With the addition of a new mural on University Avenue and Oxford’s arts center, the Powerhouse, located there – this semester Oxford Stories is embarking on a small solutions journalism project. Our reporters are starting a community conversation about the possibility of a continued arts emphasis in the University Avenue area.
Established local businesses line University Avenue – an older, yet still thriving part of Oxford. Business owners on this side of town say it’s vital that local businesses remain in the area, and some believe an arts district could attract more.
“Businesses on University Avenue are different than those on Jackson,” said Amy Knotts and Camille Garret, owners of Bette’s Flowers. “There are a lot of chains there, whereas here on University, we have more stable businesses that have been here for a while. This is where the locals go.”
Bette’s Flowers is florist that opened in Oxford in 1965. Knotts and Garret say University Avenue has remained “stable and steady.” Neither have any concerns about the area declining in the future.
“I sometimes feel like Jackson is just being overbuilt, “said Knotts. “With University Avenue having so many locally owned businesses, we don’t want any big box stores or chains.”
Knotts and Garret do not feel threatened by the growth of Jackson Avenue businesses.
“Not anyone that is established is moving, and as long as we have Kroger up the street, University Avenue businesses will continue to be busy,” Garret said.
With Kroger under renovation, Knotts and Garret are excited about the future of the town.
“I think that this will draw more people that normally have to go and drive to the other side of town,” she said. “It will keep those people here on University.”
Knotts and Garret want to see the University Avenue area grow. Both said an arts district would be a great contribution there. They agree the mural painted this summer was the perfect start.
“I love it,” said Knotts. “I think it’s beautiful, and it just gives it a touch of culture, and it’s in the right spot with the (Powerhouse) right across the street,” she said.
Garret agreed. “It makes me happy,” she said. “I love it, and I know many residents do too.”
An arts district would bring a new vibe to Oxford attracting new businesses and inviting residents to immerse themselves in culture, they said.
“We had a farmers market thing this summer, and everyone loved it,” Knotts said.
She and Garret would love to see new businesses come to the University Avenue area.
“I think change is great and good for the town, as long as they keep the center the same and new businesses as restaurants and such on the outskirts,” Knotts said. “Moving some of the nicer upscale restaurants down University Avenue and not so much the Square would be a great addition.”
Garret agreed. “We would like to see some new restaurants, but we don’t want it to get overcrowded,” she said.
Employees of The Cakery, another University Avenue business and one of the busiest bakeries in town, shared similar views. Cake decorator Lizzie Barwick loves their location on University Avenue.
“I would say it’s just really good business in general tied to this area because it’s so close, for us specifically. We get a lot of calls and orders for students’ birthdays and stuff, and it’s just so easy because we’re just right down the road.”
Barwick said she’s seen some businesses transition on University Avenue.
“I know we just got a new wine bar and a couple new shops here and there, which is great,” she said. “We’re getting new businesses.”
Barwick believes University Avenue could see a decline in the future.
“There’s always that risk,” she said. “There’s a lot of expansion on the other side of town. But I do think the staples will stay and continue to have good business.”
Barwick believes there will be more business additions farther down University Avenue. She said a designated arts district would be beneficial.
“That would be really great,” she said. “We already have the Powerhouse Arts Council, and we’re so close to the Square, that it would be really cool to have.”
Having an arts district would be beneficial for the town’s growth, she said.
“Bringing in more trendy new restaurants would help bring more people to this area,” she said.