Merchants plan First Wednesday, a monthly event designed to increase foot traffic in business district
The times, they are a-changing. And the Cedar Springs strip plans on changing with them, according to the president of the Cedar Springs Merchants Association.
One of the first steps in keeping up with the times will be a new monthly event, called First Wednesday, designed to bring foot traffic back to the strip by offering special sales, discounts and entertainment, said Scott, Whittall, co-owner of Buli restaurant and president of the merchants association.
The first First Wednesday will be held from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 5.
The six-block stretch of Cedar Springs Road between Oak Lawn Avenue and Douglas Street has long been known as the heart of Dallas’ “gayborhood,” lined with gay nightclubs and gift shops and restaurants that were, if not gay-owned, at least gay-friendly.
The large number of LGBT people who lived in the apartments in the surrounding areas, and the LGBT visitors who came in from other areas of the Metroplex on weekends, drawn by the chance to party at the gay clubs and just hang out in a space where it was okay to be openly gay, helped the businesses there thrive.
But in recent years, the neighborhood’s LGBT residents have been slowly replaced by heterosexual singles and couples, many with children, moving in to the high-end condos that have replaced less expensive apartments. And ongoing road construction at both ends of the street has kept some of the visitors from coming into the area.
As a result, the strip’s once-thriving LGBT businesses are facing a slump. Gay-owned shops like Off the Street, An Occasional Piece and Shades of Grey Leather have already closed. And Crossroads Market, the bookstore that has been the strip’s anchor and which housed the birth of some of the city’s oldest LGBT organizations will likely close by the end of the year.
Members of the Cedar Springs Merchants Association are determined to reverse the trend.
“As merchants, we are concerned about the street. We want to bring this street back to the glory days,” said Whittall. “I think getting all of us to work together is the only way we can do that. We have to make Cedar Springs survive.”
Weekend traffic in the neighborhood remains steady, Whitall said, so the merchants decided to institute “First Wednesdays” because “we need them to think about coming to Cedar Springs during the week. We have to get people used to coming down here again to eat and do their shopping.”
Michael Doughman, executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild, said that most of the Tavern Guild members with clubs located on the Cedar Springs strip are participating because their fortunes are tied, at least in part, to the success of the strip as a whole.
“The Cedar Springs strip has been let go for awhile now. We want to get the flags back on the poles, get power back to the lights in all the trees and make other visible improvements. We want to dress the street up again,” said Doughman.
He said the merchants association also want to see the vacant storefronts along Cedar Springs filled up with stores and restaurants that will appeal to the neighborhood’s changing demographic.
“We are trying to adapt to the changing climate around us. There are already a lot more families in this neighborhood, and there will be a lot more to come,” Doughman said. “The straight people are moving into this neighborhood, and they are not going to go away. We have to make this street more attractive and appealing to them by adding some more mainstream types of stores . If we don’t adapt to the people coming in, then they will push us out. If we are not family-friendly and neighbor-friendly, then they might see us as a negative element. And they will have the upper hand if they try to push us out.”
Doughman also suggested that the idea of a “gayborhood’ or the “gay ghetto” as it used to be called is also outdated.
“There’s just not the same need as there was back when people flocked here because this was the only place they felt safe,” he said. “Our community is becoming very integrated into the community, into the city and into politics. Openly gay people can feel welcome in a lot of places now, like the West End and Deep Ellum and Addison. So Cedar Springs has to be updated to fit in and the stores, even the [LGBT] clubs have to be more welcoming to a mainstream audience.”
But Whitall said that updating Cedar Springs’ image did not mean removing its gay sensibilities.
“We want to be a very eclectic street. That’s the word eclectic,” Whitall said. “A lot of us down here are gay business owners. But just like we ask the straight community to accept us, we have to accept them. We want to keep it gay, but we also want everyone to know they are always welcome. That’s what it’s all about.
“The gay culture of Cedar Springs is not going to go away,” Whitall continued. “But this is a wonderful opportunity to show the straights who are moving in that this is a great street, a great culture and we are great people.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 30, 2007