The Edmond Sun

August 23, 2013

Automobile Alley revs up retail delights

Elaine Warner
Special to The Sun

OKLA. CITY — One of the best features of my job is that often, when I’m in pursuit of a story, I stumble on something that’s right up my alley. In this case, it’s Automobile Alley in Oklahoma City.

This small area, just north of downtown was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. The heart of the historic district is from Northwest Fourth to just north of Northwest 10th with a block or two on either side of Broadway. The Automobile Alley business district extends north to 13th Street.

In the late 1800s, the area was primarily residential but with its location on one of the new town’s main streets, commercial development gradually took over. The majority of the buildings in the district were built between 1910 and 1940.

With more space than the more developed streets to the south, the area became the home of the growing automobile industry. Businesses included automobile dealers and associated companies like Magnolia Petroleum Company, Southwest Rim and Wheel and Capital City Auto Supply.

Buildings were primarily Commercial Style with an occasional foray into Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival, International Style and Art Deco. Most of them were one- or two-story constructions with flat or balloon roofs. Many featured large front windows and large garage doors for easy access.  

With the burgeoning auto market, it is estimated that in the 1920s, Oklahoma City had 76 car dealerships. At one time or another, 52 of these were located on Automobile Alley.

Today’s visitors park their cars and stroll the streets looking for other items. Retail stores are tucked between interesting eateries. One of the coolest shops is Plenty Mercantile. “Mercantile” — what a wonderful, old-fashioned name — perfect for Automobile Alley. It harks back to the general store of olden days where you could get pretty much everything you needed.

Plenty Mercantile carries that wide a range of items. But their outlook is definitely 21st century. Owners Brittney Melton, Traci Walton and Chris England look for items that are “old, found or responsibly produced.” They carry fair trade items, recycled or repurposed items and environmentally responsible products. And, on top of that, these things are unique and truly appealing. I challenge you to go in there and come out empty handed.  Whether it’s something for your home, your child, your pet or a gift for a friend — this is one nifty emporium.

There’s a thread of responsibility that runs through a number of the businesses in Automobile Alley. Shop Good carries men’s and women’s items, jewelry and gift ware — including things produced by nonprofit organizations — and they give a portion of their proceeds to a local charity.  This year’s recipient is Citizens Caring for Children.

Sara Sara Cupcakes was named for Sara Caroline Brinson who died at 18 of sudden cardiac dysrhythmia. The business helps support research through the Sara Caroline Brinson Children’s Heart Research Fund. And their cupcakes are truly tasty.

Other shops you’ll want to visit include: Rawhide with a Santa Fe/western flair carries high-end “event” wear, furniture and accessories for home and body; Broadway Wine Merchants offers more than 650 craft beers in addition to wines from boutique wineries; Dwelling Spaces (an offshoot of the popular Tulsa store) carries fun, bright things for the whole family including lots of Oklahoma-themed and Flaming Lips items. Perch’d is easy to overlook. It’s tiny — actually a store in a shipping container. It features unique contemporary accessories, home goods and gifts. Schlegel Bicycles is so big it has stores on both sides of Broadway — one for casual and family bikers, the other for pros and diehards. And in the back is The Peloton (named after the “pack” of bikers in a race) Wine Bar and Café.

Foodies, too, are treated well in Automobile Alley. Offerings range from the sleek — and expensive — Red Prime Steak to down-home Hillbilly Po’ Boys where you can top off your meal with truly tempting bread pudding dotted with raisins and cranberries and topped with an apple pie moonshine glaze. S & B Burger Joint gets my oldest grandson’s vote while Hideaway, Kamp’s 1910 and Packards add to the list of possibilities.

It’s almost impossible to miss The Womb, the art gallery owned by Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips. It’s even harder to describe. The outside is an explosion of color. I haven’t figured out when it is open — or exactly what’s inside. But then, I don’t understand the Flaming Lips either. I think it’s my age. That’s OK — it just adds to the eclectic mix that is Automobile Alley today.    

While you won’t be shopping for autos on the Alley today, you can certainly enjoy some interesting shopping and dining.  

ELAINE WARNER is an Edmond-based travel writer.