Broad Avenue, built as the main street of Binghampton in the late 1800s, has seen its share of ups and downs since its annexation in 1919 by the city of Memphis. A longtime retail district, the street’s colorful history reflects the commercial needs of many generations: street cars, saloons, and butchers; grocers, upholsterers, and candy shops; manufacturers and industrial loading docks.
With economies both weak and strong, the neighborhood plugged along until the 1960s, when a proposed freeway and the subsequent movement to save Overton Park isolated Broad Avenue from its residential neighbors, leading to a decline that lasted several decades. Fortunately, through benign neglect, many of the street’s original buildings held firm until their rediscovery by artists and entrepreneurs looking for affordable space to live and work.
“Underneath the grime, we saw the street’s potential, and we felt a connection with the people who were starting to move in,” recalls Michael Wayt, who in 2006 established a landscaping business with his wife Melinda at Bingham and Broad. “But even I rolled my eyes when I first heard the idea of turning Broad Avenue into an arts district.”
What a difference a decade can make. Today, the Historic Broad Avenue Arts Alliance has 72 members, and more than 5,000 people attend Friday night art walks twice a year to explore Broad’s restaurants and shops. “We needed restaurants; that was the missing part. We needed activity at night,” says Paul West, who with his wife Missy renovated the old Binghampton post office a decade ago for their business called West Memorials.
As the president of the street’s arts alliance, West expects continued growth for the district from a dedicated bike lane on Broad connecting Overton Park to the existing Greenline. “The development of the neighborhood has happened fast, and I’ve been amazed by people’s ideas every step of the way,” West says. “We hung our hat on art early on, and that continues to drive us, whether it’s a coffee shop that sells crafts or the cakes that come out of Muddy’s.”
Curious ourselves about the businesses springing up along Broad, we decided to eat and drink our way down the street from Hollywood to Tillman. We found many surprises: beer at a bicycle garage; chicken and dumpling soup at a bakery; layer cakes at a pizza joint; and half-a-dozen empty storefronts waiting — we hope — for occupants who like art, food, and cocktails as much as we do. — Pamela Denney