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No place like NuLu: Louisville’s hottest small-biz corridor keeps adding retail, restaurants and start-ups

by Steve Kaufman

When you’re hot, you’re hot.

Even in the face of an ongoing economic slump and a new snarl in local commuting patterns (which may in fact being helping NuLu traffic by diverting bridge traffic to East Market), new stores and businesses are opening on and along the East Market Street/NuLu corridor at an unprecedented rate.

With The Green Building at 732 E. Market, filmmaker Holland and his wife, Augusta Brown Holland, started the East Market Street renaissance (really, the area’s third after original urban pioneers Billy Hertz and Tom Schnepf invested in the 1990s) that led to the on-going restaurant/retail boom.

Will it last? Who knows.

But for the moment, Louisville has a mini-creative class, small-biz boom going on.

Please & Thank You

Two transplanted Indianapolitans have opened a coffee and music shop called Please & Thank You at 800 E. Market at the corner of South Shelby that offers coffee, baked goods and sandwiches on one side, vinyl on the other – and an actual listening room in one corner of the small space.

Interesting back story here: Jason Pierce was working at a record store in Indianapolis, wife-to-be Brooke at a coffee shop across the street. “I was buying way more coffee than usual,” Pierce recalls, “and she was spending a lot of money on records.”

After they got married, they decided they needed a clean slate, so they left Indianapolis, moved here and opened Please and Thank You, combining their coffee and music backgrounds.

The listening studio takes up what seems like an awful lot of space in the relatively tiny shop. But, says landlord Gill Holland, it’s an appropriate use of the available real estate because it fits in with the creative, edgy and artistic vibe going on elsewhere on the street.

Clair Raabe Glass and Salvo

That means new artisans such as Clair Raabe, a self-taught glass carver and flame worker who runs Clair Raabe Glass at 207 S. Shelby; and at 216 S. Shelby directly across the street from her, Salvo, the collective of woodworkers, carpenters, ceramicists, leatherworkers and jewelry makers that opened this spring.

“Kentucky is one of the very few states that really supports its creative community,” said Raabe, who learned her craft in Connecticut. In that respect, she’s like a lot of NuLu’s tenants, coming her from other parts of the country and bringing a perspective that natives often don’t have.

Leslie Bowers at Peace of the Earth.

Peace of the Earth

At 801 E. Market, across the street from Please and Thank You, Leslie Bowers has opened Peace of the Earth to sell her all-natural and organic soaps, lotions and ointments. It’s a sweet and fresh-smelling store Holland wants to call “The Clean Building.”

All the products are totally natural and eco-friendly, even the packaging.

“At some point, we want to be known as the sustainable district,” says Holland.

Operations such as Peace of the Earth and Bluegrass Green, which sells environmentally friendly building supplies at 804, are drawn here by the eco-friendly story Holland first told with his Green Building and by the like-mindedness of so many of the tenants, such as the farm-to-table Harvest Restaurant at 624 E. Market.

“The Number One reason I moved here is to be part of a green, sustainable community,” said Clair Raabe.

Other businesses coming or in the process of coming:

  • New to the neighborhood, on Shelby Street, is Kertis Creative, which does video production, and City Concierge, which arranges tours, tickets and reservations for out-of-town visitors.
  • An as yet-unnamed, old-fashioned barber shop going into the corner of Market and Shelby;
  • Decca, a new restaurant at 812 E. Market, bringing San Francisco cuisine;
  • the new Rye restaurant, under construction a block away at East Market and South Campbell.

Some older stories are still unfolding. Toast is moving from its old space at 736 E. Market into the larger space at 620 that formerly housed White Oak at Artemisia. But the move is taking longer than expected, delaying the entry of the intriguingly named Taco Punk by Gabe Sowder, former chef de cuisine at 610 Magnolia. The transition was supposed to be completed by September. Hasn’t happened yet.

Yet another story about NuLu is what’s going on off the sidewalk, upstairs on the second and third floors of all these vintage buildings. But that’s for another post. In the meantime, Holland keeps encouraging his various NuLu building owners to bring “retail, retail, retail” to the neighborhood.

“The one thing we don’t yet have is apparel stores,” he said.

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