by Chris Carlson
During the Envision Broad Ripple planning process, community members agreed that one of the Village’s defining characteristics is its mix of small, locally owned businesses. Among Broad Ripple’s modern buildings, new businesses, and chain establishments are dozens of small, private mom-and-pop shops, some of which have survived and thrived in Broad Ripple for 40 years or more.
It’s clear from this selective sampling of long-time businesses that surviving the slings and arrows of outrageous economic fortune in an ever-changing neighborhood has not been easy. They view recent developments in the Village with a mixture of hope, expectation, concern, and a touch of wistfulness.
Not surprisingly, these business owners share traits that give them staying power—and thriving power: a strong sense of customer service and deep commitment to the close-knit Broad Ripple community. They love Broad Ripple’s diversity and quirkiness and the small-town, cozy neighborhood feel that coexists with a bustling, exciting community. They love the friendly nature of residents, other business owners, customers—everybody knows everybody else. They have colorful recollections of the “old” Village and fond memories of cherished business friends who have disappeared or moved elsewhere.
Nearly all of the business owners profiled acquired their Broad Ripple businesses through family inheritances or “walked into” a sweet deal at the right time. Regardless of the circumstances, their presence in the Village adds equal measures of stability, vitality, and character to Midtown’s downtown.
6267 Carrollton Ave.
The quirky bar with an alley entrance had already been a neighborhood fixture for many years before incorporating as “The Alley Cat” in 1975. In 1977 Lori Davis’s father was looking for a career change. Though he had no real affinity for or knowledge of Broad Ripple, he found out about an opportunity there. Broad Ripple had taken a downward turn, the Alley Cat was for sale, and the price was reasonable. With no prior restaurant experience, he took a leap of faith and became a bar owner. “He always thought it would turn around,” Lori says, “and he was right! On the same day he took over the Alley Cat, the Vogue opened up as a music venue. Then Union Jack Pub opened a couple of years later.”
It has been a family-operated establishment ever since. Lori and her cousin Russell Record are now co-owners and, intending to keep the Alley Cat privately owned, they have involved the next generation—her children and Russell’s children.
When asked about the Alley Cat’s longevity, Davis attributes it to “consistency, and we try not rest on our laurels. Service is our top priority. We stay current with what our customers want, and we do it at a reasonable price. It’s a balancing act.” Some of the Alley Cat’s faithful customers date back to 1977. “We have a top-notch crew. One employee has been here 28 years!” Lori exclaims. “Four others have been here 20-plus years.
“Some people are a little crazy about the big buildings, but it takes all of that plus all the unique shops to make everything click,” she says. “If you want people to live here successfully, they must be able to shop, eat, and feel at home here.” Lori feels like this summer is going to be the summer for Broad Ripple. “It’s our turn to shine.”
6327 Guilford Ave.
When Anne Kaplan and friend Dottie Goldberg were transplanted to Indianapolis from Massachusetts, they found no shops in Indiana like those on the East Coast, where the 1970s American crafts movement was thriving. The Broad Ripple business climate was just beginning to change in 1977 when the two women opened Artifacts, a showplace for American contemporary crafts and one of the first galleries in Broad Ripple.
By the time they moved from Carrollton Avenue to their current location—part of the space formerly occupied by Handy Hardware—the two women had established themselves as pioneers in the modern era of small businesses. Jeanne Kaplan says her mother was “clever in realizing changes as they were beginning to happen and the potential that came with change. She could ride the first crest of a trend.” According to Jeanne, Anne “just had that instinct of what would sell.”
Anne persevered through unsteady times thanks to thrift and financial savvy, and in 2013, turned Artifacts over to her daughter, who had literally grown up with the store. Jeanne respects the work her mom put in over the years. “She could seek out new items, keep offerings fresh, and maintain a standard of quality and a certain look that customers came to expect. She was respectful, paying attention to customers and developing and maintaining good relationships with artists and vendors, many of whom are excited to still be working with us.”
Artifacts’ loyal customer base and its reputation for excellence contribute to the shop’s longevity. Competition with online handmade marketplaces was a short-lived concern. Jeanne finds that people really like to see things in person, enjoying the touch and feel of handmade crafts. Kaplan speaks for many when she expresses ambivalence about recent changes. “Honestly, I feel really, really mixed. Improvements and changes and investment are overdue in Broad Ripple, but I’m scared about how things are going to look, the esthetics of the buildings, and the flavor of the Village that has been here for so long.” She adds, “I’m scared but also excited to see what’s going to happen. We are at a turning point.”
823 East 64th St.
When Steve Manning (right) and Dan Hale (left) started their business, there were four lawn mower repair shops in Broad Ripple; now, they are the last one. From their beginning behind McNamara Florist on 61st Street (now Monon Place Apartments), to the 64th Street building (a former landscape equipment company) that they purchased in 1993, they’ve stayed committed to customer satisfaction, specializing in service for those who don’t want the Big Box experience. None of the “bigs” have shops that repair what they sell, Steve states. “Folks buy stuff elsewhere and bring it here for service,” he explains. “Our total full mower service is different from anyone else’s locally. We get everything set up, fill it with gas and oil, test the mower, and when the customer leaves the shop, they go home ready to mow.”
When he returned from Vietnam, Manning bought back into the mowing company he had worked at in high school, and Dan, also a veteran, started maintaining the equipment. There were early struggles, but together they weathered hard times and now, “We’re just two old guys having fun,” says Steve. “We can pay bills and get to come in here every day.”
They care about their customers and try their best to make them happy. “We want our customers to leave feeling good,” Dan states. Steve adds, “You can resolve differences yourself, accept responsibility, and do what you say you’ll do.” In all their years in business, they’ve used an attorney once, to incorporate. There aren’t a lot of people in the shop for customers to deal with—just Dan and Steve. “We have several new apartments going up in Broad Ripple,” Steve says. “They will do nothing but help Broad Ripple. The more people you get here, living and walking here, the more it will help all the businesses.”
1009 Broad Ripple Avenue
Doug Hull considers Elgin Water Care to be the oldest family-owned and locally operated business in Broad Ripple. In 1946, S. Perry Hull—Doug’s grandfather—incorporated the company at their first location, in the Kassebaum Building where 317 Burger is located today. In 1971, Doug’s father, Jim, purchased the current building on Broad Ripple Avenue, which, according to Doug, is ideal because “It is right on the Avenue with good frontage.”
At that time, trains stopped on the Monon railroad spur to unload at the lumber company next door. Elgin arranged to have its supplies unloaded at the same time. Doug worked at Elgin during high school and grew up in the business. He is now the third generation of Hulls to lead the company. His father, who will turn 92 in September, still comes to the office almost every week.
“Being a mom-and-pop business, we can react more quickly to what our customers want, making our service better,” Doug says. Much of their business comes from word of mouth, plus people use them because their parents did. “We value our customers; many are second and third generation,” he says, “and we take great pride in our Hoosier heritage.”
While the business has had opportunities to move elsewhere, Doug says “it’s like the company has been here forever. People know where we are, and we do a lot more foot traffic than you’d imagine.” Doug and his father just like the community feel. “Everyone gets together—it’s an active village,” Doug says. “We just like the feel of Broad Ripple. Everyone is so involved.”
He’s pleased that additional retail means there is more daytime stuff to do that draws people to the area. “It balances out the bars, which is good for everyone,” he says. “My concern is, will it get overbuilt beyond what the traffic and parking and infrastructure can handle?”
6350 Guilford Ave.
Inspired by the 1960s culture of organic living and alternative career paths, Good Earth founder Julie Johnson, along with business partners, purchased the 1890s building on Guilford Avenue for a natural food store. Even at the young age of 18, the north-side Indianapolis woman saw Broad Ripple, with its peak days behind it, being reinvented by young people drawn to its quirky vibe. They brought money; property was cheap; they opened shops. She thought there would be an interest in natural foods and so became part of the wave that reinvigorated Broad Ripple.
In 1973 Bob Landman and Brett Kimberlin bought Good Earth from Johnson; Landman eventually became sole owner. When Landman died suddenly in 2008, his son-in-law Rudy Nehrling (above right) took over day-to-day operations for Landman’s wife, Jodi. Bob Bennington, (above left) who had known Landman since they were 10, has been with Good Earth since the beginning.
Nehrling says that “superior customer service and the ability to change with the times are key” to the store’s longevity. Trends change in all businesses. We’ve always been flexible and we constantly change to stay ahead.” Bennington added that Nehrling has “brought in a lot of technology, making it much easier to track inventory.” Online business was added about 2001.
Nehrling notes that Good Earth has been selling Birkenstock footwear for 40 years. “We were the first in Indiana and fifth in the U.S. to sell Birkenstocks.” Bennington adds, “We’ve had an amazing quality of people work here—nice, smart people who care about what they are doing and create a great atmosphere. They have fun. Hopefully customers see that. If we are successful, it’s because of our employees.”
While they both embrace change in the Village, Nehrling says he wants Broad Ripple to continue being unique. “We do not want Broad Ripple to be vanilla. We need something that sets us apart. The Esplanade project is wonderful; we need more of that.”
Bennington thinks Broad Ripple has a bright and great future. “The central part of the focus is on resurgence of neighborhoods. We are and were in the forefront. We are in proximity to some of the greatest old neighborhoods,” he says. “We’re looking forward to great growth, and more independent businesses is the key.”
6542 E. Westfield Blvd.
In selecting a business site, Larry Howald’s father Wayne considered Broad Ripple; there were established neighborhoods and older homes with no other heating companies nearby. Broad Ripple was ripe for something like this, and in 1962, Wayne Howald started his company at 823 Westfield Blvd., where Petite Chou Bistro is located today. He later moved to the company’s current location, and the one-man operation turned into a thriving business. “He was a great people person,” Larry says of his dad. “He loved working and loved customers.”
Larry went on to college after working for the company during high school. But Wayne died in 1975, and Larry, unwilling to see his dad’s company fold, left school and immediately went to work. He knew if he could sell, he could keep the business going; his first sales call was successful, which energized him.
Diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1999, Larry sold the company. He stayed on as general manager for several years, but corporate restructuring left Larry without a job. However, he still owned the property. Knowing he couldn’t let his father’s company slip away, he pursued a plan to save the company a second time. After a non-compete agreement expired, Larry accomplished an almost seamless immediate takeover of his old company and reopened under the name Howald Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing, with all his former workers and several family members back on the job.
Larry says, “The key is having a track record of honesty over the years. Make that your theme, and back it up with action. People want to deal with an honest company, someone they can trust, a dependable product and service to back it up.” He’s seen a lot of changes through the years and is most concerned about current architectural styles. “I wish the construction style would keep the same architectural theme and nostalgia to keep the Village feel alive,” he says. “It’s not doing that now.” He takes the long view: “I can enjoy everything that’s happening in Broad Ripple. It’s the only place I can sit in a line of traffic for 15 minutes and enjoy every minute of it.”
733 Broad Ripple Ave.
Founder Harry Kimmel opened Kimmel Shoe repair in Broad Ripple in 1942, and Anthony Tomasello, who came to this country as a child with his parents from Palermo, Sicily, began working there at age 17. He eventually acquired the Broad Ripple and Carmel locations, keeping the Kimmel name; he continues working for the company more than 50 years later. He co-owns Kimmel with his son Ronnie, whose wife and two daughters also work there.
While it’s been a family business for decades, what’s unusual is that in Ronnie’s family, shoe craftsmen include five generations—on both maternal and paternal sides. “Maybe more,” says Ronnie. “I come from a long line of shoe craftsmen. It’s been my life, and I love it.
“Taking something worn out and bringing it back to life, making it serviceable and like new is my contribution to the world. I love people’s expressions when they see the transformation and the quality work,” Ronnie says. His repairs are traditional—not a quick fix. “It’s an art. We employ craftsmen. Their work means something.”
“We use the best materials we can find and guarantee everything we do. We have it ready when we say it will be ready. Don’t have customers waste their time coming back.” There is mutual respect, Ronnie explains. “Treatment of customers is important, and customers treat us well in return. If something’s wrong, they give us the opportunity to correct it. The customer is always right—no matter what.” He is loyal to the history of the company, to the craft, the profession and to his customers. “The customers allow me to stay here,” he says. “We have built up a loyal base; children of prior customers come in.”
Ronnie emphasizes that the business will stay in Broad Ripple regardless of what happens to the building where he rents. He likes what he sees around him. “I’m so glad that there is something other than bars moving into the community—small restaurants, apartments,” he says. “Bring back more clothing shops, meat markets, unusual shops. This is so much better than downtown Carmel. That canal is such a plus. No place else has it!”
855 Main St.
In 1974, Jim Lloyd started Mr. Poster, a leader in large-format imaging in the Indianapolis area, in the Glendale Mall galleria. In 1978, needing more space for photographic equipment, he built the Main Street building.
Steve Donohue met Lloyd through work at Hoosier Photo on Broad Ripple Avenue. In 1994, Hoosier Photo put everything up for sale, and Donohue “saw the writing.” Fortunately, Lloyd was ready to sell at the same time. “I just walked into Mr. Poster,” Donohue reminisces. He took ownership about the time digital was getting traction. “Now everything is digital,” says Donohue. “I still process black and white film. Been doing that since I was 13.”
Broad Ripple has been an important part of his life, including his first house and first three adult-life jobs. “I have deep roots in the Village; it was a hangout when I got married. I love that you can live, work, play, and shop within a small area.”
Donohue says that the secret to his longevity is being able to adjust from “photographic guy” to “digital guy.” “I evolved with technology,” he elaborates. “Yet, I still have enough of the dinosaur in me to handle the old stuff.” He contends that maintaining relationships keeps him alive. “I may be making less money than before, but I’m making enough to be happy. The whole thing in life is to be happy.”
With digital, Donohue doesn’t need all his current space, so he is selling the building, but not the business. He will continue Mr. Poster from home because “I love what I do and I’m good at it,” he emphasizes. “Broad Ripple has been very good for the businesses I’ve run. People know each other, it’s a nice place to be. ”
6259 N. College Ave.
Although the Vogue opened as a movie theatre in 1938, the Art Deco venue has been home since 1977 to one of the top nightclubs in Indianapolis. Steve Ross, who purchased the club from his brother in 1986, also owned the Patio on Guilford Avenue—where the Lava Lounge is now—and the Bluebird in Bloomington. He sold those clubs. The Vogue remains his “crown jewel.”
Ross has thrived in Broad Ripple during years of change. “I have a formula that works, that adapts to change as people’s music tastes change,” he says. “Plus, it’s the perfect location with the Monon and eclectic restaurants. Bands come here and look for variety in good places to eat.” Ross watched the Village survive growing pains “with a plan that’s working—more restaurants, fewer bars, cool brewpubs.”
He attributes his longevity in a competitive market to “perseverance. I figure out how to make it work no matter what’s going on. We create a cool package that everyone likes [and] they have a good time.” He considers his competition to be any place that sells beer or shots. “There are many bars where patrons go before a show. We price competitively and have a show that people will remember. We do things that are over the top. No pinching pennies,” he says. “Many great acts and bands have played here. People like the Vogue because you can get up close and personal with the artists.”
He really likes the direction in which the Village is heading. “Change is difficult for some, but if we didn’t change, we couldn’t grow.”
1316 Broad Ripple Avenue
The Weaver family has always owned Weaver’s Lawn & Garden, from its original 1961 location behind Hedlund’s Hardware and Little America Amusement Park on Broad Ripple Avenue to today’s site on White River, just east of Broad Ripple High School, where they moved in 1964. The founding Weavers selected the current location, a former fruit market, because the larger property allowed for expansion.
Tom Weaver, son of the founders, and his sister, Pam, have been involved from the beginning, working alongside other family members for 56 years. The business was handed down to him and the rest of the family; today he and Pam are the Weavers in charge.
Weaver takes pride in having a large selection of spring-, summer-, and fall-flowering plants, as well as pumpkins in the fall and Christmas trees for the holidays. They are open March through Christmas Eve. “I listen to what people want. If we don’t have it this year, we will get it the next.” Working with five area growers, Weaver places orders in August for the following year.
Customer service, vitally important to his parents, continues today. “We help customers carry their stuff to their cars and put plastic or newspapers on the floor under the plants.” Weaver says they are working on their third generation of customers. “We try to provide good customer service and take care of people.”
Also important to Weaver is knowledge of plants. “People appreciate our knowledge of plants and landscaping. This was important to mom and dad,” he adds. “They ask questions, and I give them landscaping ideas.” It helps that Tom studied landscaping for a while, but aside from informed advice, the business no longer offers landscaping services. For about 10 years, he has donated and planted pansies in planters in front of Broad Ripple High School.
With all the new apartments opening, Weaver isn’t alone in wondering when they will fill. “All the apartments going in could help business since it could mean more customers,” he says. “We have had a bunch of new young people come in.” One big change Weaver mentions is the Canal Esplanade. “It’s nice landscaping and I like what they did with the stone work along the Canal.”
Chris Carlson is a freelance writer in Warfleigh.