Reviving downtown



Along Main and Walnut streets in Brownstown near the courthouse, several “For Rent” signs that used to be in windows of vacant buildings have come down.

New businesses are placing their names on the outside and displaying merchandise in the windows.

Within the past year, a clothing boutique, an eclectic vintage store and a dog grooming business have opened. Soon, a bakery and an antique store will open their doors.

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The downtown area of the county seat is looking a little more vibrant these days.

Country Pups

The first of the five businesses to open was initially located a block over at the corner of Main and Spring streets. Heather Henson started Country Pups there in June 2014 to do dog grooming, kenneling and day care. In April 2015, she moved to 118 W. Walnut St. across from The Peoples Bank. She found that to be the perfect location, since business picked up.“Location was a big thing, and it’s hard to find a place that’s big enough to do what I’m doing and having people let you do it,” she said. “My landlord (Charles Greger) is so awesome. He was like, ‘Go for it.’ I love everybody here. I love all of the people at the bank. All of the neighbors are really cool. Everybody says hi when they walk around town.”She is happy to see other businesses popping up downtown.

“I’m tickled,” she said. “I want it to be full around town.”

Henson, who grew up in Seymour but has lived in Brownstown for the 22 years now has always loved dogs.

A friend talked her into receiving certification from the Grooming School of Indiana, which she earned in 2013. Henson and her friend worked together for a while until each branched out on their own.

Boutique Elise

Boutique Elise at 128 S. Main St. was next to open. Renee Nehrt started the women’s clothing and accessories store Sept. 29. But a year-and-a-half before that, she had sold clothing online.“I have always wanted to own my own business, and I love fashion. Merging those two was always a dream of mine,” said Nehrt, a Brownstown native who earned a degree in retail management with a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation from Purdue University.“While I did have an online store previously, I wanted to have a brick-and-mortar store because I love being able to see everyone trying on the clothing and accessories,” she said.“I love being able to see them walk out the door happy. When you look good, you feel good.”

Once she opened the retail store, Nehrt noticed a big change.

“To say the least, business exploded,” she said. “I have felt so much support from the community. We opened as we were ramping up to the Christmas season, so at times it was a little overwhelming, but I love every minute of it.”

Nehrt travels to apparel markets in Chicago and Atlanta to meet with designers and vendors to place orders for each season.

Being able to display some of that merchandise in windows along Main Street or U.S. 50 is a plus, she said.

“Highway 50 has given us so much exposure because we have people stop in that are traveling to Bloomington, Bedford, Salem, etc.,” Nehrt said. “I also like the character of Main Street. There is so much history, and I love being part of the heart of Brownstown.”

Nehrt said her store and others opening around the square is a positive for the town.

“I think it’s important to maintain an inviting atmosphere,” she said. “We want to make Brownstown not only a place that its residents enjoy being in but we need it to be a destination that people from other cities and towns want to visit, as well.”

Nehrt initially signed a six-month lease for the store, but she recently extended that because of how well business is going.

“Everyone has been great about sharing the news about the store through social media and by word-of-mouth,” said Nehrt, who lives near Indianapolis to be close to her other job, teaching home economics at Whiteland.

“We also lease our building from very supportive people,” she said. “Not only have Bob and Missy Bane leased the space to us, but Missy has also helped with the printing and advertising of the store’s many events.”

Funky Junk

Seeing the success of Nehrt’s downtown store inspired Allison Sparks to move her business, Funky Junk, from a small building along North Sugar Street to 104 S. Main St.In 2013, the Brownstown native started making hair accessories and jewelry in her home and hosted some pop-up sales. She set up a table at a local craft show and nearly sold out of merchandise. She then started a Facebook page and began selling jewelry and also went to larger craft shows and barn markets.Once Sparks outgrew the space in her home, she found an opening at the Carmichael Insurance building behind McDonald’s. The store was there from March to December last year until opening Feb. 12 on Main Street.Sparks said the craft shows and barn markets helped her business a lot.

“Sales are amazing there,” she said. “Plus, it’s word-of-mouth and meeting new people, and people from all the way over in Montgomery came to Brownstown just because they were at the Chandelier Barn Market and wanted to see what my store was.”

Most of the items in her store are vintage, and she upcycles them, giving them a new look.

She describes her store as a boho boutique.

“My mom and my grandma, we’ve just always loved this kind of thing,” Sparks said. “We’ve always kind of done this as a hobby together, and so they probably struck my interest more than anyone. I just like to have a very eclectic style, and I just try to put my style out there for others.”

Once she moved to the new location, customers said they wanted to see more home decor, so Sparks is trying to grow that aspect of her store. She’s also working on a new clothing line and other handmade products.

Customers say they like how the new store is more spacious and offers more. Being downtown and near a stoplight, Sparks said the foot traffic has picked up.

“When I moved here, my first day I was open, I said, ‘This is for you, Brownstown,’” Sparks said. “I felt like to make the next move, if I was going to continue to do this, I had to move here to this spot. There’s so much potential here.”

Having lived in Brownstown her whole life, Sparks said she is glad to see a buzz in the downtown.

“I think it just helps the community and brings people here,” she said. “They may say, ‘Hey, I really like this. It’s quaint. It would be a good place to raise my kids. Maybe we should move here.’ Bringing people from other towns over here just to shop could be good for our restaurants and for the community.”

Casey’s Cakes and Classes

Within a few weeks, Casey Roberts plans to open her own business, Casey’s Cakes and Classes, at 111 E. Walnut St. It’s in a building that used to house a restaurant operated by Bessie Stokes but has been empty for about seven years. Roberts, a Vallonia native, used to go there every day for breakfast, and Stokes had talked to Roberts several times about starting her own business there.The timing finally was right for Roberts to open her own bakery and offer children’s classes. She’s finishing up organizing furniture and equipment and is excited about her new venture.“It’s better than I imagined. I’m floored, absolutely floored,” she said. “I can’t wait to start cooking in my kitchen. I come in here every day so excited to do something new. I’ve learned so much doing this, and it seems like people are getting fairly excited.”

Her interest in baking and cake decorating started at an early age being around her mother and aunt. She later attended classes at Sullivan University and worked for Jay C Food Store, where she trained cake decorators at area stores.

Her most recent job was being the baker for Christopher’s Catering in Seymour, and she also has conducted children’s baking classes at the Moose Lodge in North Vernon.

“I have three children, and they love to help me bake,” Roberts said. “The problem is, ovens are scary because they are so big. I decided to come up with a way to make everything easier for (kids), so I shrunk everything down. It’s still real recipes, and you use real equipment.”

Roberts said she plans on offering a variety of sweets, including cakes, muffins, cookies and brownies.

With the classes, one will be weekly and structured, where kids will learn about different kinds of flour and sugar and how to decorate. There also will be one-day classes for kids to make different types of food.

Roberts said she will continue teaching at the Moose Lodge and also will do classes at Shireman Homestead in Columbus.

She said the location of her Brownstown shop is ideal with the courthouse being across the street and Heritage Park being constructed in the lot next to the building.

Roberts said she didn’t like coming downtown in recent years and seeing empty buildings, so she’s glad to be a part of the revitalization.

Wild Gourd and Friends

Just recently, work began inside a building at 102 S. Main St. for Wild Gourd and Friends. For the past 15 years, Debra Loper has operated Wild Gourd out of her Norman home. She started a Country Neighbors Tour to give people a chance to visit home-based shops in Jackson and Lawrence counties three times a year.“I was running a cabin rental, and I wanted a little building to greet people and take care of business, and then it just kind of evolved into a little gift shop,” Loper said. “I knew some people that had some little home-based shops nearby, and so I got with them and we did one open house with three of us the first year, and it just started growing and growing.”For a while, Loper sold antiques and vintage and handmade items in the former Sugar Bucket store, where Funky Junk is now.

She and some of her friends had talked several times about forming their own store. When they decided to go through with it, a building in the downtown was available.

They began renovating the interior this past week and hope to open by May. Loper said she is excited about taking on this venture with her friends, including Connie Scott Mitchell, Lana Hunsucker Klene, Becky Baker Gardenour and Kay Miller Pratt.

“It has kind of been a dream of ours for a long time to open a little shop,” Mitchell said. “We’d like to see Brownstown revived. There were lots of things in downtown Brownstown when we were growing up. We’d like to see more things coming back.”

The women consider themselves pickers, who find items at antique stores, yard sales, flea markets and estate sales and restore them to sell. They also like to make things themselves.

“I’ve always said my dream job was to be a picker,” said Klene, a Brownstown native who now lives in Indianapolis. “I love looking and finding deals and decorating and that kind of stuff.”

Klene said she is excited to reconnect with her friends and make new friends with the store.

“I think I’m going to gain friendships,” she said. “Now, it’s like I don’t remember people from back here, so I think that will change. It’s just something to be proud of and showcase all of our talents. I think we’ll bring different things to the table.”

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Country Pups

Owner: Heather Henson

Services: Dog grooming, kenneling and day care

Address: 118 W. Walnut St., Brownstown

Hours: Call 812-530-9260

Information: Search “Country Pups Grooming” on Facebook

Boutique Elise

Owner: Renee Nehrt

Services: Women’s clothing and accessories

Address: 128 S. Main St., Brownstown

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday

Information: 812-528-2217,, [email protected], search “Boutique Elise” on Facebook

Funky Junk

Owner: Allison Sparks

Services: Vintage accessories, jewelry, home decor and clothing

Address: 104 S. Main St., Brownstown

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday

Information: 812-528-7372, [email protected], search “Funky Junk” on Facebook

Casey’s Cakes and Classes

Owner: Casey Roberts

Services: Bakery and children’s baking classes

Address: 111 E. Walnut St., Brownstown

Hours: To be announced (business not yet open)

Information: 812-216-6928, search “Casey’s Cakes and Classes” on Facebook

Wild Gourd and Friends

Co-owners: Debra Reveal Loper, Connie Scott Mitchell, Lana Hunsucker Klene, Becky Baker Gardenour and Kay Miller Pratt

Services: Antiques and vintage and handmade items

Address: 102 S. Main St., Brownstown

Hours: To be announced (business not yet open)

Information: Search “Wild Gourd and Friends” on Facebook


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