By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT
Once the site of saloons and Old West shootouts, the Chestnut Street District now has been recognized by KANSAS! Magazine as one of the top 10 things to do in the Sunflower State.
"Expect the unexpected when you venture off Interstate 70 to explore the hip, acclaimed Chestnut Street District, which spans a bustling, revitalized Main Street in Hays," states an excerpt on page 13 of the spring issue.
The area's opportunities for shopping, eating and arts are cited as top draws.
Megan Colson, executive director of the Downtown Hays Development Corp., said the magazine chose to feature the district and use a picture from Crossroads Photography, a local business.
"Obviously for our whole community, it's such a great thing to really show that our core of our community is a great tourist attraction and great for people to come and enjoy," Colson said. "It's just a very culturally unique destination."
The DHDC strives to foster a dynamic image for the district.
"Our identity we want to have is we want to showcase the history of downtown, but also that we're unique and the unique stores we have down there in regards to whether it's art, or boutique, or food ... you're getting a whole mix of all different types of businesses in just a small area," she said.
Colson said downtown Hays draws visitors from around the region. The magazine is spreading awareness of what the district offers.
"They recognize the uniqueness of our downtown and that we're really standing out for northwest Kansas as a hub, a great location to shop and dine and just get a full-on experience for people," she said.
Bella Luna Boutique, Gella's Diner & L.B. Brewing Co., the Paisley Pear and the Hays Arts Center Gallery were among the downtown groups recognized in the article.
Caci Pommerehn, sales manager at the Paisley Pear, said there is a "camaraderie" within the district. Being named in the feature was wonderful, she said.
"We love to have people come downtown and shop with us," Pommerehn said.
"We try to make everything feel really homey and unique at the same time."
Sandy Jacobs, former president of DHDC, said the area's revitalization began in 2000. The DHDC was formed to lead the effort.
"What had happened to it over time was the development of North Vine Street and The Mall. It had become really dilapidated, and buildings were empty and so forth," Jacobs said. "Luckily, there was a group of people that said, 'It shouldn't be this way; it's too beautiful.' "
Brenda Meder, executive director of the Hays Arts Council, said the people downtown have a close connection.
"I think there's a lot of collaboration and cooperation, and I think it's a nice, symbiotic relationship with a lot of downtown," Meder said.
Parker Bryant, a graduate student at Fort Hays State University, said the district promotes diverse options not seen elsewhere in Kansas except for Lawrence.
"One night you could go to Gella's and have some specials, and the next night you could go to an art gallery," Byrant said.