That’s The Edge of Hell over there — the old building with the gargoyles.
This rooftop view from atop a giant West Bottoms warehouse took in a whole lot more, of course, on New Year’s Day: Crowds wandering the old cobblestone streets below filed between a growing number of antiques shops in a once decaying district.
But the fact that a growing base of shoppers and vendors is prompting many of the West Bottoms stores to open every weekend in 2016 — rather than only on first-of-the-month Warehouse Weekends — means a lot to people like Amber Arnett-Bequeaith and Monty Summers.
Ten years ago, The Edge of Hell and other haunted houses were pretty much it, Arnett-Bequeaith said. And the Halloween attraction came here only because it had been zoned out of the River Quay district in the late 1980s when the city was giving that gangster-marred part of town a makeover.
“People don’t realize how hard this is,” said Arnett-Bequeaith, part of the Summers family that is striving to surround the once-seasonal Halloween attractions with a year-round retail center for antique stores and specialty shops.
Saving and rehabbing century-old buildings, wrestling with the city in shoring up long-deteriorated sewer infrastructure, getting sidewalk and street repairs, fixing parking — all of this that you see from the rooftop — is a struggle.
But the alliance between people who love these old buildings, those who want their shops here and those who want to shop in them, is growing.
Some 17 shops, about half of the more than 30 now on the scene, are opening on extra weekends, Friday and Saturday, and some on Sundays. And more than 1,000 vendors are selling their wares within their shops.
“I first came for cheap storage,” said Gwen McClure, whose Bottoms Up Antique Shop helped speed the West Bottoms retail renaissance when she went beyond storage in 2010.
“Look at the architecture of this building,” she said. “Look at the ceilings.”
Her shop is a tenant in the Stowe Building, once the home of Stowe Hardware, and Studebaker before it. The building’s freight elevator clangs and cranks, with wood-grated, hand-operated doors. It carried Studebaker cars to the rooftop for paint drying.
The ceiling in McClure’s shop still holds the hooks used to hang Studebaker wagon parts.
Her shop will remain open just on the first weekends of each month, since it gathers its offerings more for event-like showings. But she’s no longer surprised at the growth of more shops.
Vendors came with “entrepreneurial spirit,” she said. When they had to chase off vagabond vendors in trailers, she knew “this is turning out huge.”
Vickie Rehrer is a paralegal who used to be one of the regular customer enthusiasts, “lining up at 8 a.m. on that first Friday morning” to get a jump on what new goods had come.
Now she is one of the newest shop owners, having opened R.B. Martin’s General Store.
“We’ve always been a crafty family,” she said. “But you see what other people are doing and you want to be a part of it.”
There are growing pains, Arnett-Bequeaith said. They need to block streets to make it easier for the walking traffic and to keep traveling vendors from simply setting up trailers in front of the shops. The developers are working with the shop owners to help support maintenance of parking.
They are, however, far better problems to deal with than the difficulties with prostitution and dumping they dealt with when they first brought their haunted houses into the district.
The developers, Full Moon Productions, had to help encourage entrepreneurs to take a chance.
“We had to pay people to be here and pay their rent,” Arnett-Bequeaith said.
Those days are gone, though. More shop owners are coming in, starting on the upper floors, then often leaping at chances to get on the ground floors.
“They don’t build old buildings anymore,” said Leanna Holdgraf, who opened Serendepity with her husband, Maurice, just before Christmas in a prime, ground-floor spot.
They are going to use basement space as well, where there are fine wood floors and giant iron beams.
“I like to close my eyes,” Holdgraf said, “and imagine what the workers were saying when they were building this building … nearly 100 years ago.”