Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Change in NOTO Welcome for Some, Annoys Others

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Change in NOTO Welcome for Some, Annoys Others

Article excerpt

Until a few years ago, the first few blocks of N. Kansas Avenue had a decidedly blue-collar character, with longtime business owners recalling a streetscape dominated by bars and construction-related shops.

Less than four years after artists and community leaders began developing what would become the NOTO Arts District, 21 addresses, or more than one-third of the 55 in the district, are used for retail sales or artists' studios, according to a count of buildings taken Wednesday and Thursday.

For some, the change has been welcome, attracting customers and excitement to the area. Others, however, said increased interest in the area has caused hassles.

Charlene Robuck, who co-owns Robuck Jewelers and Siglow Property Management, said the district bears little resemblance to what was there when they moved their jewelry store there in 1998.

"Most of the buildings were empty, to be honest. And in very bad shape," she said.

A few service businesses were open, but most of the other activity came from bars, some of which began selling drinks at 9 a.m., Robuck said. She and her husband started buying buildings partly to close down some of the bars they felt were poorly managed and to stop historic buildings from deteriorating, she said.

"If somebody didn't do something, they were going to go to the bulldozer," she said. "We had no idea something like NOTO was coming along."

Robuck said she was skeptical of the idea of an arts district at first, but the two drivers behind the idea, John Hunter and Anita Wolgast, sold her on it. Even then, she was surprised at the pace of change.

"We never dreamed it would happen so quickly," she said. "I think any time you get more people in an area, it's a positive thing."

The street's original character hasn't entirely disappeared, with 12 of the 55 addresses in the 800 and 900 blocks of N. Kansas still being used for more industrial shops, such as those selling auto glass, windows and countertops. Just two addresses still house bars.

Rodney Vincent, owner of A-1 New & Used Restaurant Equipment Outlet, said people who come into his store sometimes have difficulty understanding that he doesn't operate with the same business model as some of the surrounding shops. …

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