The following article appeared in the Feb. 2013 edition of the Denton Business Chronicle
Jimmy Normile remembers looking out his shop window and seeing a pasture.
It was back when East Hickory Street was a gravel road and a trolley used to run around Denton.
It’s easy to picture sitting in the old chairs at the front of his shop that now face the Denton Fire Station. Stepping into his shop is like stepping back in time.
Barney’s Auto Parts has been on the street for 52 years and has remained despite the changes.
In the past few years, East Hickory Street has change from a few auto supply shops to a “hip, happening place,” as John Storrie, the owner of Parachute Works, calls it. There are restaurants and apartments that now fill the space.
The land near Barney’s shop turned into the Hickory Street Lofts with retail space on the first floor. Weinberger’s and the Campus Barber Shop moved in the first floor.
Further down the road is Andaman Thai Restaurant, Mellow Mushroom, a pizza restaurant, and Cellar 22, a wine shop.
Next to the pizza restaurant is the building the Storrie family owns.
The changes mean the older businesses are going away but Normile plans to stay as long as he can.
Storrie remembers the East Hickory Street Normile talks about.
His grandpa bought the property where Travelstead Auto Parts is located in 1947 and Storrie started working there in 1971.
But the auto supply shop was shut down at the end of the year. And the Storrie family is deciding whether to lease or sell the property.
The improvements mean the older businesses are going away but Normile plans to stay as long as he can.
“Change is always inevitable,” Storrie said.
And more change is coming.
The city is working on its downtown implementation plan, which includes improving the East Hickory Street corridor.
Some of the work on the street has already begun but the majority of the project won’t begin until this fall, said Julie Glover, economic development program administrator.
A couple years ago, as part of the Downtown Implementation plan, parking along Hickory Street was changed from parallel to diagonal. It added another 35 spots or so, Glover said.
“East Hickory has just boomed,” she said.
Part of the new plan for the street will be to change the parking.
At a recent Denton City Council meeting, council members decided to change the parking along East Hickory Street to back-in parking. This will increase the parking from 234 to 320 spaces.
Arora, who presented the plan to the council, said there were safety advantages to back-in parking. This change in parking makes it easier to see oncoming traffic when it’s time to leave, he said. It also makes for safer loading.
As part of the project, the city is planning to redo the sidewalks, add trees, benches, bike racks and planters.
“The city owns the right of way to the building,” Glover said.
The project won’t just be surface level.
The city plans to update the sewer and water lines under the street that have been there for 75 to 100 years.
The work will be between Austin Street and Bell Avenue.
With more restaurants and entertainment venues the volume of waste is going up, Glover said.
A similar project was done on the Square in 2000, when sidewalks were widened and leveled out.
The city also plans to consolidate trash and recycling.
Bike lanes will not be added to Hickory Street, Glover said, but they will be on Mulberry Street.
“It doesn’t mean people can’t ride bikes,” she said, adding that there will be a “share the road” sign.
The city plans to add a “Walk of Fame” on the sidewalks along Hickory Street. There will be granite blocks with people’s names on it who are from Denton and are famous, Glover said.
There is a committee working on a list of names, she said.
“It will be a good thing for Denton,” she said, calling it a “tourist attraction.”
The initial vision for East Hickory Street was to make it an arts corridor.
Euline Brock, a former mayor, had the vision to bring the arts to the areas.
The Center for the Visual Arts anchors the corridor on the east and the Campus Theatre anchors it on the west.
Margaret Chalfant, executive director of the Greater Denton Arts Council, said while the vision for the “Grand Street” project changed, it is moving in the right direction.
“I think it is meeting most of the expectations that we have and it’s continuing to evolve,” she said.
The arts have revitalized Hickory Street, she said.
“The arts encompass music, they encompass drama, they encompass visual arts, dance,” Chalfant said.
Dan’s Silverleaf, located on Industrial Street, was the first to bring arts into the area.
In the past few years, 35 Denton has started holding its music festival on Hickory and Industrial streets. And in 2012, Denton’s Day of the Dead festival used Hickory Street for its coffin races.
But it’s not the exact vision some had in mind, Chalfant said.
There aren’t any art galleries on Hickory Street and she had hoped there would be an artist in residence, who would live and have a studio on the street.
It hasn’t happened but it doesn’t mean it won’t, she said.
Chalfant said the arts from the Square are spilling over into Hickory Street.
There is UNT on the Square and many of the business on the Square display art from local artists.
A Creative Arts Studio hosts art walks the first Friday of each month that the Center for the Visual Arts hopes to be included in once construction on the Hickory Street sidewalks are complete, she said.
She said she thinks the new sidewalks will make the street more pedestrian friendly, she said.
“These Friday night arts events will pull in people from all over the region,” Chalfant said.
Paying for change
The entire cost of the “Grand Street” project is estimated at $3.1 million, said P.S. Arora, the city’s assistant director of wastewater, in an e-mail.
Residents approved the bonds for improving the downtown streets during the 2005 election, he said.
Funds were identified to improve Pecan, Walnut and Austin streets, Arora said. And Community Development Block Grant funds were used to improve Cedar Street.
In 2011, the city decided the funds for Walnut and Austin streets should be reallocated for use on East Hickory Street, he said.
With the reallocation there are $1,777,970 in established funding for the “Grand Street” project, Arora said.
Another $950,000 was allocated by the CIP Oversight Committee in August 2012 from the Pecan Street project.
The city is still working to secure the remaining $372,000, Arora said.
Improvements to Hickory Street on the other side of Bell Avenue were funded through a federal grant because of the A-train station that was built across from the Denton Police Department.
Glover said the last piece of that project is the improvement to the railroad tracks.
There are big gaps around the tracks and it’s uneven, she said.
The challenges of change
But with all this change comes some challenges.
For one, there is a lot more traffic, Normile said.
“It’s go, go, go,” Normile said. “It’s nothing like it used to be.”
He said he feels like people are more concerned about the dollar than anything else.
“We didn’t have all those code enforcement fees,” he said.
Storrie said one of his biggest issues he’s had is the amount of beer bottles, cigarette butts and trash that now line the sidewalks.
The influx of restaurants on or near Hickory Street has contributed to the problem, he said.
And both Storrie and Normile agree there is less parking.
“They are going to have to address the parking issue,” Storrie said. “They need to build a parking garage.”
It’s getting more and more difficult to be a service business on this street, he said.
The city is encouraging new businesses to be mixed-use, which means there is retail and residential space.
Brian Lockley, director of planning and zoning for the city, said new property on the street is encouraged to be mixed-use, which is what Storrie anticipates would be built on his family’s land.
Travelstead Auto Supply used to be one of the biggest auto supply stores around, he said.
The improvements to automobiles and the new automotive stores, like O’Reilly’s Auto Parts and Autozone, have made it more difficult for auto parts stores like Travelstead.
“Cars don’t wear out like they used to,” Storrie said.
The business just slowly started shrinking, he said.
He left the business about a decade ago to start his parachute packing business, he said.
His brother was keeping the store going.
And the 102-year-old building isn’t in the best shape, he said.
That’s why, although it isn’t easy to go through change, this is a pretty good time for it.
Storrie said he thinks the city’s plans are good.
“I like all the improvements,” he said. “It’s cool that there are really neat places to go down here.”
Glover said the work will happen building by building.
“It’s not going to be pretty during the process,” Glover said. “We’re going to do everything we can to assist businesses.”
She said she thinks it will be easier to keep businesses updated using social media.
“It’s going to be loud; it’s going to be dusty,” Glover said. “When it’s finished it is going to be fantastic.”
Kevin Jones, who owns Shine It Auto Detail, said all the change has helped his business but agrees that business will be tough during construction.
He’ll have to rework how he handles his business so that dust doesn’t get on his newly detailed cars.
But he’s prepared for that.
“When you’re a business you have to be ready for change,” he said.
Jones moved his detailing shop into the neighborhood in 1996, before the Square was brought back to life.
And even if he hasn’t been on the street as long as Normile and Storrie, he’s still seen it change a lot.
He was there before Dan’s Silverleaf, Rooster’s Roadhouse and Fuzzy’s Taco Shop moved in.
Jones has seen business increase with the addition of businesses on Hickory.
While people are grabbing a bite to eat from Weinburger’s or Mellow Mushroom, they notice his shop, he said.
“It’s a lot nicer,” Jones said. “It’s helped my business out.”
Staff writer Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe contributed to this report.
RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.