If the walls of downtown Longview buildings could talk, they’d have many stories to tell. Today, those stories are about the renewed life, the growth and the vibrancy of the community being displayed in downtown Longview. Over the last five years, new shops, restaurants, public art displays and residential living facilities have opened their doors to the community, transforming downtown Longview into a neighborhood with its own sense of culture and identity.
“A city’s downtown is the heart of the community and we’ve made an effort to keep downtown Longview vibrant and revitalized,” Mayor Andy Mack said. “It’s been our focus to put resources into downtown so that it becomes a place where people want to go and a place where people enjoy being.”
Over the years, the City of Longview has invested in downtown and its infrastructure, helping to pave the way for business and residential development. Meanwhile, downtown business owners say they had a vision to see downtown revitalize and chose to open their shops in the heart of Longview to support their community.
“We wanted to see Longview revitalize. We didn’t want to move off and do a coffee shop somewhere else that was already saturated,” said Connor Walters, one of four co-owners of Silver Grizzly Espresso. “We wanted to start the shop not just to bring good coffee to the area but to actually play a role in revitalizing the culture of Longview and bringing the community of Longview together.”
Silver Grizzly Espresso opened its doors in downtown Longview in 2016. So did Oil Horse Brewing Co. Those two businesses, which are located across the street from each other at the corner of Tyler and Center streets, created a gathering space for the community in the heart of the city.
Over the years, as more people came to downtown Longview for craft coffee and beer, it paved the way for more businesses to open up downtown. Downtown Longview today is home to dozens of new businesses and residential living facilities.
“Every dollar spent in downtown makes the area more attractive and gives residents a reason to go there,” Mack said. “Over time, it becomes an issue of supply and demand. As more people eat, work, shop and live downtown, more investors want to bring services there.”
Back in 2016, several now-business owners had visions for downtown Longview. At the time, downtown Longview had many vacant buildings. But when those individuals looked at downtown Longview, they saw what could be – a cultural hub for the community.
Silver Grizzly Espresso started as a partnership between Walters, Vincent Purvis, David Samford and Vance Freeman. The four men, who all grew up in East Texas around the Longview area, wanted to play a role in downtown revitalization.
“Personally, I was always struck by the incredible amount of people who were doing great things elsewhere,” Walters said. “You’d hear about their story. They’d grown up or lived in Longview at one point and just felt the need or urge to move off. Our families are here. Our community is here. We wanted to invest in this area and make it a space where people enjoyed living and felt a sense of belonging.”
In Longview, Walters explained, there are many businesses, shopping opportunities and restaurants, but what he felt was missing in 2016 was a community gathering space.
“If you look at really enjoyable cities, they have places where you can meet together and belong – and they have parks. The things that those enjoyable cities have are not too far off from what most cities have,” Walters said. “They have a really nice coffee shop, a brewery, a park where you can take your dogs and your kids and go for a run, they have some museums.”
Walters, Purvis, Samford and Freeman saw an opportunity for Longview to have that as well. They also began researching and found that craft coffee shops can play a key role in downtown revitalization efforts.
“We started researching other downtowns across the United States and Australia even that had revitalized. The places that people view as really neat downtown areas, they weren’t always that way. We wanted to look at: is there a common thread in that story of development? And there is,” Walters said. “One of the foundational components to revitalization in any area is that it almost
always starts on the back of a specialty coffee shop or a microbrewery done really well.”
If a craft coffee shop or microbrewery is built as a “destination location,” it becomes a location that people want to come simply for an experience. Silver Grizzly Espresso set out to open as a “destination” in downtown Longview.
Simultaneously, so did Oil Horse Brewing Co.John Oglesbee, who opened Oil Horse Brewing Co. in 2016 with a former business partner, said he was adamant about the microbrewery being located downtown because they also wanted to play a role in revitalizing downtown Longview.
“When we came in in 2016, we really liked the space and we liked where we could see downtown going, but we were really the only business down here at the time,” Oglesbee recalled. “Lil Thai House was here, of course, and at the time you had Tyler Street Bistro and Osaka but that was about it. Silver Grizzly opened shortly after us, and between the two of us, we really provided a good anchor point for downtown.”
It was a little scary for them, at first, to open a business in a location that – at the time – had relatively little foot traffic, but that’s what they hoped to build.
“We were intentionally hoping to build foot traffic here, and we had a vision for other people to be encouraged to start their work here and for their places to actually succeed off the back of places like this and Oil Horse,” Walters said.
“For us, in wanting to start this, we wanted to bring coffee into the area in a way that we were putting our best effort and understanding from a scientific perspective and producing a good product that we felt good about putting into other people’s hands. We wanted to bring good coffee to the scene, and we wanted people to gather in a way that there was a sense of belonging. Out of that sense of belonging, people start connecting with others, creating more, having more business ideas, having more meetings. It starts that cycle of creativity and people investing on the cultural level, and low and behold, six months later, a year later, five years later, look at what we have here.”
Both Oil Horse Brewing Co. and Silver Grizzly Espresso strived to be a hub for the community. Oil Horse began hosting weekly events, such as trivia nights, to draw crowds downtown in the evening while Silver Grizzly served as both a daytime and evening hotspot for people to meet friends and business associates or to find quiet time alone.
Between the two locations, they began creating a “vibe” that the community enjoyed.
“Over time, other people started to become excited about what we were doing here, and other people decided they wanted to join us,” Oglesbee said.
That included people like Laura and Chad Nevils who have played a role in opening two downtown businesses, Books & Barrels and Ollie’s Skate Shop. Books & Barrels is
a bookstore and wine bar while Ollie’s Skate Shop, which Chad Nevils co-owns with Zahck Israel, sells items that can be used at Longview’s new skatepark, Dodson Action Sports Complex.
“Downtown has a great vibe,” Laura Nevils said. “I really just want people to come, hang out and have a good time.”
The bookstore has played host to meetings and book clubs who patronize the store and enjoy the local wine and beer selection available at the bar. The bookstore also offers spoken word poetry nights, arts and crafts events, and more to engage the community.
In addition to Books & Barrels and Ollie’s Skate Shop, other new businesses that opened downtown in recent years included Lumberjacks Axe Throwing where patrons can try their hand at axe throwing; CoCo & Meg, a boutique; Blush Salon, a hair salon; The Lab on Center, a creative space with various shops and services; Little Light Pediatric Therapy, which provides therapy to children with sensory processing disorders; Phine Salon + Apothecary; Croft + Sage;Art World Custom Framing; Melissa Ann Photography; and Wild Honey Creamery, which makes small batch ice creams in-house. Restaurants such as Judd’s Downtown and Roma’s Italian Kitchen also have been delightingpatrons with their hand-crafted foods.
At Judd’s Downtown, owner Judd Byrnes said the inspiration for the restaurant was to serve top quality food in an environment where people felt comfortable wearing a suit and tie or a baseball cap and shorts.
“We just wanted something that brought more people to downtown Longview,” Byrnes said.
Since making its debut on New Year’s Eve of 2020, the restaurant has been going strong.
“It’s been fantastic. The city of Longview has blessed us,” Byrnes said.
Lil Thai House owners Will and Pat Ruegg, who have operated the restaurant since 2008, said it’s been exciting to see the transformation taking place downtown in addition to efforts from Arts!Longview to bring more life to the area through the cultural arts district.
Arts!Longview was designated in 2019 as a cultural district by the Texas Commission on the Arts. The mission of the organization is to spark a love of the arts, history and culture to celebrate and enhance the community.
In 2021, Arts!Longview installed banners and utility box wrappers throughout the cultural arts district, which encompasses downtown Longview and extends down Mobberly Avenue to the Belcher Center. The banners and utility box wrappers have helped brighten up the district. So have several new murals downtown. Several of those murals were commissioned by Arts!Longview, while others were spurred by others who saw the benefit in the public art displays downtown.
“I hope the murals give us a sense of identity, in some way,” said artist Diego Baracaldo, who helped create two of the murals. “By identity, I mean a sense of ownership. This is our city.”
In addition to small business ventures and public art displays, downtown Longview also has seen a new event venue, Landmark Social, and new downtown living options open.
Heritage Tower, located inside a historical building at 208 N. Green St., now serves seniors 55 and older or people with disabilities. Meanwhile, the historical Petroleum Building was converted into the Alton Plaza apartment complex. Alton Plaza offers one- and two-bedroom floor plans with modern amenities.
Longview City Councilwoman Kristen Ishihara credited a Downtown Small Area Plan with helping the city realize that residential living was needed downtown.
“Without the small area study, I’m not sure I would not have recognized how important it is to have residential living downtown,” she said.
Being located downtown, the new living options offer easy access for residents to enjoy shopping, dining and entertainment.
Oglesbee said the new downtown living options are continuing to facilitate the atmosphere that small business owners are striving to achieve.
“I hope that one day this is a place where people can do almost everything they need to do without having to leave downtown,” he said.
Walters said he’s been amazed to see the downtown transformation take shape and to hear how excited people are to be in Longview.
“Even six months in, for the first time in my life, I saw people say things like, ‘Oh man, I wish I lived in Longview’ or ‘I love living in Longview.’ I was blown away,” he said. “People felt like they had a place.”
As more businesses continue to open and play a role in revitalization efforts, the future remains bright for downtown Longview, and the heart of the city soon will have many more stories to tell.
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