EDITOR'S NOTE: The Place Where You Live is a regular column from a variety of writers in Elkhart County. As the column's name suggests, they'll write about issues affecting their neighbors and communities.
A few months ago, I sat in the café at The Black Crow on Main with about 25 people who had a business on or around Main Street and the discussion was everything Downtown Elkhart. I technically wasn’t even supposed to be there. I was sent there as a proxy by a friend who owns a downtown business who wasn’t able to attend.
The tone of the meeting was anticipatory and the participants were alert. This was during the time that we were all just learning about the facts of the Gause Lot and the effects it would have on our downtown economy and travel patterns. This was also before the usual preparations for the largest festival (besides the fair) that Elkhart County experiences every year, the Jazz Festival. Led by David Smith and Dan Boecher of SoMa, the meeting turned into a conversation. I remember sitting there thinking how cool it was to be surrounded by so many people who loved this downtown community so much and how passionately they wanted to protect what they had worked so hard to build.
But there was also an air of fear, of the unknown. There seemed to be a lot of information that was yet to be understood about a significant and long-term construction project that had the eerie familiarity of the Streetscape Project, which still sends chills down business owners’ spines. But that was a topic that was to be discussed at a meeting in just two days. Today was all about downtown stakeholders getting together, working together and building a downtown community together.
Awesome, I thought. I am a stakeholder! I live down here, I shop down here, I support the businesses, I volunteer for Pillars of Elkhart, who bring events downtown. Then I looked around, and I noticed that I was the only resident who was sitting there — and I was only there by accident.
And perhaps it wasn’t an accident. Not one for being shy, I pointed out the stakeholders that were missing — the residents. As a resident, I appreciated all the amenities, activities, shops, eateries that daily breathe life into the place where I lay my head at night. And I am choosing to be here, so surely residents are stakeholders as well? The answer, of course, is yes.
I’m happy to fast-forward my story to the present time, when downtown residents share their resounding voice along the Main Street corridor. (Did you know that there are almost 70 of us?) We take turns hosting our neighbors in each of our unique lofts and apartments. We learn about events taking place in our own backyards (or front sidewalks, for that matter) and we share about our lives, our homes, our appreciation for Elkhart history and issues that are important to us as we move forward into the future of downtown Elkhart.
We enjoy coming together as a downtown community because we realize that for all the things that make us different, we do have something in common — we are stakeholders in Downtown Elkhart because we choose to be here. We choose to be present and support our businesses by shopping at the stores downtown. We eat at our favorite restaurants and meet our friends at our favorite breweries. We bring our family to enjoy festivals and events and we want our downtown to be successful.
So, if you’re not a downtown resident and you find that within that last paragraph I’ve also described you, then I’d like to be the first to welcome you and say thanks. Because the Downtown Elkhart Stakeholders Club has room for everyone.
Stephanie Patka is executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org