Wherever we looked in the final days of 2020 there were grim lists of top stories. Covid 19, social justice and injustices, and all things politics dominated headlines in the year past, and has turned the corner to dominate the earliest days of 2021. Much of what people have experienced this year fell into the categories of hurtful, hateful, troubling and traumatic. While these life-changing events are most definitely news and are important to us all, as 2021 begins, we have chosen to focus on other events, small in the greater universe, but big to us and to the people who are working so hard to make a difference in downtown.
During all the trauma and drama that was 2020- these are five good things we believe deserve to be remembered and celebrated.
#5 New Restaurants Open Downtown & One Favorite Returns
In this year that has been devastating to restaurants across the country, downtown Shreveport saw the opening of several new eateries and the return of a favorite. Shababy’s Cajun Cooking at 605 Texas Street opened in the spring when downtown was a ghost town. Businesses, the courts and governmental agencies had sent people home, businesses were closed, people were hunkered down in their homes during the height of the Covid shutdown. Shababy’s owner and kitchen magician Mandy Smith knew that when folks came back, they would need a big platter of delicious fried seafood or fresh cracklins. Her wonderful, bubbly personality and lively Cajun accent makes every diner feel welcome and reminds us that -eventually- life will be normal again. At 500 Texas Street, Shawn Feaster, long of Cobb’s BBQ in Bossier, teamed with Kristi Tift to open Retro Downtown BBQ. BBQ had been a favorite that had been missing until Shawn came in and filled the void with mounds of tasty pork, brisket, and ribs smothered in Cobb’s special sauce. Parish Taceaux at 708 Texas Street shocked their legion of fans when it closed in the fall. Local businessman William O’Brien stepped in and purchased, re-worked and reopened the fun gathering spot two weeks later. Since then, O’Brien has been aggressive in creating special days, wonderful menu options and a variety of fun events at the eatery. The former KCS Cafe at 830 Louisiana Avenue came back to life in November as T’s Comfort Foods. Teketia Pipkins and her family all took part in opening the Southern Soul food restaurant that features weekday plate lunches heavy on Southern favorites like fried pork chops and baked chicken and dressing. An added bonus is getting to watch the trains roll by just like they have done for more than 100 years at that location. Two other restaurants- Fat’s Oyster House in the Red River District and Next Level 318 Sports Bar and Diner at 200 Travis Street, are due to open soon.
#4 The Power of Art Shines Through
Communities splinter in various ways, but artists and creatives showed that art and music are still ways to bring people together. In a year that saw the cancellation of the Red River Revel and other art festivals, C & C Mercantile and Lighting’s Lauren Ross Simmons and Derek Simmons came up with a way to bring art back safely while giving artists and musicians a place to perform and sell their works. Their Downtown Mercantile Market in October gave musicians a stage, artists a chance to show and sell their wares and a grateful public an outing filled with color and creativity. In the 1500 block of Marshall Street, Ka’Davien Baylor brought local artists together to create ‘Leaders of Tomorrow’, a mural that features items unique and special to Shreveport and the young people who will see it through in years to come. It is a powerful message, and a timely one. Art with a social consciousness showed up on walls in the 800 block of Texas Avenue and in safe and socially-distanced events at Artspace, Bailey Gallery and Shreve Towne Studio 512 showing that art survives and uplifts, even in this most difficult of years. Read about the creation of Leaders of Tomorrow, here.
#3 Two New Businesses Take Center Stage
For years, the old Schorr Furniture store in the 1100 block of Texas Avenue sat vacant and forlorn. The once thriving ‘Nue was a sad and empty place with no retail, no restaurants, no reason to linger. In June, all that changed when an imaginative and hard-working couple decided this was the place they wanted to be. After seeing the tall brick walls and soaring ceilings in the historic building, Lauren and Derek Simmons knew that their business, C & C Mercantile and Lighting, needed to be there, too. They also brought in ArtiFact, a ‘factory’ for artisans to create and sell. They have also secured a long term lease with the City of Shreveport for a parking lot and the old Nolen’s building to create another venue called Texas Avenue Social. Along the way, they have hosted a fall outdoor Mercantile Market, weekly Mini-Markets, special holiday events and are currently planning a large spring Market. Read about their Texas Avenue Social concept, here.
When the Sportran Terminal moved to Murphy Street, the question of what the former terminal on Crockett Street would become was the question of the hour. It seemed that everyone had an idea for it, but follow through was lacking, until now. Power couple Deshea and Edgar Guzman had both an idea of what would work and the tenacity to get it done. Their efforts led to The Lot, a space that debuted in November as a location for food trucks and outdoor dining, vendors, & live music in the heart of downtown. Heightened Covid restrictions caused the cancellation of their December events, but they are ready and willing to launch again in 2021. At present, their alcohol permit is being approved so that they will be able to serve and sell adult beverages as a part of a planned restaurant theme. Longer term plans also include a commissary kitchen for food trucks and more. Read about The Lot, here.
#2 Downtown Lights Up
After years in the dark, the famous Texas Street ‘Neon Bridge’ got a new lease on lighted life in 2020. $1,000,000 donors George and Sandy Bakowski got the project rolling and were joined by money or support from the Red River Waterway Commission, the Public Service Commission/Commissioner Foster Campbell, the Downtown Development Authority and the Cities of Shreveport and Bossier City, whose late 2020 city council approval of the partnership allowed the project to move forward. The LED lighting that will be installed on the bridge in 2021 will be remarkable, able to change colors with events, seasons and celebrations. Once again the bridge connecting Shreveport and Bossier City will be a thing of colorful, lighted beauty.
Meanwhile, in December, Rimmer Electric Inc. finished up a downtown-wide changeout of metal halide streetlighting to energy-efficient LED lighting. The changeout was made possible by a $217,000 grant the Downtown Development Authority received from Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell. Some lights downtown are still out awaiting repairs for other issues, but the majority of the fixtures are lighting up the night with clear white light providing not only energy savings, but additional security and visibility, as well. Update on the downtown lighting, here.
#1 A Beautiful Building Is Brought Back from the Brink
In 1929, the Howard Motor Company opened at 717 Crockett Street in a building designed by Sam Wiener, an architect well on his way to becoming internationally-known. In just a short while, the building was renamed the Andress Ford building, the name that stuck. By the 1970s and 80s, the old Andress Ford had become no more than a parking garage, a lifeless place with a leaking roof and crumbling plaster. By the mid 2000’s, then then- owners were making noises about demolition and it looked as if we might lose the once-beautiful building for good. Enter Jim Malsch, a man looking to add another chapter to his already-interesting business life and the Andress Artist and Entrepreneur Center was born. Malsch purchased and spent the past year rehabbing the building, giving it another 100 years of life, and showing the importance of saving pieces of our history and heritage. It will soon be a place filled with art and artists plying their crafts, small business owners and entrepreneurs, a happy and vibrant place, an anchor to downtown and a cornerstone in the Shreveport Common art and culture district. How the Andress Artist & Entrepreneur Center came to be, here.
From the DDA to you- thank you for your interest in, and support of, downtown. It is a special place, and we believe it becomes more special each day. We can’t do it without the many people listed above or without you. The restaurants, businesses and buildings that open cannot exist in a vacuum and no business can last without customers and supporters. We encourage you to shop, eat, drink, live, work and play downtown and encourage friends to do the same. We’ll see you in 2021!