Downtown Living: A Walking Report

I live downtown, and I love my “hood.”  Beyond the rhetoric by those that don’t live here, the reality for those who do is that downtown is fun, functional, easy to enjoy, safe and, quite simply, the center of the universe.

Tulsa Today is published from an office/residence in the Wright Building, near the corner of 3rd Street and Cheyenne Avenue.  It is a private building, currently closed to the public and under repair and renovation.  For almost five years, I have been the only resident on that city block – and the closest taxpayer to the new BOK Center.  I chose this location because of the proximity to Civic Center Plaza, which includes City Hall, City Council Chambers, Tulsa County Courthouse, Convention Center, post office, and the City/County Central Library – all within two blocks and perfect for covering news for Tulsa Today readers.

But since even I know there’s more to life than covering news, I decided to take advantage of the last couple of balmy days and reacquaint myself with some of the places that are perks of the area.

A block away past the city bus station is – by my estimation, at least – the best Coney Island in Tulsa.  During the weekday lunch rush, you will see the widest possible range of economic levels – diversity can be achieved over a dang good ‘dog.

Two blocks to the south, the Downtown Tag Agency provides full-service services, including driver’s licenses, vehicle tags, passport photos, and insurance.  Owners Devon and Virginia Jones focus on customer service and are a perfect example of young professionals growing Tulsa’s economy with good ideas and hard work.  The agency, at 201 West Fifth Street, first opened in October 2005.  For more detail, click here for a story by Lisa Stringer.

The public should understand that some folk visible downtown come here to panhandle – one girl admitted to me that she had earned over $26,000 one year (tax free) just begging money downtown.  Please remember that ANY second request for money is considered “Aggressive Panhandling” and is illegal in Tulsa.  Just say no, and if the beggar does not go away, call the police – but don’t let panhandlers intimidate you.

To what are you really contributing?Other odd-looking characters are entrepreneurs – granted what they sell is illegal, but they are not homeless – they are business people of the worst kind.  With luck the Tulsa Police Department will one day discover that the kind of policing needed in downtown is not the showy display of officers on horseback during lunch, but beat officers that will walk the streets and get to know the characters from the criminals that are visible from early afternoon to late night in some locations.

Other crazy-looking people are just that – crazy.  Maybe born so or drugged so or whatever so, there is no reason for anyone to be homeless in Tulsa.  There are services available.  There are places to go, but a crazy person holds the American freedom to refuse help.  So what part of guilt should the rest of us feel?  None!  For more detail, read the 2003 story on Tulsa homeless and the panhandling issue by clicking here.

South just three blocks is the Downtown YMCA, which offers a health club with swimming pool, track, and exercise equipment.  There is also a commerical health club within about eight blocks and, for the quick casual stroll; the Williams Green is two blocks to the east.  Saint Francis Hospital affiliate Health Zone-Downtown is located at 401 South Boston Ave, but don’t look for them on the ground floor – the 16th floor is where Tulsa office folk have worked out for years.

Karlene Chancellor operates the 11th Street Cleaners and Karlene’s Dollhouses, between Denver and Cheyenne on 11th.  It is an eclectic combination, run by one of the nicest retailers you could meet – she reminds me of my gracious grandmother, Mildred, who with my grandfather owned and operated Tulsa Greenhouse for many years.

The one major element missing from downtown is a grocery store.  Recurring rumors of a coming Wal-Mart abound, but most residents are looking for a smaller, upscale grocery – somewhere between QuikTrip and Petty’s Fine Foods would be perfect.  Odd, but there is a Wal-Mart about the same distance from downtown; north (Owasso), south (81st & Lewis), east (Memorial & I-244), and west (Sand Springs at Hwy 97).

The best downtown burger joint is at 15th Street and Denver Avenue – Ron’s Hamburgers and Chili.  Owner Mike Barber – the son of the original “Ron” – opened the location in spring 2005.  After he considered expanding to Oklahoma City, Barber chose instead to bet on downtown Tulsa – and business, he reports, has been better than he ever expected.  Twin sisters Christa and Bonnie both enjoy the work and location.  Bonnie has been working at Ron’s since she was 15 years old – she is almost 20 now.  “That’s a long time to work somewhere, if you’re young,” she says with a grin.

Across the street from Ron’s is QuikTrip Store 53, the highest volume store in the convenience giant’s home city.  Manager Josh Glass says, “Business booms because this is the first and last stop many make to and from downtown and on their way to River Parks [just another few blocks to the south].  We also see surges of traffic during special shows, events, and conventions held downtown.”

River Parks is my favorite sunset park and my dog loves it, too.  Enhancing nature at 21st Street is the River’s Edge, a concession grill and bar with outside seating.  To watch the blazing orange with deepening blues as nature closes the day – to relax as others race home to suburbia – to hear live entertainment and visit with friends – life is good.

There are several abstract companies, countless law offices, and almost every bank in the city has a “main office” downtown.  In fact, about 30,000 people work downtown, but for those who live here, we don’t see them much except coming and going and during lunch.  For those who believe public officials give too much attention to downtown infrastructure, consider what 30,000 people a day driving on your neighborhood streets would do to their condition. 

Yes, there are challenges to living downtown and, on the streets in particular, residents learn to watch for those city-challenged drivers who can’t read one-way signs or register the stoplight they just blew through while rubbernecking.  Maybe infrequent visitors are looking at the fabulous art deco or maybe the height of buildings or the density of downtown stuns some or maybe they are just looking at the legal interns hauling filings to court.  Whatever, but for everyone safety – please, people – eyes front.

There are retail services that surprise in their number and diversity.  Chris J. Sloan owns Copy Shop, LLC at 5 East 5th Street and is one of the hardest working printers I have known.  Sloan managed the Kinko’s near Tulsa University for many years before buying the Copy Shop more than five years ago.  The shop has been at that location in Downtown Tulsa for 27 years.  There is also a FedEx Kinko’s location at Boston and 3rd Street.

A quality haircut is available at Hair on the Square on 5th Street, just footsteps east of Boulder towards Main Street, but you should call for an appointment.  The shop can accommodate walk-in traffic, but the stylists stay booked most of each day.  Another downtown success story, Hair on the Square owner Carla Marler said that after 13 years at this location, she may expand in the downtown area.

At the southwest corner of Main Street and 6th, The Humidor has been doing a “smoking” business for more than seven years, selling roll-your-own tobacco, domestic and imported cigarettes and cigars.  Yes, you can also buy Oklahoma Lottery tickets.  Owner Leonard Nelson says, “Business is great.”

The Home Depot on 11th and Elgin is the biggest store in Oklahoma.  Company officials have been amazed by the success since opening in 1994.  Assistant Manager Carrie Fuerstenberg said their “Kids Workshops” consistently host the largest turnout in the region.  That program teaches children about tool operation and safety. 

Downtown even has drive-through Chinese food.  At 109 South Cincinnati Avenue, Fortune Chef has spent nine successful years nestled in the shadow of the WiIlTel Building.  This choice of this location followed a successful run in the former “Williams Center Forum,” when it was a downtown retail shopping facility.

Thinking of driving, I bought a SUV in 2004 with 48,000 miles on the odometer.  Three years later, it has only 60,000 miles logged.  That is an average of only 4,000 miles per year, when the average American drives 15,000 miles each year.  Think of the wear-and-tear and gasoline and vehicle equity saved.  I love walking downtown to most of my intended destinations – cost effective and healthy.

Ridgway’s opened in downtown Tulsa in 1926 and has grown to be the largest reprographics company in the nation, providing digital imaging and document reproduction services to clients in nearly every type of business.  The downtown office recently moved to the Blue Dome area on Detroit between 1st and 2nd Streets. 

On the same block is Dwelling Spaces, 309 S. Detroit, featuring furniture, accessories, art and gifts.  They also support local creative talent such as Louis & Cluck designs and local art shows.  Click here for a story by Vivian-Michelle Davis.

On the corner of 2nd and Detroit is the fabulous Tsunami Sushi Bar and Asian Grill.  Besides serving great food, Tsunami often features young musical talent on weekend nights.  You can download a copy of their menu in PDF format from their Web site by clicking here, or read an earlier story by Melissa Cole.

Steps away from Tsunami, the Blue Dome Diner offers American fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The overflow event room in the back, the Blue Dome Roadhouse, is available for private functions or promoters looking for a mid-size venue.

Expanding from Stillwater to Tulsa, Dirty’s Tavern, on the corner of Elgin and 2nd, features Red Dirt music (that’s Oklahoma New Country Music, in case you’re wondering) and a very friendly wait staff.  To read about their opening, click here.

The Dirty’s intersection also features Arnie’s Bar, a Tulsa Irish tradition since God created the planet, and with the outside patio, it’s one place downtown where both my Great Dane and I can enjoy fellowship and refreshment without breaking eye contact.

Across the street, 1974 is another great spot for lunch, dinner, and live entertainment by the hottest new rock bands in the region.  Steps to the east on 2nd Street from 1974, Templ just opened; click here for a story by Vivian-Michelle Davis.

On 1st Street and Elgin, restaurant and bar owner Elliot Nelson has had an especially busy and extremely successful adventure in downtown Tulsa.  Nelson has just finished a 2,400-square-foot expansion of McNellie’s Public House – offering the best beer selection in the metropolitan area.  Next door he opened The Continental, a cocktail lounge with live music, and across the street, Nelson has begun construction on El Guapo’s Cantina, which will feature a rooftop patio.  El Guapo is due to open this spring. – Cinco de Mayo the obvious deadline.

Next door to El Guapo’s is a cluster of artistic creativity in the “May Rooms Gallery.”  Once a whorehouse serving nearby train stations and anyone else that found the entrance, the reformed building now hosts various artists, including Marjorie Atwood.  The day I came by with a camera, Jeanie Gooden was putting the final touches on work to be featured in her second show at the M. A. Doran Gallery, opening in March.  Gooden, who lives and works in both Mexico and Tulsa, says she loves the “downtown energy.”

Further to the west, the 1st Street Lofts are under construction in the building which was the former home of the Studio 310 nightclub.  Funded in part by the downtown residential portion of Vision 2025, developer Michael Sager expects to begin leasing the new lofts this October.

Tulsa Today is looking forward to more downtown neighbors, and we are witness to the growing interest and success of downtown Tulsa.  In fact, if you have an interest in moving downtown, e-mail and we will be glad to answer specific questions. 

There are many more places, people, and business of interest downtown including the Brady Arts and Entertainment area which incudes "Tulsa’s Timeless Honky-tonk," Cain’s Ballroom.  The new Philtower Lofts are adding residents and the Virginia Lofts are growing.  These good news stories will be covered in the future in Tulsa Today, but as I tell reporters – no more than 2000 words and this story hit the limit.

In general and for the record – downtown Tulsa is fast becoming the urban Mecca many have worked long and hard to achieve.  Cool and hot, old and new, downtown Tulsa could be a special place for you.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 25 February 2007 )