Central Avenue stores

Upcycle Dubuque is one of the many stores popping up along the Central Avenue corridor in Dubuque.

Nearly six months ago, Kristina and Craig Beytien opened Upcycle Dubuque with the hope that their new enterprise would be part of a broader transformation.

Located at 1838 Central Ave., the business is in the heart of a historic corridor that, in recent years, has been marked by a plethora of empty storefronts.

Nevertheless, the Beytiens believed that Upcycle Dubuque — which creates and sells items made from recaptured materials — could prosper there. And they hoped other businesses would join in the area’s revival.

So far, they have been more than pleased.

“We’re delighted with the results,” Craig said. “It has exceeded all of our expectations.”

Kristina has noticed a changing mindset among those who stop at the shop.

“We hear from people who say they haven’t been down here for two or three decades and now they are coming back,” she said.

Dessert shop Retro Cakes & Cupcravery, vintage clothing store Merry Pop-In Shoppe and hair products company Queen Bee Beauty are among the businesses operating in the two-block stretch of Central Avenue that local shop owners are calling “The Curve,” a nod to the sharp turn that the thoroughfare takes near East 18th Street. They are joined by artist and makerspace venue Key City Creative Center.

A new art studio, cafe, billiards hall and pet supplies store are expected to soon open their doors in the corridor, providing further evidence that “The Curve” is headed in the right direction.

NEW BLOOD

Downtown Billiards is expected to open at 1850 Central Ave. in mid-June. Owner Kenny Thein said the business will offer pool, darts, pinball machines and arcade games.

Thein previously owned Heat Billiards & Grill at the same location, but it closed in 2017.

He said the closure of another business in town — Cue Master Billiards — created a new opportunity for his venture. The recent renaissance on Central Avenue also captured his attention.

“There seem to be a lot of positive things going on down here,” he said.

Some elements of Downtown Billiards will hearken back to Thein’s previous operation. Customers still will be able to purchase food and alcoholic beverages and play a game of pool.

But Thein emphasized that residents will also see plenty of differences.

Thein has invested in new flooring, carpeting, decor and amenities.

“This is not going to be your normal, typical bar,” he said. “This is going for something a little bit nicer, something that is better for the community.”

Just down the block, Stoned Art Studio & Gallery is poised to open at 1800 Central Ave. in August.

Another new business, Wags 2 Wiggles, is slated to open at 1862 Central Ave in early July. The store will sell a wide array of pet necessities, ranging from food and treats to leashes and collars.

OVERCOMING CHALLENGES

About one block down the road, where Central Avenue takes its distinctive curve, a new coffee shop and eatery, Devour Cafe, is on the cusp of opening.

Owner Ryan Dies, who previously operated a coffee shop in Galena, has spent more than a year renovating the space at 1798 Central Ave. He hopes to open soon but said a specific date has not been established.

In the meantime, he is enjoying the progress taking place in surrounding storefronts.

“The more logs on the fire, the hotter it is going to be,” he said.

Dies also is candid about the challenges facing the revival of Central Avenue.

He acknowledged that some people are concerned about gentrification of the area, although he contended that viewpoint is “falsely supported,” largely because the shop owners populating the stretch “aren’t well-to-do people with inexhaustible incomes.”

Dies also noted that some are reluctant to embrace the positive changes taking shape.

“I think there is still this stigma that it is not a good neighborhood,” he said. “It may take some time for the public to get comfortable with it.”

Those challenges were among the reasons that officials chose the area for a Build a Better Block initiative last September. The initiative included pop-up shops and community events.

POSITIVE DIRECTION

Those who have operated in the Central Avenue corridor for years are pleased with the changing landscape.

In early 2017, Julie Potter relocated her confectionery business, Retro Cakes & Cupcravery, from East Dubuque, Ill., to its current location at 1736 Central Ave.

“There has definitely been more foot traffic, and I think that is due to the other shops opening,” she said.

For business owners in the Central Avenue corridor, a city-led effort to reimagine Central Avenue also looms large.

Noteworthy aspects of those proposals include the possibility of a shift to two-way traffic, the creation of a new plaza on 18th Street and infrastructure improvements such as improved sidewalks and new streetlights.

“We’re happy that we’ve been part of the planning process, instead of just being told, ‘Here is what we are going to do,’” Craig Beytien said. “I think (these plans) can bring about some positive changes.”

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