Despite the rain, Southsiders came out to celebrate what the Garfield Park neighborhood could be. The pop-up block event featured more than 30 local vendors, live music, community theatre and a sneak-peek of the re-opening of The Garfield Eatery and Coffee.
An official from the city and State Representative Justin Moed read proclamations from Mayor Ballard and the General Assembly declaring support for Southside revitalization and authorizing a state-wide Garfield Park Better Block Day. This event was the second Better Block event for the neighborhood, and is a part of the Better Block movement that has re-imagined blocks all over the country and even some internationally.
The two neighborhood associations from the Garfield Park area, in partnership with Big Car, organized the event to show the neighbors and the city that there is much room for growth in the area. Donna Lund Jacobson, one of the main organizers of the event, said that a main goal of the event was to rejuvenate the block by showing that there is a need in the neighborhood for new business, and that there is plenty of ready space for the taking.
Several commercial spaces have sat vacant in the neighborhood for years. Jacobson said that she hopes this will convince local business people to invest in the neighborhood. She said that the neighborhood groups eventually want Shelby St. to be re-imagined and redeveloped all the way from Troy to Southern Avenue.
"We're trying to appeal to business people," Jacobson said. "Look at all of the people who came out for one day, even with the rain. They will come back for multiple days, we have the market."
One business that is leading the way back to a revitalized neighborhood is the Garfield Park Eatery and Coffee. Dan Sassano was inspired to reopen the 2627 Shelby St. space that was known as the Garfield Pub and Eatery for decades. Sassano hopes the new restaurant will cater to the community with a family-friendly environment for the neighbors and park visitors as well as provide a new study spot for students from the University of Indianapolis.
Sassano said that the business environment is ideal for growth in the neighborhood with the park, the foot and bike traffic and the neighbors want for revitalization. He said that he has felt much support from the community and now feels the support from the state and local government.
He wants to give back to the community by making his restaurant a community gathering place and lead the way back to the neighborhood's former glory one plate of food and one cup of coffee at a time. He said that he and his team are putting the final touches on the business and that it could be ready to open in two to three weeks.
Sassano's landlord, Bob Peale, has owned part of the commercial space along the 2500 block of Shelby Street for decades - since the days of the former pub - and he operated a general store next door to the Garf for many years. Peale said that the neighborhood was much more active back in the days before I-65 was constructed just blocks away, he said there was even a trolley in the neighborhood. But, as Peale put it, that was back "before Columbus discovered America."
Today, Sassano hopes that the new wave of shopping and eating local and the attention that the Better Block event has drawn to the area will drive businesses back to the block.
"It is such an awesome place the live," Sassano said. "Every time I drive down the street I think of what it could be."