One beautiful spring Sunday, in the early afternoon, I took a walk of about a dozen blocks circling my Walnut Street neighborhood. Sauntering up Walnut Street, I snapped a picture of the blanket of bright red tulips on the corner of Grove Street. I passed by the energetic kids at Kaveny baseball field watched by their chatty, relaxed parents. I admired the soft grey bricks of the stately Deron School in its sylvan setting. At Erie Park, I watched the dog walkers tending their pit bulls and German shepherds. I eyed with a growling tummy the eateries clustered together around Frink Street. I circled the interesting modern building being constructed at the Forest Street intersection. I appreciated the new look of the old repurposed Motor Vehicle inspection station. I cut through the empty Farmer’s Market site imagining when it is overflowing with produce and eager shoppers. I then went by the familiar stores on Grove Street, down Oxford to Walnut Crescent, and home.
I am fascinated by the variety of businesses and non-commercial enterprises I passed on this short sojourn. The neighborhood is a world unto itself. In this small area there are at least a dozen restaurants, 3 bars, 4 bakeries, 3 cleaners, 2 frame shops, a jazz club, a pharmacy, a laundromat, 3 schools, adult day care, child day care, 3 medical offices, a deli, Chinese take-out, and much more. There are no chain stores, no big name enterprises. All the commercial activity is conducted by small business entrepreneurs, many with a long history in the neighborhood, and some newly established within the dozen years I have lived on Walnut Street. So rich, vibrant, and eclectic a neighborhood!
During my walk, I thought about what makes the commercial area of a neighborhood attractive and how growth is achieved and sustained. I observed that the Walnut Street neighborhood businesses sprang up organically, over time without any element of formal urban planning or obvious restrictions. One business seems to have led to another. The area has attractive older buildings that owners have enhanced and enlivened in keeping with the area vibe and historic context. There seems to be no limit to the demand for food establishments! When eateries are clustered together, as they are in this neighborhood, it appears to have a positive effect on like businesses. There is a certain population density in the area to support businesses as many of the residences in the neighborhood are multifamily houses or apartment buildings. Erie Park, the baseball field, and the limited height of the buildings make the area seem open, bright, and inviting.
My last observation is that a significant portion of the businesses on Walnut Street are owned/run by hardworking, entrepreneurial immigrants. An unscientific survey based on my interaction with these merchants over the years, is that there are at least ten different immigrant groups owning and operating local Walnut Street businesses. Indian, Chinese, Haitian, Jewish, Turkish, Costa Rican, South American, Spanish, Italian, Irish. All these folks work really hard to provide goods and services that enrich and color my neighborhood. As we see a new wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in this country I am so disheartened. I want to tell these immigrant merchants that your work ethic, risk taking, entrepreneurial knowhow, family values, and American spirit are appreciated, valued and admired tremendously.