Just South of the University of Louisville and Churchill Downs sits the Beechmont neighborhood. It is an area bisected by the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Southern Parkway. In the early days, Beechmont served as a summer retreat from the city for wealthy families with its sprawling, summer homes along the Parkway. Today, it remains a sought-out place to live due to its cultural richness, affordability and sense of community. Louisville has experienced tremendous growth in the number of immigrant and refugee populations living in the area. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Beechmont.
The heart of Beechmont remains Woodlawn Ave. (especially the stretch from Southern Parkway to S. 3rd Street). Sure, the street houses neighborhood necessities such as a doctor’s office and bank, but the street is also lined with mom-and-pop shops and some of the most ethnically diverse food and grocery stores in Louisville.
Start any tour of Woodlawn Ave. with a stop at the oldest business on the block at 311 W. Woodlawn Ave.—Berkley Jewelers. The jewelers have called the block home for 32 years after the business moved here from 4th and Central Ave. This family business is now in the hands of Barry and Tammy McKinney. Barry’s mom bought the business from Mr. Berkley when he decided to retire, and she kept the name and passed on the business to her son in April.
One unique find in their jewelry store is the Kentucky Cluster rings, which include 19 diamonds on the top and filigree sides. According to Barry they only make them this way in the bluegrass state. Berkley Jewelers sells, as well as repairs, jewelry and recently became a pawn shop and are licensed for short-term loans.
Over the years the family has seen lots of businesses come and go in Beechmont. Being able to diversify their business and retain their customers and has kept the business on the block for more than three decades.
Next to the Berkeley Jewelers is Beechmont Bombshells (309 W. Woodlawn Ave.), a hair salon owned by Cindy Venture. Venture bought a house in the neighborhood and was sitting in Sunergos Coffee shop one day when she saw a “For Rent” sign in the small space across the street. She investigated and found a vacant 40-year-old barbershop. (The Beechmont Barbershop was once a staple of the Beechmont community.) Venture just happened to be a hair stylist wanting a change, so she took the leap of faith and became an independent hair salon owner.
She says the built-in clients from the barber shop is great, and the salon’s close proximity to Sunergos and the University of Louisville brings in young clients, as well.
“I love the diversity of my customers,” she says “especially having clients that are Vietnamese, Somalian, Japanese, Cuban and Arabic.”
Venture is active in the neighborhood association and promotes the area to other businesses. She even connected a building owner with a yoga studio in need of a home.
Jodie Tingle-Willis had lived in the neighborhood for years. Now, her business at the end of the block, Supreme Peace Yoga & Wellness, on 343 West Kenwood Way, is South Louisville’s only yoga studio and wellness center.
The Doc on the Block
The doctor on the block is Dr. Rosenberg Reyes, who moved to 320 W. Woodlawn Ave. in 2007. Prior to that, his office was on Southern Parkway. Dr. Reyes specializes in family practice. Not only does Dr. Reyes love the location of his practice and the diversity of his patients, but he notes that Woodlawn Ave. has a ghost; a previous store owner that roams the street and sometimes scares his employees.
Woodlawn Ave.’s bounty of international flavors brings many visitors and locals to the area. Where else can you find a grocery store selling camel and goat meat? Just check out Five Star Halal Meat and Grocery Store (310 W. Woodlawn Ave). Looking for a restaurant featuring Kenyan and East African cuisine? Try Safari Grill-African & Mediterranean Cuisine (328 W Woodlawn Ave).
A newer business on the block is La Tropical, a Cuban market at 319 W. Woodlawn Ave. Owner Edel Toste opened the bakery/grocery a year ago and plans to expand it into a restaurant. “I love this neighborhood, and it’s great for Cuban people,” says Toste.
One of first ethnic eateries on the block came 14 years ago when Annie Tran opened her restaurant on 308 W. Woodlawn Ave. Tran is the chef/owner of Annie’s Cafe, a well-known Vietnamese restaurant. In the beginning, Tran admits, she knew it would be hard to keep the restaurant going. But with the help of her family and her mom’s recipes, she became a neighborhood celebrity. Her business remains a staple on the block.
Next to Annie’s Cafe at 306 W. Woodlawn Ave. sits Sunergos Coffee, an award-winning coffee establishment that has cemented Louisville in the coffee world and Woodlawn Ave. as a destination. Every business owner interviewed mentioned Sunergos coming to the area and the positive impact that it has made on their businesses and the community.
Co-Owner Matthew Huested explains that the name Sunergos means “co-laborers,” and this village mentality is apparent in his business model. Huested and his partner/co-owner Brian Miller opened their first shop on 2122 South Preston St. and also operate a location on 231 South 5th St.
Huested opened a Woodlawn Ave. location because he “loved the connection to a robust and diverse neighborhood where the infrastructure was intact, there was easy access to housing, and you can walk, bike or drive easily.”
“Woodlawn Ave. is an intact representation of the Americana economic center,” he says.
The shop on Woodlawn Ave. has allowed Huested and Miller to expand their roastery to include more retail and more than 100 wholesale clients.
Sunergos carries varieties of specialty coffee as diverse as the people in the neighborhood. They feature up to five different kinds of single-origin seasonal micro lots from Brazil, Sumatra, Columbia, Costa Rica, Tanzania and Guatemala.
“I love when people come in looking for coffee from their home countries,” Huested says.
Huested also loves the affordability of the neighborhood. Since relocating his business here, many of his staff members relocated to live in the neighborhood, too.
Sunergos and their family of co-laborers continue to grow and show their commitment to the neighborhood, recently purchasing 211 Woodlawn Ave. to house another business, Coffee Wrench. Long-standing employee, Kenny Smith serves as Co-Owner and Lead Technician at Coffee Wrench, which services and restores coffee equipment.
The Iroquois Branch (601 W. Woodlawn Ave.) of the Louisville Free Public Librarysymbolizes the anchor of Woodlawn Ave. The Iroquois branch serves as the hub of the Library system’s work with the international community and is the lead library agency in the Internationals Initiative.
Sophie Maier, Immigrant Services Librarian, spearheads this initiative, making sure that newly arriving immigrants and refugees know what library resources are available to them. Those could range from bi-lingual books, movies and more than 500 learn-a-language CD sets ranging from Arabic to Urdu. The Iroquois branch also offers a rich mix of activities, including multilingual storytimes, cultural showcases, conversation groups, foreign films, and literary “salons” in several languages.
Woodlawn Avenue gracefully melds together international and local cultures, creating a rich community filled with diversity and inclusion.
Annie’s Café’s Annie Tran sums it up best. “Woodlawn Ave. is like a village,” she says. “And you can get everything you need between the two traffic lights.”