Downtown Elkhart still ghost town but new life starting to spur

ELKHART, Ind. -- Abandoned, deserted, and lifeless are descriptions commonly related to downtown Elkhart, but the city hit hard by the economic crisis seems to be making a comeback, according to business owners.

More businesses have started to take over empty storefronts, and there are less vacancy signs along Main Street.

Plus, the Lerner Theater had its grand re-opening a couple of months ago, and a new brewery is opening up shop, too.

Business owners said while it may still look like a ghost town from the streets, registers are ringing inside the brick buildings, including Pop Culture, a unique shop which showcases over 80 brands of glass bottle sodas.

The owner, Brian Jamison, told ABC 57 since he opened the store a couple of months ago, business has been going good. But, he expects it to get even better.

“Anytime anything comes downtown, it makes downtown a destination. The more and more restaurants, the more shops that open up, the more people will think this is the place I want to be,” said Jamison.

But some people, like Bill Schweinzger, said downtown is already the place to be.

“We have less vacant storefronts, better looking storefronts, better quality tenants. And, second floor apartments now. It’s been like a complete 180,” said Schweinzger, who owns several buildings downtown.

“When I bought a building in this block in the 1990’s there was only two of us down here, and every one of these storefronts was empty. And people thought I was insane,” added Schweinzger.

When asked what people think now, Schweinzger said they don’t think he’s crazy any more.

“There’s fifty apartments in the two block radius right here. So there are a lot of people living down here, that eat here, that weren’t here three, four years ago.”

Even though the new Elkhart Brewery did not choose to rent out of one of his properties, Schweinzger said he is happy the company chose downtown, and hopes it adds more foot traffic to the streets.

“I think it’s great. They looked at one of my buildings, they didn’t take my building, they took a different one, and that’s fine,” said Schweinzger. “Any time we get a new business downtown, it’s great. It’s going to draw people and so the more people that come downtown, the more that will see that there are other opportunities available.”

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