Category Archives: Beardsley Avenue

Our places and people have stories to tell: Branding Beardsley Ave

Beardsley Ave. business owners and residents have been gearing up to market their neighborhood to the outside world. All this work has led to their soon-to-be-revealed new name and logo. To find out more, we talked with two people who helped guide the historic neighborhood through the branding process: Elkhart City Director of Development Services Crystal Welsh and Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau CEO Diana Lawson.

“This project belongs to the Beardsley Ave. business owners and residents.”
-Crystal Welsh, Elkhart City Director of Development Services

  • Crystal Welsh, Elkhart City Director of Development Services -photo courtesy of The Elkhart Truth

“It is always inspirational when people become engaged in shaping their future. Our places and our people all have stories to tell. ”
–Diana Lawson, CEO, Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau

What does branding mean?

Diana Lawson: Branding is a process that helps define the vision for the future of the neighborhood.

Crystal Welsh: Through the branding process, the local stakeholders decide on a shared vision and character to use when they promote their neighborhood to the public.

What was the branding process like?

Diana Lawson: The brand process was an inclusive progression of discussions and decisions about the future of the district. It included a series of meetings that allowed all neighborhood stakeholders to contribute and decide together how they want to portray their neighborhood.

Crystal Welsh: The stakeholders’ energy and enthusiasm for the branding and revitalization efforts for their neighborhood was contagious. They worked hard to honor both the industrial and architectural history. It is very exciting that the community has come together and is working to improve their neighborhood.

Why does the Beardsley Ave. neighborhood need its own brand?

Crystal Welsh: The goal of branding is to revitalize the neighborhood and spur economic development. Branding will help promote the Beardsley Ave. neighborhood to many different groups: current and future property owners, businesses, residents, and visitors. This process has been aspirational yet authentic, and I believe it will promote a strong economic strategy.

Diana Lawson: It is always inspirational when people become engaged in shaping their future. Our places and our people all have stories to tell. Discovering those stories, shaping them in a way that allows others to see the past and the future, is a powerful transformation.

Is this branding part of the city’s overall redevelopment plans?

Crystal Welsh: Yes. The Elkhart Redevelopment Commission established a Redevelopment Area and Plan for the Beardsley neighborhood in 2005. This plan outlined a series of public improvements that the Commission might undertake to spur redevelopment.

Is this project part of the SOMA initiative and Gateway Mile?

Crystal Welsh: The Beardsley Avenue branding process is not directly related to the SoMa or Gateway Mile projects – those are part of the Downtown Redevelopment Area Plan. However, this initiative was modeled after the success of these projects. The Beardsley Ave. branding project coordinates with the redevelopment and economic development plans for the other districts around the City, as well as the overall promotional strategy for the City of Elkhart.

Who owns this project?

Crystal Welsh: This project belongs to the Beardsley Ave. business owners and residents. The City of Elkhart is not branding Beardsley Ave. The Elkhart Redevelopment Commission is providing financial and technical resources that help support that community’s effort to develop a brand and neighborhood character they can use to promote their area.


Carved is busy and growing in Elkhart’s Beardsley Avenue Corridor

Carved – The Face of Elkhart’s New Tech

Respect for the past and a Midwestern work ethic

Carved Founder John Webber grew up in Elkhart, “just south of the bypass by SR 15.” He started his first company when he was 15 years old, selling hacky sacks. That was in 1999. Since then, Webber has founded three more successful local businesses: Ad Stream Inc. (website design and internet marketing), StrataShops (outdoor furniture online sales), and Carved (handcrafted wooden cases for smart phones). It’s going well – in the last five years StrataShops and Carved have both made the INC 500 list of fastest growing companies in America.

Last year, Webber took on another project when he bought and renovated the old Boris Smoler Dress Factory at 916 N. Michigan St. Now he operates Carved out of half of it. “Carved started out on Windsor Ave. over by Menards in Elkhart in a little 2500-foot space and grew pretty quick out of that. The building was just a standard warehouse space, it didn’t really fit the vibe of the company. So I knew I wanted something like this.” Real estate broker Lori Snyder showed him the factory building, built in 1906. “I loved it and bought it as quickly as I could.”

The building is two-story with two wings. Carved has one wing, with offices and a workshop on the first floor, and storage (and soon-to-be workspace for a new project) on the second floor. Webber rents out the other wing to Birds Gotta Fly, a vintage boutique, and Steelyard Coffee Co, a coffee shop and café run by Webber’s sister-in-law, on the first floor.

Bringing history and warmth to the tech age

When Carved moved into the renovated Boris Smoler Dress Factory, Webber saw a strong parallel between the handmade phone cases his company makes, and the housing he chose for their workspace. The Boris Smoler Dress Factory, with its timeworn floorboards and century-old history, “connects very strongly for us to the product,” Webber said. “Inside this building we have very modern equipment, we have modern lasers and computers, but then we’re working in, and on, and around something that’s all built by hand.”

Carved “brings balance and warmth to the tech age… we are taking a phone, a cold generic piece of modern technology, and we’re surrounding it with wood,” he said. “We’re taking a one-of-a-kind natural material that you have to work by hand, where you’ve got that history of woodworking, and the warmth of wood, and we’re connecting that to the technology. It’s more than recycling. It’s giving technology a personal and customizable edge, giving it a story and a meaning.”

If you think about it, it’s downright poetic: Webber chose to encase Carved, a young, modern tech-driven company, in an historic, 100-year-old factory building – just like their product encases new, impersonal smart phones in hand carved, recycled wood cases.

Restoring the old Boris Smoler Dress Factory

As Webber renovated the building at 916 N. Michigan St., he began to learn more about its history. “When we restored the floors, we found half a million needles, sewing needles just everywhere, and thread and fabric on the tops of all the rafters.” Webber even met locals who knew the building in its previous incarnations. “We’ve had older people come through who used to work in the dress factory. One woman, she’s in her nineties, came in; she showed us where she used to work upstairs, sewing dresses.” After the Boris Smoler Dress Factory closed, Miles Lab used it as their company gym. “The wife of one of my employees remembered coming here with her mom, who worked for Miles. She came here as a little girl to play in the play area when her mom was at the gym.”

Webber said the renovation was a labor of love, and admitted that, “it was not a cheap project.” When asked why he would choose to restore an old building rather than find a more practical, ready-to-use space, he said, “I love the old techniques, I Iove the beams in here, and all the exposed brick,” and true to Elkhart’s entrepreneurial spirit, he added, “Oh, and I just like working. I love to work.”

Webber restored the building the best he could, preserving its original colors and architecture. “It took us eight months. Just sanding the floors took one guy four weeks, eight hours a day.” The historic nature of the building required the skills of several local expert craftsmen. “We rebuilt that brick arch in the entryway – we probably rebuilt two-thirds of that, it was just falling apart. We got a guy who was a really good mason, he rebuilt the arch form and then did all the brickwork. His name’s Kevin, he’s from downtown. When it comes to old buildings he knows everything about them, knows how these buildings were built. He’s the only one who could do it.”

Elkhart’s Historic Beardsley Avenue Corridor

Carved’s newly renovated offices are part of a national movement – young companies seeking out historic buildings with great natural light and proximity to downtown. But it’s also part of a local movement to reclaim Elkhart’s unused or barely used, historic factory spaces. (For the 10 years before Webber bought it, the Boris Smoler Dress Factory was largely used for storage.) Local business people have been going the extra mile to renovate old spaces, especially in Elkhart’s centrally-located Beardsley Avenue Corridor. 820 Antiques is another great example of locals choosing to repurpose old buildings, choosing heritage over convenience. It’s an aesthetic choice, and a show of respect to the past, a commitment to engaging and preserving history.  

When asked how he feels about their location in the Beardsley Avenue Corridor, Webber said, “I am here for the long haul.” He’s proud that Carved, and its neighbor businesses Birds Gotta Fly Boutique and Steelyard Coffee Co., have brought 30 employees to the 900 block of N. Michigan St. in the past year. It’s a great fit for them. His 21 employees often eat lunch at Lucky’s Donut or Cappy’s. John gets the cheeseburger, and his coworker Eric loves their fish basket. On Fridays after work, they often go for drinks at Iechyd Da.

Webber believes the Beardsley Avenue Corridor is ripe for business, and investments. “It’s just outside downtown, with a lot of really cool buildings. You can live, work…just outside downtown.” He has employees currently looking to buy homes in the neighborhood. He also has some advice for locals looking to buy property: “There are extremely good investment opportunities in a 5-block radius from here. Buy these houses, they’ll be worth more soon.”

“A big part of this brand is giving back”

What’s next for Carved? They have plans to scale yet again this year, and will soon be adding a new (soon-to-be-revealed) branch to their company. “A big part of this brand is giving back,” said Webber, “we’re planning to expand into products that will directly benefit communities in need. We’ve got several things in development, we’re excited about them, and we’ll let you know more soon.” Webber’s family has been doing some growing as well. He and his wife just had their first child, a three-month-old named Jude. And that hacky sack company he started when he was 15? It’s still going. Webber ran it for 15 years and just recently passed it on to his 15-year-old brother.

Check out the businesses in the former Boris Smoler Dress Factory:

Birds Gotta Fly Vintage
Steelyard Coffee Co.


Meet 820 Antiques, the newest addition to Elkhart’s growing antique and vintage market

For Brad and Sally Billings, antiquing is a way of life. “Sally and I spent most Friday nights and Saturdays when were we dating and first married at auctions. We furnished our house with those auctions,” said Brad. They really love old things. Sally collects pictures with pansies in them and horse-related items. Brad collects Coca-Cola memorabilia and milk bottles. At one point Brad’s milk bottle collection contained more than 1,500 bottles.

Even though they were busy with their business, Billings Funeral Home, and their two sons, Brad and Sally dreamed about opening an antique mall of their own. So, when they were looking for a space to house their dream antique mall they, of course, looked for an old building.

When they found the 820 Building, formerly Foster Manufacturing and Lilly’s Paper Depot, they saw a double win: they could save a historic building from disrepair and also join the emerging north side antique market. They purchased the 820 Building from the Lilly family in 2014 and began an extensive remodel. Restoring the 20,000-square foot 1916 factory space required painting, new lighting, new custom windows, carpet, and central air.

They opened 820 Antiques less than a year later. Today it has 46 booths and 36 dealers selling refinished furniture, vintage jewelry, hats, purses, glassware, books, primitives, mid-century furniture, kitchenware, dolls, and many other collectibles. The response has been great, new customers come in every week and spend hours looking from booth to booth. They also have low prices. “We have had customers tell us we are the most affordable mall around,” said Brad.

As long time collectors, Brad and Sally know how to make their shoppers comfortable. They made the building 100 percent handicap accessible, including the bathroom, which is a remarkable feature for any antique store or mall. The expansive floor space, high ceilings, and vintage factory windows give it a nice, open feeling. There are clear pathways between all the booths and lots of natural light. “We pride ourselves in making our customer feel welcomed,” said Brad. “There is always complimentary coffee, tea and water in the lounge area.” Yes, there is even a lounge area – you can rest your feet and sip your coffee while you admire Brad’s collection of vintage game boards.

These days Sally manages 820 Antiques full time and Brad is there often. “We are having a blast, we’re meeting folks that have a love for antiques and vintage things, and our dealers are so much fun,” said Sally. “We particularly love it when customers come in and find that one special thing they are looking for. And we often hear customers remarking, ‘I remember that from my childhood,’ or ‘my grandma had that.’”

Hence their tag line: Come in and find your childhood again. “We think that’s why antiquing is enjoyable for so many, it brings back such wonderful memories,” said Sally. “We are blessed to be in one of the greatest recyclable businesses. With antiques, you get to enjoy them for a while, but eventually, someone else will get to enjoy them too.”

Since opening 820 Antiques, Brad and Sally Billings have been working to make the Beardsley Ave. neighborhood a top destination for antique lovers. Thanks to their efforts, you can now pick up a handy brochure describing and mapping out each of the five antique and vintage stores in the 2-mile area. “We are proud to be a part of Elkhart’s antique district,” said Brad. “We hope if you come in as strangers you will leave as friends.”