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LAFAYETTE — Greg Anspach and his family have been around town for about as long as anyone — his parents started Anspach’s Jewelry in 1955 in Old Town Lafayette. In 1967, they purchased the building their business is in at 101 S. Public Road.
Over the years after taking over his parents’ business, Anspach has seen the downtown area grow and evolve and, over the past couple of years, transform into a vibrant district that has seen a flurry of growth, new businesses and developments while maintaining a lot of its original character.
“Just in the past two to three years, the viability of this area has increased so much I can’t even put a percentage on it,” Anspach said.
Brigid Keating, economic development director for Lafayette, said the downtown area has rebounded well from the economic downturn of the COVID-19 pandemic, with businesses growing and thriving.
“The district as a whole has done incredibly well,” Keating said. “We’re just continuing to grow and seeing a lot of businesses really thriving…one of the great parts about Old Town is that you can start your business here, you can be in a shared space or a food truck and then expand to something bigger. It makes my job so enjoyable to see people do well and have a successful small business in the area.”
Vicki Trumbo, executive director of the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, said some of the signs of the overall health of the district are the consistent heavy foot traffic and the restaurants filling up even on weeknights.
“The short answer is downtown is doing well,” Trumbo said. “Restaurants are full, there’s cohesiveness up and down the street, there’s ambiance and connectivity.”
Anspach, who took over the jewelry business from his parents in 1983, said the retail and food options in downtown Lafayette then were nowhere close to what they are now.
“It’s great to see so many people embrace Lafayette,” Anspach said. “All the people coming downtown, the great food, the exciting retail — it really comes down to individuals with a vision who come into town and want to put their business here. That’s what it takes, and then it kind of starts to snowball.”
As the area continues to grow, Anspach’s Jewelry is growing along with it. The shop is expanding to take over all of the space in its building. It’s completely gutting the interior to put in a bigger, expanded showroom and a more efficient workshop. Anspach said the company plans to hire more employees as part of the growth. Construction on the project is slated to begin in December and be completed in time for Valentine’s Day.
“It’s been something we wanted to do for five to six years now,” Anspach said. “We’re super excited. It’s definitely going to be a showcase for downtown. We’re very excited about doing the upgrade and enhancing more of what downtown has become.”
Another longtime town business, The Lafayette Flea at 130 E. Spaulding St., is also entering a new era. The flea market’s founders retired after 32 years, and new owner John Smidt purchased it in July. Smidt said other potential buyers wanted to close the business, tear down the building and redevelop the site — something he has no intention of doing.
“Most other people looking to purchase the building were going to close the flea market and do something else with the building,” Smidt said. “The vendors were all very excited that we decided to keep it, and they’re taking a lot of pride in it.”
Keating said it was a relief for city staff, neighboring businesses and local residents that the building wasn’t purchased by someone looking to redevelop it, but rather someone who wanted to invest in the business and help it grow.
“A lot of us were nervous about that building,” Keating said. “It’s exciting to see someone who saw the value of that space. We were nervous about someone wanting to get rid of it.”
Smidt said he has already performed a lot of restoration work on the flea market, such as landscaping improvements on the exterior and cleanup inside to create a more open layout, and the results are already promising. August was the top sales month in the history of the business, Smidt said.
Smidt also rebranded the business to The Lafayette Flea and is ramping up the company’s social media presence to help continue to pull in the big numbers it did in August. He’s also reaching out to local muralists to repaint the sides of the building.
“We want to try to create a little community here,” Smidt said. “I was not familiar with downtown Lafayette at all. Everybody seems to know everybody. It’s very tight-knit. It’s been the most fun project I’ve done so far.”
Creating a little community is also what developer Graham Bailhache is trying to do with the new food hall he’s building at the southeast corner of Public Road and Baseline Road. That site at the northern terminus of Public Road was previously a Sinclair gas station. Bailhache, who also owns the general contractor BV Builders and the restaurant Community at 206 S. Public Road, said he decided to redevelop the gas station because a more aesthetically pleasing, walkable building would be a better use for the site.
The 16,000-square-foot food hall will consist of four counter-service local food businesses, an ice cream stand and a bar. The upstairs will have a second bar with table games and video games for both kids and adults. There also will be a covered patio and outdoor activity space.
“We wanted something where families can go have food and drinks and kids can run around more so than they can in a restaurant,” Bailhache said. “There are lots of people who have kids and want to go out to these places without feeling bad about it.”
Keating said the food hall will help the town capitalize on a growing trend as well as serve as a better entry point to Old Town.
“That’s going to be a great gateway into the district,” Keating said. “Food halls are all over the country now. It provides a great space for small businesses and for customers to be able to get a mix of offerings.”
The success of downtown isn’t limited to the Public Road corridor. East Simpson Street was the heart of Lafayette’s original business district, but it had become relatively sleepy by the time Leslie Wing-Pomeroy opened East Simpson Coffee Co 2014.
Wing-Pomeroy and her husband moved to Lafayette from Boulder after their kids grew up. She had worked for Starbucks for years. When the couple bought a house on East Simpson Street, Wing-Pomeroy saw an opportunity to open a coffee shop and create a space that could bring some vitality to that part of the community.
The shop opened at 414 E. Simpson St. with the goal of being a slow-paced coffee shop where people could spend a lot of time, the opposite of shops like Starbucks that have a revolving door of customers.
“We created a community where you can come and unwind,” Wing-Pomeroy said.
Last year, East Simpson Coffee moved a couple of blocks closer to Public Road, to 201 E. Public Road. Wing-Pomeroy said that has helped the business strike a balance between proximity to the main thoroughfare and being within its own little enclave of downtown.
“That has helped so much,” Wing-Pomeroy said. “It’s still off the beaten path, but it’s close enough that people can find us more readily. We just hit the ground running. I think the biggest difference is that we have more exposure. What we had created for ourselves and our community, people really loved.”
The shop built a patio with help from the city and has created an event space that holds regular community gatherings and was the centerpiece of the town’s farmer’s market.
“That whole area is full of life,” Keating said. “They do community hangouts. There’s an art gallery that has its own incubator in the back. We’re starting to see some smaller retailers move in.”
Another space on the south end of Public Road is also coming to life — the 44,286-square-foot building at 1380 S. Public Road will finally have a tenant after years of vacancy.
“That building has been empty for about five years,” Trumbo said. “It’s a pretty big deal. I think that will have a big impact.”
The space is being filled by Bounce Empire, an inflatable indoor amusement park that will include a restaurant, bar and movie theater.
“That will provide an amenity and recreation facility downtown,” Keating said. “It’s just connecting the puzzle pieces and filling those gaps.”
As the downtown area continues to grow and change, business owners and city staff are conscious of the need to keep the original character of Old Town in place as much as possible.
“Evolution has absolutely taken place,” Bailhache said. “When I first moved here, there was not a lot of activity in Old Town. Now you’re really seeing some fun and exciting businesses come in and make it into much more of a destination. It has become more commercial and fun but at the same time really maintained the original character that it had.”
Said Keating: “One thing that is really special about Old Town is there’s just a strong sense of community within the local businesses,” Keating said. “The attitude is, ‘If a neighboring business is doing well, then I’m doing well.’ That partnership is special, and it’s great to see within Old Town. We understand how unique Old Town is. What’s happening here is super creative and we want to support that.”
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