Avenue. “It really is the gate to downtown, but it has amenities and such potential of its own. It really has just been booming,” Cornelius said.

For these reasons, it makes sense that businesses would flock to the area as some have already done, like the vendors in Butchertown Market, Play and Copper & Kings.

TVT_5980However, the neighborhood comes with some challenges as well, such as the one-way streets that make navigation for new visitors potentially difficult and the inevitable parking limitations when outside the realm of suburban super-sized parking lots.

Ashton said, though, that what the location lacks in parking space – though he stresses there is plenty of street parking – it makes up for in foot traffic. “It’s not as good as NuLu, but it’s much better than, say, Portland.

“The biggest problems we have at the moment are the construction trucks. The heavy flow of dump trucks and cement trucks are a hazard and a nuisance. The day the bridges are built and the cement plant is closed will be a great one,” Ashton said. “And the white building next to us being undeveloped is an eyesore, but the Butchertown neighborhood has been on him to work on and develop the building.”

Yet perhaps the main challenge facing these businesses is marketing Butchertown’s new commercial commodities to the rest of the city, not just current residents.

“If you aren’t in a designated ‘retail area’ like Market Street, then people aren’t going to know about you unless you are a destination business,” Howe said, drawing from her own experience at Revelry. “A business that thrives on walk-in traffic cannot thrive in an area that is not in a designated and well-known retail area. Neighbors alone cannot support a single business, unless, of course, it’s a market.”

Men working on roof at Swift & Company, Louisville, Kentucky. George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge and sand piles along the bank of Ohio River in background.  Photo Courtesy of R. G. Potter Collection, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky

Men working on roof at Swift & Company, Louisville, Kentucky. George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge and sand piles along the bank of Ohio River in background. Photo Courtesy of R. G. Potter Collection, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky

This is something that some of the newer businesses in Butchertown – Gallery K, Louis the Ton and Lettersong – are working on together, Ashton said. “(We) are working to create a destination out of this. We are working on marketing and branding of this area.”

Ashton continued: “We have been working closely together to build up the neighborhood. The three of us complement each other’s businesses well and can play off events that each one is hosting.”

Jen Grove, the owner of Lettersong, a calligraphy studio, agrees. “We send people to the other businesses and work really well together,” she said. “Will (Ashton) and I are sort of the front of the Story Avenue consortium of businesses, all before Hall’s Cafeteria.”

She says that this level of camaraderie between the businesses is necessary, since the foot traffic is hit-and-miss. “Like last night, we had our Bob Dylan cover night.” (The studio also hold musical performances.) “Will sent over two carafes of coffee and coupons for free coffee at Gallery K for all the artists. It was just really great.

“I love how the people who owned the plants all lived together in the same neighborhood and would go out to the church and the corner stores,” Grove said. “Just a traditional blend of socioeconomics – I love the history of it.”

Grove has been in Butchertown for 15 years. She, like Marianne Zickuhr, sees the benefit of steering the community to its mixed-use origin – a process that, as Zickuhr put it, is “not like reinventing the wheel.”

“For Butchertown to be successful, we’ve just got to get people to go back to slowing down, walking around and checking out what’s around,” Zickuhr said. VT

By ASHLIE STEVENS, Contributing Writer