Businesses key youth renaissance on Main Street

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

Leonardo, Michelangelo and Shakespeare — meet Kathy, Dan and Seanette.

That other Renaissance is so old, so last millennium. Downtown Vancouver’s cultural renaissance, on the other hand, keeps getting younger all the time.

Kathy Hampton’s Ice Cream Renaissance has moved in alongside Dan Wyatt’s Pop Culture, and the two businesses are banking on growing teen traffic from nearby neighborhoods — especially the young artistes at the nearby Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, hungry upon release from school for sweet eats in an environment of complete cool.

They can stop in at Pop Culture, 1929 Main St., for an alt-soda and a slice of old-time hot dog; they can roll next door to Ice Cream Renaissance,1925 Main, to top it off with a baroque sundae; then they can waddle back to Pop Culture for some groovin’ to live music, provided mostly by their peers.

“It’s going to be a great synergy,” Wyatt said.

Seanette Corkill, an Arnada neighborhood resident and business consultant, has worked with both businesses — and others in Vancouver’s Uptown Village, loosely defined as the stretch of Main Street between the two Plains (north of Mill, south of Fourth) — to focus their internal identities, sharpen their street-level presentations and “edit” their signage, she said.

Corkill has taken her business, Front Door Back, as far as Springfield, Ore., where she gave retailers a crash course in “Storefront Improvement 101,” she said. Closer to home, she’s working with the owner of the Vancouver’s historic Kiggins movie theater to return it to life, and with the Uptown Village Association to restore the free outdoor summer movie series that took a hiatus last summer.

According to Realtor Terry Phillips, Uptown Village will also welcome a new Italian restaurant and a children’s used-clothing store.

“There’s a lot of good news in Uptown Village right now,” he said. Schofield’s Corner, a block of storefronts that suffered a fire last fall, is getting a remodel, too.

“It’s a messy vitality,” Corkill said of the churning along Main Street now. “Uptown Village has really good bones.”

What that means is enough colorful retailers (restaurants, music shops, boutiques) to entice foot traffic a little ways up and down the block — but enough unfriendly looking establishments (accountants, lawyers) to stall them again. “We need to be connecting these dots,” she said.

Kids in charge

Ice Cream Renaissance got its start more than a decade ago on the west side of Main. It was taken over last year by Greg and Kathy Hampton, hard-core dessert enthusiasts who used to flee to Portland when they wanted to treat their taste buds to something truly special.

“We had the idea to expand that over here. We wanted to create a real dessert destination here in Vancouver,” Kathy Hampton said.

When Greg was laid off atHewlett-Packard, Kathy decided to learn everything her restaurateur brother knew about his business. She stayed with him in Bellingham for months, she said, and took a crash course in running a restaurant.

With that expertise behind it, and despite a faltering economy, Ice Cream Renaissance’s fame as a place to sample some truly artistic ice cream creations kept growing. So did Hampton’s determination to keep it that way — even after tragedy struck her family. Her husband, Greg, was hit by a car and killed last August while changing a tire on a southbound Interstate 5 offramp.

Kathy Hampton soldiered on. “She is true grit,” Corkill said. “She is the most positive person I know.”

Two of Hampton’s four children are away at college now, but the other two work at the store: Max, 25, is manager, and Kristine, 16, a VSAA student, pitches in one day per week.

Hampton’s sense that the business was outgrowing its original location coincided with the vacancy of a larger storefront with a better kitchen across and down the street — alongside Pop Culture. She took the plunge. Corkill helped Hampton remodel the space. A fireplace was installed to provide Ice Cream Renaissance a cozy glow and beat back the seasonal gloom. Last week, when The Columbian visited, workers were installing picture rails so blank walls can once again be filled with rotating displays of local art.

Meanwhile, Hampton said, the expanded kitchen may provide the space she needs for an additional spacious freezer — and an expanded product line of wholesale signature ice cream. Some of that probably would be sugar-free, she said, and some would be vegan, based on coconut milk. That would go over big with some of the alt-diets at VSAA, she noted.

It’s all part of recognizing who’s really in charge of Ice Cream Renaissance, she said.

“We really inherited this place from a family of kids who were already coming here,” she said. “They were here before we were.”

Pocket change

Dan Wyatt, of Pop Culture, said he learned the hard way how conservative even those most righteously radical high-schoolers can be. When he bought what was their already beloved hangout, Moxie’s on Main, and turned it into Pop Culture, the VSAA crowd just about boycotted.

Not because they didn’t like what he was doing — just, well, because. It nearly killed the business, Wyatt said.

He used to hang out at Moxie’s too, he said, after returning from Southern California and an abortive attempt to get into the movie business. He used to dream of how to improve the place and concluded it would be via live music the kids said they were desperate to provide.

“They were like, please let us play music here,” he said. Wyatt was happy to oblige, building a stage and sound system, and Pop Culture’s formula was set as Vancouver’s premier performance venue for young rockers. (Adult talent is occasionally tolerated, too.)

“There’s no place else in Vancouver for all ages,” he said. Because Pop Culture is a non-alcoholic venue, he said, audiences are truly interested in the music and the friendly scene — not the libations. “People come here specifically to see the bands, their friends’ bands,” he said.

Live teen tunes have proved so popular that Wyatt’s actually had to trim music back again from nearly every night of the week — to maintain his own personal life.

But do high-schoolers really carry around enough pocket change to pay the bills and make the rent?

Not quite, Wyatt admitted. That’s why he’s working with Corkill to upgrade his storefront’s look, too — to keep pulling in more pop fans of all ages — and excited that Ice Cream Renaissance has moved in right next door.

“I just want to see Main Street live up to its potential,” Corkill said. “I’m all about commerce on Main Street.”