Old Town and Delano have become hubs of artsy, musical hipness over the past several years — aided in part by the Final Friday gallery crawl that draws big crowds downtown on the last Friday of every month.
Now, another near-downtown neighborhood on the rise is looking to join the cool kids club.
The Douglas Design District, which stretches along Douglas from one block east of Oliver to Washington, is developing a reputation as a fun place to mingle, dine on doughnuts and soup and listen to music. It’s a particularly interesting development, say business owners in the area, considering that just a few years ago, it was considered a place no one would — or really should — venture to after dark.
But now, store owners are banding together to help capitalize on energy created last spring at the Better Block Party, an event that drew 2,500 people to Douglas between Kansas and Hydraulic and featured food, music and frivolity. The event was designed to show how the Douglas Design District — named because of the nearly 40 home-design shops it also houses — could work and feel if it were designed to be more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.
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“The block party built the momentum of these people, and there’s kind of a little tribe of us in the Design District who are willing and able to establish ourselves as a part of Wichita, like Delano and Old Town,” said Maureen Masters, a spokeswoman for the area. “We are establishing our identity.”
Masters, an old friend of Donut Whole co-owner Michael Carmody, has been charged by the Douglas Design District board with increasing its profile, and so far, she’s put together a long list of Final Friday events that she hopes will make the area, a three-mile stretch that includes more than 300 locally owned businesses, as well known as its near-downtown counterparts.
She’ll start this week with a Final Friday event that will include an unveiling of a new mural, created by artist Jonathan Clark on a wall adjacent to the Donut Whole’s parking lot at 1720 E. Douglas. (Read a recent article about Clark and his artistic family attached to this story at Kansas.com/entertainment.) The event also will include live music, though Masters hasn’t settled on an exact location for that. (Check Friday’s GO! section for more details.)
The events will continue every Final Friday through the end of the year and will include a food truck rally in September and a Rock Paper Scissors tournament in November.
Masters hopes that Final Friday attendees will begin to view the district as the “gateway to Final Friday” and that they’ll patronize the businesses — Tanya’s Soup Kitchen, The Donut Whole, Mike’s Wine Dive, The Anchor and more — before and after participating in official Final Friday events.
The district, Masters said, really came to life after The Donut Whole — a 24-hour doughnut shop that features all-ages shows — opened in 2009. Tanya’s Soup Kitchen reopened right across the street last year, giving the area a whole new energy. Now, the street boasts a long list of high-profile businesses, including the new Guitar Works shop next door to the Donut Whole. It also includes several tattoo parlors, Abode Venue, Aspen Boutique, Margarita’s Cantina, the Crown Uptown, the Spice Merchant, Clifton Square and star/Wichita native Kirstie Alley’s residence.
Carmody remembers that when he and partner Angela Mallory planned their business, he told people it would be part doughnut shop and part community center, and that’s what it’s become, he said.
“We’re big on this neighborhood.” Carmody said. “We’ve watched it turn around in big ways the past few years, and we’re proud of that.”