Ed Sharrer knows that, although he gets a lot of kudos for the revitalization of the Kendall Whittier neighborhood, it’s people like Meredith Wyatt and Danielle Unruh who have really made it happen.
So when Wyatt and her three-month-old son, Wendell, came through the front door of Unruh’s coffee shop, Fair Fellow Coffee, on Tuesday morning, Sharrer beamed with pride.
“That’s not something you would have seen five years ago,” said Sharrer, executive director of the Kendall Whittier Main Street program.
But now, you see it all the time, and people are taking note. The National Main Street Center on Tuesday named the Kendall Whittier Main Street program one of 10 semifinalists for the national Great American Main Street award.
The award recognizes the Main Street programs whose successes serve as a model for comprehensive, historic preservation-based commercial district revitalization.
Three winners will be announced in the spring. An honorable mention award will be presented to the fourth-place finisher.
“We are talking about the very best from every state in the union going for this,” Sharrer said. “So making it as a semifinalist is really pretty remarkable.”
Historic Kendall Whittier square covers a roughly two-block area around Admiral Boulevard and Lewis Avenue. The larger Kendall Whittier District is bound by Utica Avenue on the west, Harvard Avenue on the east, 11th Street on the south and Dawson Road on the north.
The area has taken off since the nonprofit was established in 2010.
In Kendall Whittier square alone, Sharrer said, 30 new businesses have opened and the occupancy rate has gone from 35 percent to 97 percent.
Since 2013 in the broader Kendall Whittier area, $35 million in private funds have been invested, 41 new businesses have opened and 270 new jobs have been created, Sharrer said.
Unruh and her husband, Andrew, have had a front-row seat from which to watch the neighborhood boom. The coffee shop sits on the northeast corner of the intersection of Lewis Avenue and Admiral Boulevard.
“We enjoy being in the neighborhood,” Danielle Unruh said. “And, for me, being on the corner and being able to watch everything, it’s almost like a little fish bowl.
“We get to see everything happening, and all of these new people and all of the new things coming in. It’s pretty fun.”
Wyatt and her husband, Colby Craige, moved into the district about five years ago, when the area’s revitalization was just beginning. Five years later, the neighborhood offers everything she and her family needs — including a place to get her hair done — within walking distance.
“You can walk to go out, to eat, or to get your hair cut, the library, the grocery store,” she said. “I think that’s really special because there is not a lot — particularly in this part of the country — there are not a lot of neighborhoods that are walkable.”
The Kendall Whittier Main Street program has grown with the neighborhood. The nonprofit’s operating budget is about $160,000 a year, Sharrer said, up substantially from when he became executive director in 2013.
Sharrer heaps praise on his Main Street board, business owners who’ve chosen to open shop in the neighborhood and to the public that has come out to shop, dine and live in the area.
And then there is something less tangible, but most important of all, that accounts for the district’s revival, he said.
“I think the thing that people should know about Kendall Whittier can be applied to just about anywhere, any neighborhood, any district,” Sharrer said. “That at one point in time, in that place’s life, people cared about it. They built it, and they nurtured it. And maybe when you find it now, it’s not in such a great place.
“That is the first step in bringing anything back. People have to start to care.”