While part of the reason for the event was to draw interest from students, some business owners and community leaders have expressed hope that the $2 Tour of the Village will be the first of many occasions that brings stakeholders together.
As president of the Riverside-Normal Neighborhood Association, which oversees businesses in the Village, Heather Williams said the Aug. 24 event was an opportunity to begin collecting data and create a more united Village with both a business directory and business association.
Williams also serves as the program manager of Ball State’s Building Better Neighborhoods in the Office of Community Engagement, and she added that Ball State is interested in helping support the Village as part of its Next Muncie initiative.
“We really want a thriving Village so the students have a space for them — like a community,” she said.
Williams attributed the idea of a Village business association to Morgan Roddy, the owner of Queer Chocolatier.
Prior to the $2 Tour of the Village, Roddy said she and the other owners were looking for ways to “instill a positive sense of momentum” for businesses in the Village and wanted to create “dialogue with people.”
“We were working, kind of like throwing ideas out about how we might do that, and then we thought, ‘Well, gosh, maybe we could kick this off by throwing an event,’” Williams said.
Now that the event has occurred, Roddy said she believes that interest in joining the association may be a “mixed bag,” but even if only a few businesses volunteer, it “could help shape the conversation” the Village needs.
As a business owner, Roddy said, the turnover rate in the Village is “mildly troublesome, but not extremely troublesome,” citing Art Mart, Ultra Image Tanning and White Rabbit Used Books— all of which have been in the Village for more than 20 years.
In April, after being open for less than six months, Bevi Bistro closed. While the Juniper Boutique closed its doors this summer, Lash Boutique has taken its place.
Scott Wise, who once owned the Scotty’s chain of restaurants, came back to the Village with Roots in the same location where the first Scotty’s once was.
There are also signs on two storefronts in the Village indicating the arrival of Yats, a cajun, creole restaurant, and a revived Pita Pit.
“I think we need to take a balanced approach at looking at the businesses here in the Village and their tenure,” she said. “The ones that do come and go on the quick end of it, it does make me question maybe decisions that are made by either landlords or any city incentives to come into the Village.”
Derek Edwards, owner of White Rabbit Used Books, has been in the Village for around 30 years and said he has seen businesses come and go “in waves.”
While there are periods where there are many empty buildings, Edwards said, new businesses eventually move in and “revitalize the Village.”
“That just seems to be the way it goes — every so often there’s a downslump, then they’ll come right back up again,” Edwards said. “[The Village] has been here since the early 20’s and I think it’s here to stay. We’re not going anywhere.”
Roddy said the Village still lacks an “identity,” something she has seen other college towns successfully establish. She said Ball State “could flex its muscles” in the Village if it wanted to.
“The Village is a location, but, at this moment, maybe there’s not a strong sense of pride of place, and maybe we can build that by organizing, by celebrating, by showcasing,” Roddy said. “We could find a way to better integrate that relationship of town and gown at the Village.”
Currently, Karen Fisher, owner of Art Mart, said the Village is a “unique little place,” students should want to utilize for many reasons, including convenience.
“They can get on buses and go to other parts of the city, but they can walk down here,” Fisher said. “I think if we had more business [and] foot traffic down here we would have more businesses come in and stay down here.”
And as plans for the Village’s future continue to surface, Kimberly Johnson, manager at Ultra Image Tanning, said she was excited that Ball State has embraced the idea of aiding the Village.
“I really feel that the businesses down here … we are welcoming and ready for Ball State to come on down this direction,” Johnson said.
Katie McDonald contributed to this story.