Spreading Sunshine [In the Corridor]

If you’ve ever been served by Brian “Sunshine” Davis at Mercer Village’s Margaritas, you already know that he’s made quite a home for himself here in the Corridor. The Central Georgia native claims to “live, work, and play” all within a mile and half, and after almost two years of living in the area he is still excited about the progress and exciting changes he sees in his neighborhood.

 During the day, Sunshine can be seen swapping laughs over chips and salsa with the Margaritas’ regulars, but if you happen upon him after hours, he says he loves shaking up the karaoke stage. His signature number? “Material Girl” by Madonna. But don’t let the lyrics fool you. Sunshine is living up to his name by donating a portion of his hard-earned tips to build an elementary school playground.  

 

What do you love about the College Hill Corridor?

 The Corridor has an exciting cast of characters. It’s like at Margaritas, where you have the posse of wild frat boys on the left and a family with seven strollers on the right and somehow they coexist. It’s crazy and wonderful, and it’s why the Corridor is progressing so quickly. It’s being built by and for the people who live, work, and play here.

 

How did you get involved with donating your tips to the playground initiative at Ingram Pye Elementary School?

 MEIA (Mercer Educators in Action) and Mercer’s School of Education adopted Ingram Pye’s Playground Initiative as their project and they approached Brad [Brad Cork and his wife, Valerie, own and operate Margaritas] about donating a portion of one night’s profits to the playground building fund. That first night Margaritas donated 10 percent off their earnings, and I helped out with contributing the tips I earned. Now it’s a regular thing where every Third Thursday of the month I donate the tips I earn, because until those kids get a playground I can’t think of a better way to spend my money.

 

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The Sandwich King [in the Corridor]

By Mollie Davis

Owner of Sid’s Soup, Salad, and Sandwich shop, Bob Berg has fed thousands of locals and visitors during his 30-plus years as a restaurant owner, getting to know folks from all walks of life who enjoy eating with friends and reminiscing over the pictures, antiques and collectibles hanging in his breakfast and lunch eatery.

After graduating from Georgia Southwestern in the late 1970s, Bob came to Macon looking for work and moved into the Macon Health Club dormitory downtown. After living there for a few months, he was hired as a manager to help the struggling gym boost its membership. Then called the “Macon Health Center,” Bob knew his first order of business was changing their name, as employees constantly answered calls from people who mistook the gym for a doctors’ office.

Bob Berg, owner of Sid's, with one of the restaurant's many antiques

Bob Berg, owner of Sid’s, with one of the restaurant’s many antiques

With little management experience, Bob thrived at the Health Club and came to see the gym floor as the melting pot for people from all walks of life. The dormitories were teeming with young people and those down on their luck, looking for a fresh start and a temporary place to stay. Macon socialites and business owners also frequented the Health Club, and Bob recalled that folks like the chairman of Charter Medical worked out alongside those who could only afford their rent week-to-week. He explained the friendly community between business professionals and downtown “characters,” like the member who always worked out while walking on his hands. Later Bob found that this “hand-walker” was Oscar Bradley, featured in Guinness Book of World Records for once performing a handstand jump over a rope 27 inches high!

“It was a diverse group of people, for sure. But they came together,” Bob remembered, saying that his days at the Macon Health Club really opened his eyes to the community in Macon.

After working at the gym for three years, Bob took a leap of faith and opened his first Sid’s Soup, Salad, and Sandwiches shop at 336 Second Street. The brick building, just blocks away from the Health Club, was where Macon’s own and world famous poet Sidney Lanier once practiced law. Named in his honor, Sid’s opened its doors in 1981 to serving downtown Maconites breakfast and lunch. For 33 years the shop was a pillar among downtown businesses, and the spot where Bob met his wife and his three sons worked their first job.

In 1984, the second Sid’s restaurant opened its doors. Formerly the Macon Varsity where Gregg Allman and his friends liked to eat, the Sid’s Forsyth location now is one of the Corridor’s favorite sandwich shops, complete with a warm fire in the hearth and a roadside marquee with a sense of humor. Though he admitted that the quirky sayings aren’t always original, Bob hopes they make someone’s day a little brighter. After all, his shop is about much more than sandwiches. For example, in March last year, Bob and employees at Sid’s organized the “Varsity Cruise In,” a car show that heralded to the days of the Varsity in the 1960s, filling the Sid’s parking lot with American muscle cars, restored classics, and collectibles from the Jones County Cruisers.  The event raised funds for a former employee who had been paralyzed in a car accident in 2012, and Bob hopes it will be a recurring event during the Cherry Blossom festival each spring.

It isn’t just the soups, salads and sandwiches that make Sid’s so special. Neatly lined up near the fireplace are the original booths from the Roy G. Williams drug store from downtown.

Opposite from them is a Coke machine near the counter, a prized possession, purchased for just $40 off the porch of a house on Second Street. An iced tea canister from a restaurant on Grey Highway was dropped off one day when the owner just carried it inside, explaining that he’d love for Bob to display it at Sid’s along with this other collectibles.

Many of the collectibles and antiques found in the restaurant were donated from customers and friends

Many of the collectibles and antiques found in the restaurant were donated from customers and friends

An employee donated her trombone to make an ode to Macon’s music history. Similarly, Bob has come to own pictures of cadets at Camp Wheeler in 1943 and class photos from Lanier High School in 1924. The black and whites are snapshots of a Central Georgia from a different era. Bob can point out a customer’s great aunt, or a regular’s cousin, among the line-up of faces in each photo. The whole restaurant has the feel of a walk-in time capsule, and Bob makes for a great tour guide along the way. As Macon continues to grow and change, Sid’s remains an anchor in the Corridor, collecting memories and snapshots of the community for all those who come to love Macon.

 

 

 

A College Hill “Original” Sets Up Her Practice [in the Corridor]: Veronica McClendon

By Mollie Davis

Just settling into her new office space in the Washington Commons building on College Avenue, Veronica Allen McClendon’s optimism is obvious as she spoke of her future in the Corridor. Up the grand staircase and to the left, a few items of office furniture were carefully arranged on the beautiful hardwood floors; marble fireplaces, stained glass windows, and stately white trim characterize the refurbished southern building. The newly minted law office is still being furnished in preparation for a ribbon-cutting in the future, but until then, Veronica and her associate, Betty Bailey, are content to work amid their metal folding chairs and moving boxes. A graduate of Mercer University and Duke Law, Veronica recently co-founded Toussaint McClendon Law to pursue her passion for children’s justice in Central Georgia.

Veronica with Alex Morrison outside the Washington Commons on College Street. Photo by Maryanne Bates.

Veronica with Alex Morrison outside the Washington Commons on College Street. Photo by Maryanne Bates.

Veronica is no stranger to the Corridor. As a senior at Mercer seven years ago, she was one of four students who compiled the research and proposal that snowballed into the College Hill Corridor movement. In the course “The Fate of Our Cities,” classmates presented their research and proposals to revitalize the community around Mercer’s campus and downtown, the cumulation of a semester’s worth of work in the capstone course. Excited by the possibility of turning potential into reality, Veronica and three other students encouraged their professor to present the proposal to university administrators and community leaders. Her passion to see their ideas through to fruition helped lay the foundation for the continued enthusiasm and success that characterize the community movement today. “I was continuously amazed at the progress of the community each time I came back to visit,” she said with a smile, remembering the early days of College Hill’s launch. “This place has come such a long way!”

After her graduation that May, Veronica moved on to Duke University School of Law, where she pursued her interests working with children and school discipline issues.  During her time in Macon she had volunteered regularly with the Powerhouse Youth Center, mentoring and tutoring the young people in her community who needed it most. Her experiences there inspired her to pursue a legal education to equip students to overcome social problems they faced everyday, such as poverty, gang involvement, and homelessness. During her time at Duke, she seized opportunities to take classes about youth and people with disabilities, filling up her already challenging schedule with supplemental classes on school discipline and education reform. After graduation, she received a fellowship to work with the Georgia Department of Legal Services on Third Street in downtown Macon, bringing her right back to where it all began.

It was during those two years that Veronica rekindled her passion for Macon, taking in all the new sights and sounds of downtown and the Corridor. It was also there she met her future partner, Betty Bailey (then Toussaint), who shared her passion for serving youth in the legal system. The women joined forces in summer 2013 to open their own law firm. “I quickly learned then that in order to get a job, I needed to make a job,” she explained. Today, their firm specializes in children’s law issues like school discipline, juvenile criminal defense, under 21 child personal injury, and family law.

She is still amazed at the growth and excitement she sees in the Corridor. “The momentum has just continued to build,” she said, explaining that when she graduated, Mercer Village was a parking lot and downtown was a ghost town.

Even better, she admits, is seeing familiar faces at her favorite Macon hang-outs, many of whom are Mercerians who’ve made permanent homes for themselves in Macon. Her college roommate, Stacey Harwell, is now a minister at Centenary United Methodist Church at the corner of College Street and Coleman Avenue, just a stone’s throw away from the campus where they first met. Alex Morrison, another student in the capstone course at Mercer who propelled the College Hill plan into action, now works for the Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority.
From her second story office, Veronica has a clear view of what will soon be the new College Hill Lofts development, which will add mixed-use housing and local eateries within walking distance of College Street and Washington Park. That lot between Forsyth and Hardeman will soon be teeming with growth and activity, another sign of progress – thanks in no small part to Veronica – in the Corridor.

Mermaids and More [in the Corridor]: Meet Lee Martin

By Mollie Davis

Crowded with fine pool and Ping-Pong tables, retro slot machines, and embellished lamps and light fixtures, Poolsharks and Mermaids definitely lives up to the quirkiness of its name. The walls are covered in vintage tin signs and neon lights, touting the classic brand name gaming equipment regularly stocked. One of the few Olhausen retailers in Georgia, owner Lee Martin is proud to carry the historic American-made tables and supplies, as well as his impressive collection of mermaid memorabilia.  But the real treasure here is Martin himself, a third generation business owner, Macon native and College Hill Corridor entrepreneur.

Lee Martin

The people of Macon have turned to the Martin family for their entertainment needs for almost a century. In the early 1900s, his grandfather C.I. Martin got his start as a travelling salesman supplying downtown watering-holes with slot machines and coin-operated games. Today, four generations of gaming specialists, master tinkerers, and collectors have passed along the family practice, and now Lee Martin and his son are carrying on their legacy with their business located in the heart of the College Hill Corridor.

While attending college at Mercer University in the 1960s, Martin and Phil Walden, music industry legend and Macon native, were roommates and good friends. With excited remembrance, Martin described their above-garage apartment and the flat black painted walls. The two windows at the top and bottom of the landing stairs Walden painted like stained glass, Martin recalled, so that a myriad of colors and shapes outlined in thick black paint shown in the sun. “Phil was a truly talented artist in so many ways,” he reminisced. From the outside, desk lamps placed on the handrail illuminated the glass at night and poured color into their apartment, giving their humble man-cave the ambience of a cathedral.

The “Sin Den Inn,” as they dubbed it, often also housed their friend and Walden’s business partner, Otis Redding, who would crash on the sofa after a night playing at fraternity parties or local venues downtown. Martin’s father owned a vacant farmhouse in Monroe County where the three friends would throw house parties with Johnny Jenkins & the Pine Toppers. Martin recalled that Redding and Walden were inseparable. “Otis was a very special talent, who just can’t be replaced,” recalled Martin, looking into the distance. “He and Phil were the closest friends.”

After finishing his education at Mercer, Lee Martin went to work with his dad, eventually purchasing their Hardeman Avenue building in 1976. Then called Martin Amusement, the building was filled with coin-operated arcade machines until 1998 when they transitioned into a retail business specializing in pool tables and supplies. Since then Martin has welcomed gaming enthusiasts from all over the Southeast who seek out his wide selection of Olhousen pool tables or his expert restoration skills with vintage and collectible machines. The back storeroom of his one-story building is stocked full of miscellaneous coils, plugs, caps and other bits of equipment as well as projects in the process of restoration. Here faded paints return to their original luster and rusted parts are made like new, and each historic piece finds new life in Martin’s workshop.

Like the machines that he brings back to life, Martin has worked with equal diligence to improve the Macon community his family has called home for so many generations. From his tucked away spot on one of Macon’s main roadways, he often grimaced watching vehicle pile-ups at the intersection of Hardeman and Monroe Street. The busy intersection was once one of the most dangerous in Macon, and Martin took it upon himself to find a way to fix the problem. “Macon has the highest pedestrian death rate in the state of Georgia, higher than Atlanta, per capita, and people need to know,” he states bleakly.

Martin has always been attached to Macon, and has taken a personal stake in community efforts to increase safety by attending community forums and meetings and corresponding regularly with state and local officials. A transportation activist for 15 years and co-founder of CAUTION Macon (Citizens Against Unnecessary Thoroughfares in Our Neighborhoods) Martin has a vision of a safer, more walkable Corridor and downtown. As drivers whiz by his storefront at speeds over 50 MPH, just outside downtown Macon, Martin recognizes dangers to people walking from home, school, or around town. “Our streets are built for speed, not for pedestrians.”

In the early 2000s Martin seized an opportunity to improve the safety near his business by lobbying for the traffic light at Hardeman and Monroe, going as far as to offer to pay for its installation himself. Since it was installed, he’s noticed dramatically fewer accidents and more efficient traffic flow in the area and is optimistic about new ideas for increasing pedestrian safety throughout the Corridor.

Delighted about the new Lofts at College project coming in behind the post office, Martin is especially hoping to see more people walking out and about in the area. In addition, he’s sure the retail and housing options will force traffic to slow down on Forsyth, making the area safer to those who walk to work or school. Until then, you can probably find him emailing and meeting with city leaders to improve the walkability of the Corridor or buried away in the back room tinkering on a pinball machine or a rare jukebox. He seems content to share his story when asked, or just to pick persimmons in the parking lot and continue his family’s work with gaming machines. So whether you’re in the market for a new pool table or just hungry for a good story, it’s worth slowing by on Hardeman and pulling in at Pool Sharks & Mermaids, a proud longtime business in the College Hill Corridor.

The College Hill Story in 21 Gifs

Even with the College Hill Alliance’s recent accolades and awards, we are careful to always remember our humble roots in the Corridor. One of the questions we most often answer is “how did this whole thing get started?” Though you can read the whole elaborate story on our website, take a look at an intern’s view of the College Hill story in 21 quick gifs:

  1. Fall 2008: A group of Mercer students were challenged by a professor to “persuade someone to do something” in their senior capstone course. The challenge was bravely accepted.Image
  2. During their four years at Mercer, these students had grown to love the historic community that enveloped their campus and they wanted to challenge more Mercerians to rethink Macon.New World
  3. They partnered forces with the mayor of Macon, Mercer administrators, and key community leaders to make their vision a reality.Ninja Turtles, PRangers, Teamwork.5
  4. The group set out to articulate a vision for the community with input from neighbors, professionals, students, and other stakeholders… and was awarded a grant for $250,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation!So Happy woman.14
  5. Community input was compiled to create the a vision to make the Corridor an ideal place to live, work, and play. With the debut of the College Hill Master Plan– our community driving force, the Corridor compass- this rag-tag group of volunteers had a new feel and a new drive behind their mission!Proud of new look.1
  6. The Knight Foundation awarded $2 million to put together a team to implement this Master Plan… and the College Hill Alliance was born!Anchorman, group celebration.4
  7. But the real power to create change was still with the community members, as Knight Foundation awarded $3 million to create Knight Neighborhood Challenge Grants, where individuals can apply to accomplish their community projects. If they can dream it, they can do it!dream big
  8. Enthusiasm must be catching, as Historic Macon begins taking on revitalization projects with renewed urgency. To date, the organization’s efforts have launched the city of Macon to number one in the state of Georgia in historic preservation applications and certifications requested last year, surpassing even Savannah in our efforts to save and reuse historic structures. You can tell we’re a little excited for their successes!Swanson Excited
  9. Thanks to our fellow sojourners pursuing the best for our community, crime has decreased both in the Corridor and downtown Macon through the efforts of neighborhood associations, community organizations, safety walks, and increased lighting.cops
  10. The historic Beall’s Hill neighborhood begins its transformation through the leadership of Historic Hills and Heights and other community partners. This area, once the most blighted neighborhood in Macon, is now a nationally recognized, mixed-use housing development where student rentals, market-rate homes, and government subsidized housing options coexist (and require a waitlist to match growing demand)!hallelujah!
  11. Vacant buildings become thriving businesses in Mercer Village and throughout the Corridor, including student eateries like Francar’s, IVP, Fountain of Juice, Margaritas, and Jittery Joes.YUM
  12. A new competition was born, the Magnolia Street Soap Box Derby! With over 2,500 attendees last year alone, this race has quickly become a community favorite. Dozens of contestants, hundreds of hay bales, one checkered flag, and zero injuries, I think we’d call this year a success!soap box
  13. Second Sunday Concerts are an immediate hit with the community. Maconites, students, families, and our friends throughout Central Georgia get together once a month to enjoy live music in the scenic Washington Park, all for FREE! Stitch plays guitar
  14. Steps are taken to increase safety in the Corridor, starting with the branded bike racks throughout the area and downtown, as well as the sharrows that increase the community’s “bikeability.” bike parking.11
  15. In 2012, the Knight Foundation grant was renewed for $2.3 million… keeping the College Hill party going for another 3 years! Best day ever girl.3
  16. Picasso comes to the Corridor, and thanks to more KNC Grants to individual community members, public art pieces pop-up near our parks, on downtown buildings, and around our schools.Its So Beautiful
  17. Just this year, the International Economic Development Council recognized the College Hill for Real Estate Development & Reuse and Neighborhood Development Initiatives, gaining international attention! Thanks to the community support and individual partners that have made this happen! Happy crowd.12
  18. Our new initiative includes a focus on the work aspect of CHA’s “live, work, and play,” and we’re pushing the Macon Maker’s movement, part of a national trend to promote small business and the independent craftsmen and women who make our economies grow. Folks are stepping up and sharing with us their craft– whether its pallet tables, custom embroidery, laser engraving, or wedding cakes– through our Maker’s survey. College Hill loves all our entrepreneurs! Gru loves businesses
  19. This November, we’re thankful for everyone who has helped realize these successes in the Corridor– the community members, city partners, financial sponsors, neighborhood residents, small business owners, students, volunteers, and friends. You’re the best!thumbs up up up
  20. But we know we’re not done yet… we’re revisiting the Master Plan (in a good way!) to see what’s most important to the folks who call Macon home. Share your idea with us on the Corridor Idea Map and rate what other ideas about public safety, branding, trash/recycling, transportation, business, and housing you’d like to prioritize in the community. You know a good idea when you see it!Joey T idea, surprised.6
  21. Remember, together we can reach our goal and do great things!Together great things.16

Meet David & Kris Davis: The Ideal Spot

By Mollie Davis

On almost any pleasant night on Mercer’s campus, around dusk, you’ll find students coming in from intramural games, tossing a Frisbee on Cruz Plaza, or heading downtown for a bite to eat. Amid this hum of activity underneath the Mercer spires, you’re bound to run into Mercer English Professor Dr. David Davis and his wife Kris. They’re unmistakable: even if you happen to glance past his towering 6’6” frame, you can’t help but notice their three dogs strutting across the quad, scurrying and sniffing around while their owners catch up with each other after a long day. Though they have been in the Corridor for only five years now, the couple has become a fixture on campus and around the neighborhood.

Born and raised in Taylor County, Ga., David grew up with a healthy mistrust of neighboring city of Macon. He recalls periodically coming with his family to the old Macon Mall to shop, because for him and many families growing up in Central Georgia in the 1980s, Macon was “the big city.”IMG_1702

Much has changed since David first made the trip to Macon. “Our home today was just an old crack house back then,” he admits laughing.

It’s hard to imagine his slate gray house on Rembert Avenue as anything other than a happy home. Greeted with excitement by the family’s dogs, I sat down to chat with David and Kris, a fourth grade teacher at Alexander II, about their move to the College Hill Corridor, favorite community events and special family outings.

In 2008, David transferred from Wake Forrest University in Winston-Salem, NC to Macon to begin his career as a Mercer professor. An accomplished author and avid William Faulkner enthusiast, his work focuses on American literature and southern studies. Though his family has only lived in Macon for five years, he admits the community felt like “home at first sight.”

When they were looking for a place to live in Macon, Andrew Silver, a fellow Mercerian and self-proclaimed Maconite, led David and Kris around town to find a new home for their family of four.

“We looked at a lot of areas downtown, but after we saw the Huguenin Heights neighborhood, we knew where we were supposed to be,” Kris remembers fondly.

The couple recalled the day they pulled into Rembert Avenue to find several young boys playing in the yard, families relaxing on porches, and other couples coming out to greet them at their car. Within seconds, both of the Davis’ sons, Lucas and Ayden, were whisked away to neighbors’ backyards to play, and the visiting family had met half the neighborhood. “Yes, it was a set-up. Andy had told them we were coming and the whole neighborhood was ready to make a great impression,” David admits with a laugh, “but that’s really how it is around here. We love it.”

“We decided to buy the house based on that first experience, we just needed to make sure it had flushing toilets!” He continues. The southern charm and blank potential of the home resonated with the couple, and as their sons made friends and played with the neighbors, the whole thing just felt right. Gesturing to the beautiful early fall day outside, David admits, “In the end, we realized we paid for the neighborhood, and it came with a house to live in.”

Since their move five years ago, the Davis’ have made themselves at home in the Corridor, getting to know their neighbors, enjoying Mercer athletic events, eating at Mercer Village, and walking several of their dogs around the area at night. “In all honesty,” David begins, with the air of an academic musing on his reflections, “we spend 90 percent of our time in a half-mile radius of Tattnall Square Park. Everything we need is here, or in a short driving distance. In terms of convenience and community feel, this was our ideal spot.”

Calling all Makers: Be a part of the Macon Makers Movement!

College Hill is calling all makers! Haven’t heard the news? Check out the press release below:

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The College Hill Alliance launched an open call for people in Macon to join the “Maker Movement,” a growing national network of artisans, craftsmen, small business entrepreneurs and innovators building new, locally-driven economies. Through a survey found on maconmaker.com, the Alliance is collecting the stories of makers who live and work inside Macon. 

 MaconMakers.com
“Makers are an exciting bunch of people. They are our small business leaders, our artists, our risk-takers. They are driving innovation and, increasingly, the American economy,” said Heather Holder, executive director of the College Hill Alliance. “We know these same types of people are here, thriving, in Macon. We see it every day, in the Corridor and Downtown. It’s time we joined this national movement.” 
 
The Maker Movement is the approximately 135 million adults – 57 percent of the American population ages 18 and up – who employ their creative skills in craft activities, such as making clothing, jewelry, baked goods or art. Financial estimates show that these “makers” push $29 billion into the economy each year. Examples of makers range from computer programmers to wood workers and run the gamut of arts and crafts to engineering and technology. 
 
Makers in Macon are invited to take the online survey about their product and business ideas and share their contact information for opportunities to promote their craft. They can also call the College Hill Alliance office at 478.301.2008 and request a survey. 
 
The College Hill Alliance is seeking Macon Makers as part of its expanded focus to boost entrepreneurship and attract homegrown businesses to Macon’s Downtown and College Hill Corridor. The call for Macon Makers is open from now until early December. Makers gathered from the survey will be highlighted across social media and web platforms through the holiday giving season. A meeting of Macon Makers will be held in early 2014.

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