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KEVIN LEININGER: Thanks to ‘urban pioneers’ like this one, what’s old could be new again

Janie Garrison has opened the Simply N Style boutique in this house on Fairfield Avenue and lives upstairs with her three daughters -- the kind of "live-work" arrangement backers of Brackenridge Village" want to attract. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
Rudy Mahara
Kevin Leininger

In one sense Janie Garrison is an American anachronism, living above the “Simply N Style” boutique she recently opened on the first floor of the newly renovated century-old house at 1401 Fairfield Ave. just south of downtown. That sort of arrangement is just, well, so old-fashioned.

But if Garrison and the backers of the “Brackenridge Village” project are right, she will be the latter-day pioneer who proved that what was old can become new — and successful — all over again.

As I first reported last September, the idea behind Brackenridge Village is to create a residential and commercial district in the area just west of Parkview Field that is today mostly dotted with dilapidated homes. The plan was hatched at Rudy’s, a cigar bar investment advisor Rudy Mahara opened at 409 W. Brackenridge six years ago, and about 15 of his patrons eventually decided to put their money where their dreams were by buying the Wood Shack architectural remnant store on Baker Street and nine surrounding homes and lots.

Garrison, who opened her shop last year in Auburn but decided to relocate to Fort Wayne hoping to boost business, didn’t plan on becoming Brackenridge Village’s live-work guinea pig. She originally considered a location near St. Joseph Hospital, but that was before Mike Anderson, who owns about 200 rental units and is a partner in Brackenridge Village, told her about the then-vacant and dog-eared house on Fairfield.

“In Auburn, I was ready to give up,” she said. “I can live and work here, and there are people galore. It was a dream to come here.”

As a single mother with three daughters between the ages of 9 and 16, the upstairs-downstairs arrangement is practical in ways that transcend family togetherness and business practicality. The money she spent improving the house has earned her a significant discount on the rent.

“The house was in bad shape, but when I was married I flipped houses, so I knew what to do. I love old houses, and I can’t wait for something else to come. A lot of people can’t envision it yet, but if they see I can do it, maybe they’ll think they can, too. I hope others follow my lead.”

Mahara couldn’t agree more. He’s not a partner in Brackenridge Village LLC, but he does advise the group and insists the reduced rent offered Garrison and a previous residential tenant who also paid for improvements will be good for the project in the long run.

“It will help the group conserve capital,” he said — money that could be used to improve or acquire additional properties in the area.

Garrison is getting help from other sources, too, including the local anti-poverty not-for-profit agency Brightpoint and the Summit City Entrepreneur and Enterprise District (SEED), which offers incentives to promote commercial activity in the urban core. Ultimately, though, Garrison knows success or failure will be up to her — which is why she admits to a certain amount of trepidation.

She describes Simply N Style as a hi-end fashion boutique for women, and scours various sources for clothes and other items she hopes will attract shoppers from all income groups. Business has been slow since last week’s “soft” opening, she admits, but Garrison hopes to boost sales through a grand opening that could come within the next couple of weeks.

And in the meantime, no matter what happens, she and her daughters are together as much as possible in the live-work arrangement Mahara noted was once the “American way” — and, in Brackenridge Village at least, one day could be again.

“I want my girls to be culturally diverse,” Garrison said, acknowledging the variety of people who drive or walk past her door as they live, work, visit and do business downtown. And none of it will go unnoticed, she said, because of another anachronism she finds appealing.

“This will be a sit-on-the-front-porch community,” she predicted.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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