An estimated 1,000 people flocked to Sherman Drive on Saturday for the Better Block program’s temporary transformation of a long-vacant shopping area.
Pop-up shops, in a “Main Street”-like strip, lined the front of the building, and Denton Community Market vendors relocated to the parking lot for the day. Volunteers painted temporary street and bike lanes, built seating areas, and brought in lighting and potted plants.
The only recognizable part of the old Piggly Wiggly at 619 E. Sherman Drive was the grocer’s pig mascot from its sign, used as a backdrop for music performances.
Jason Roberts, an organizer for Better Block, said the idea is to get people talking and hopefully seeing what could be a permanent destination. The Dallas-based nonprofit has taught communities how to creatively use existing spaces since 2010.
“While a lot of people talk about neighborhood-centric destinations, what we do is actually come out using minimal materials and show the residents what can be done to help revitalize their neighborhood,” Roberts said. “You don’t have to spend thousands more dollars widening streets and building massive buildings — you can use existing space.”
Better Block organizers partnered with the Denton Community Market, which is usually held on Saturdays at Carroll Boulevard and Mulberry Street, to lure people to the area.
“It helps to draw people in with something they are familiar with,” Roberts said. “And it worked — the event turned out to be great. Vendors are happy, and the food trucks sold out. … This shows that people want more small storefronts here and a setup such as this could work to bring back this neighborhood.”
One of the main draws for families with small children was a temporary “splash park,” made of hay bales and tarp.
Sara Dalton said Saturday’s event was definitely a family affair. She brought her husband and two girls, ages 4 and 10 months, to partake in the day’s festivities.
“It’s my husband’s first day off this year, and I hope by him coming out it’s on his radar to attend [community] market days with us in the future,” said Dalton, whose home is about two miles from the project. “My 4-year-old asks me to come to the market. She loves going, and something like this with more interaction for the kids is amazing.”
Many food vendors sold out quickly. The smell of fresh lemon slices was a draw to the Smoothie Booth, operated by Circa 77 Vintage owners Christina Shoto and Paul Sweazy.
“My husband went to the store twice already. … We didn’t know what to expect, but the support was overwhelming,” Shoto said while preparing homemade lemonade — the only item she had left two hours before closing.
Andy Kleypas and Ellis Swanson of Morph Speakers were selling their wooden smartphone amplifiers in the mock “Main Street” strip of shops. They had customers stop by who had never heard of the Community Market before, but were thrilled to see a revitalization project in their neighborhood.
“Some we spoke with had no clue what was going on, and they walked from their neighborhood across the street and came over to check the event out and see what was going on,” Kleypas said.
The Denton City Council agreed to hire Better Block for the project last year.
“Our main goal is to get people to think at the block level,” Roberts said. “We have lots to bring forth to the city, and what’s not to say these small areas couldn’t be sprinkled throughout the neighborhoods?”
MEGAN GRAY-HATFIELD can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.