The Culture and Character of Jeffersonville

TVT_1375I have always been a Hoosier. I grew up right across the river in Clarksville, Indiana but went to high school in Louisville. Consequently, I have witnessed all my life the unfounded distance that exists between Kentucky and Indiana. Though Louisville, Jeffersonville, Clarksville and New Albany are undeniably close in proximity, they often resist being lumped together as one community. Fortunately, that polarized mentality is slowly diminishing as efforts are being made to literally bridge the cultures of these different cities.

A momentous boon to this endeavor has been the completion of both sides of the Big Four Bridge. Although the Kentucky side and the vast majority of the bridge itself was opened to the public in February 2013, Indiana’s side was not finished until May 2014. While it may have taken a while, the finished product was certainly worth the wait, and the completion of Jeffersonville’s side makes a whole other city – that all too many Louisvillians are unfamiliar with – wholly accessible.

TVT_1412Jeffersonville has created a wonderfully unique and individual identity in its charming downtown. Restaurants, shops, galleries and attractions abound as the city continues to see more and more foot traffic as a result of the bridge. Its personality is entirely its own and makes for an exciting site of exploration for Louisvillians looking for a day of cultural enrichment.

TVT_1381When you land in Jeffersonville, you’re immediately greeted by a spacious plaza with event space, picnic tables and public art. A farmer’s market is held on the plaza every Saturday morning alongside the large abstract obelisks that represent each of the original anchor cities of the Big Four Railroad. A fountain modeled in the style of the Falls of the Ohio also decorates the space.

The first business to get your attention outside Big Four Station, as the plaza is called, is the lovely Pearl Street Treats, a frozen yogurt shop. Lynn Rhodea opened her business during Thunder over Louisville 2014 and has seen a steady increase ever since. “On the weekends, it’s very busy – and during the summer,” Rhodea describes. “Sometimes it’s just wall-to-wall people with a line at the door. It’s fun!”

As a testament to how many new visitors Jeffersonville has been getting over the last year or two, Rhodea displays a map of the world in her shop and asks visitors to put a pin in where they’re from. She just installed her second map due to the first one nearly overflowing with pins across the world.

Right across the street from the sweets shop is at once one of the older businesses of the community and one of the newer ones. The Old Bridge Inn Bed & Breakfast has been open for 17 years, but Chestnuts and Pearls, a gallery and antiques shop located in the same building, just opened recently due to the completion of the pedestrian bridge.

TVT_1385“People need to come in. People need a break from the weather,” contends Linda Williams, owner of both businesses. “It’s a service to the public, and while they’re here, there’s something for them to look at, which at the same time helps the artist.” She refers to any of the 15 local artists whose work is on display and for sale to passersby at Chestnuts and Pearls. Williams wanted to open some sort of business to accommodate the wealth of visitors but didn’t want to detract from other local establishments. “I didn’t want to compete … I saw a niche I could fill,” she explains.

Williams’ space is unique indeed and stands as a wonderful exhibition for so many artists from Louisville and Southern Indiana. The gallery is only open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays but often has special events, such as the upcoming Antiques at the Inn, taking place November 14 and 15.

Another gallery in town also opened right after the bridge was completed. Gadabout Gallery is a little bit more of a walk from the bridge but nonetheless delightfully interesting and unique in its own way. Mary Lee Burnside, an employee at the gallery, remarks that at least 60 percent of the gallery’s visitors are first-timers who have crossed the bridge into town.

TVT_1393What’s more is a lot of those people aren’t just new to Gadabout but new to Jeffersonville as a whole. And thanks to such quaint businesses as Gadabout, they are almost always immediately charmed. “What’s overwhelmingly wonderful to hear is the positive comments. ‘How lovely your city is.’ ‘The art is so beautiful,’” Burnside relates.

Although Gadabout is relatively new, there are multiple older business in town that have watched the city grow over the years. One of the most famous ones is Horner Novelty, which has been selling party supplies and costumes for nearly 30 years. Sales Floor Manager Jenny McAlpine says that over the last year or so, “We definitely have a lot more ‘lookers.’ On Fridays and Saturdays, they come in, they see us and say, ‘We never knew you were here!’ Then they come back another time.”

TVT_1403The business has always been successful, but McAlpine is glad to see Jeffersonville becoming more often visited by its Louisville neighbors – especially during the Halloween season, Horner’s busiest time of year. With a whole second floor dedicated to Halloween, there’s nothing for the holiday you won’t find here.

“We’re a specialty shop and we’re a one-of-a-kind,” McAlpine describes. “We don’t just have Halloween, but we do have Halloween year-round. We’re a party supply store too. I think it’s an interesting place and people enjoy coming in and looking – they see things in here they haven’t seen in 50 years.”

There is no doubt that there is genuinely something in downtown Jeffersonville for everyone. And there’s still so many other businesses that populate the several blocks surrounding Big Four Station; plenty more restaurants, boutiques and art spaces that are ready to delight visitors and locals alike. And with Too Tired Bike & Bean – a bike repair shop and coffee shop – on the brink of opening the former part of its identity, it seems the city will only continue to grow in its rich and diverse offerings.

Jeffersonville is a true community that works together to create a city where people are not only happy to live but also happy to visit. As Carolyn Minutillo, owner of Lavendar Hill – a floral and lifestyle shop – puts it, “I think people are pleasantly surprised when they cross the bridge. They’re discovering a neighborhood, and it’s not the same experience as when they’re on the Louisville side.” VT