The concept of living above a business or store front isn’t a new one. In fact, it has roots reaching back to the 1800s, when bakers, butchers and barbers lived in the story above their businesses. It was a practical solution for urban living that provided a convenient means for business owners (read: renters) to integrate their living situation with their livelihood.
“The concept of living above a business or a restaurant … that’s not a new idea. That’s kind of a turn of the century, mom and pop shop situation. I’d say around the turn of the century, late 1800s, early 1900s it would be very common to have a family business and a family that lives either very close by or in the back of the shop or upstairs,” local builder and designer Brent Swift said. “That’s the way things were. That changed around 1915 to 1925 with the expansion of the economy and the boom of the 1920s, people moved away from that idea.”
Today, that norm has faded to history, but those loft residences remain. Now, they’re an attractive living option for people who want to be in the thick of it. With many downtown areas across the country experiencing a revitalization, Norman being a notable success, top-side store front dwellers have walking access to a variety of restaurants and businesses and an enviable environment that boasts 100-plus years of history and a sense of fun and safe urban living.
“As you move forward through time and certainly with the housing crunch in New York, Paris and London, some places it never changed, but in other places you’ve started to see more people living downtown again. So, I was no different in 2006-2007. I thought it would be great to have a business down below and some apartments above at 132 W. Main St. (above what is now Scratch). That was the idea,” Swift said.
While he has since sold the property above Scratch, Swift said he believes that downtown housing is a vital component to the downtown resurgence. People love the walkability and convenience of it all. Though Swift believes Norman’s zoning laws are behind the times, he thinks that downtown is an area for growth and with proper support from the city, can continue to thrive. For OU dean Berrien Moore and his wife Gail Moore, who have rented adjacent apartments above Scratch since 2010, it’s been everything they hoped it could be.
“We actually live above a restaurant and a grocery store. We started renting in June of 2010. We’ve loved it. It’s absolutely fantastic,” Moore said. “I don’t know of any cons. The architecture of the old buildings, with the high ceilings and brick is beautiful. You’re right in the center where you’re able to walk to restaurants and bars and the Norman Arts Council is right here. In fact, I can walk to my office at Sarkeys. It’s a little bit of a walk to my office at the National Weather Center, but we always wanted to be right around the university and right in the heart of Norman. I don’t think we’ve ever wanted to be anywhere else. The main thing is we’re right in Norman.”
The Moores aren’t alone downtown, where loft housing has taken hold up and down Main Street.
Almost 10 years ago, Adair & Associates Real Estate began renovating loft properties above what is now Michelangelo’s, The Social Club and Studio E. With five loft apartments to their company name, they have made a name downtown by taking historical properties and updating them to include modern amenities and modern touches.
“We have three that share a hallway above Michelangelo’s. When we renovated them, they hadn’t been occupied in about 75 years. So, when we did that we came in and basically gutted it and started over … They have pieces, like original wood floors, that we saved and we expose some of the real brick wall to give them architectural appeal. They’re all kind of different. The big ones have a few more features. They have any amenity that you would want or need. Our lofts have actual bedrooms, jacuzzi tubs, walk-in closets,” Ashley Adair-Garner said.
Adair-Garner said that combination of modern refinement and authenticity is what makes loft living so alluring. As a member of the Norman Downtowner’s Association, her hope is that loft housing continues to grow in popularity, bringing more people downtown and cultivating the walkable, urban cultural center that downtown has become.
“Downtown has come so far in the last five years, even. With all of the festivals and the Norman Art Walk, people want to be downtown. So, loft apartment living is kind of a unique thing. People may not want to do it forever, but they want to experience it at some point. You don’t have a yard and some things that people end up wanting later, but it has that urban feel. Most people stay about three-plus years. People really enjoy it. They open their windows and can watch the Norman Music Festival from their apartment. It’s neat.”
Though she’s never lived in one herself, she admits that she would have definitely done it if those kinds of apartments were there during her time at the University of Oklahoma. Now, they’re a hot commodity and another option in the diverse housing landscape in Norman.