Skinny Slims may be an example of the perfect little neighborhood bar that completes a downtown neighborhood. The pie-shaped, almost century-old railroad building is only 805 square feet and was empty for years before it was leased to Missouri pub owners Brad Hitchings and Ben Yore.
The pair had hit a successful concept with creating English-style pubs in seemingly impossibly small spaces with their first pub in Springfield, Mo. Hitchings and Yore, teaming with Aaron Ellis, gambled that a similar concept would work in Bricktown — and they were right.
The partners first had to tackle a top-to-bottom renovation. They added an outdoor patio, and turned the last remaining eyesore along Main Street into a magnetic connection that brings together Deep Deuce and Bricktown.
Since opening earlier this year, Skinny Slims, 201 E Main, has turned into a favorite hangout for downtown workers and residents. The pub has no dedicated parking, but that's all right — many of the customers are walking from nearby Deep Deuce and offices in the Central Business District.
Indeed, the distance between residential Deep Deuce and Bricktown is disappearing as both districts expand. People are walking and riding their bikes instead of driving to places like Skinny Slims.
For urban planners, such subtle transitions are big victories. Downtowns cannot truly prosper if everyone insists on driving; one would have to tear down half of what makes a downtown great just to park all the cars.
To Mayor Mick Cornett's credit, walkability as a concept was introduced into the downtown development discussion several years ago when Cornett invited Jeff Speck to educate our city on how to be friendlier to pedestrians.
The Project 180 downtown makeover benefitted from such talks, and the central business district now features modern sidewalks, street furniture and wider crosswalks. Wide one-way streets that created scary crossings for pedestrians were replaced with friendlier two-way streets. The city also is looking at filling in some missing sidewalk segments in Bricktown and Deep Deuce.
Some may argue the burden is on the city alone to accomplish this change. But a recent example of how education is needed on both ends of the equation was recently brought to my attention via social media on Twitter.
Casey Cornett, a downtown worker and urban core resident, noted the danger of an increasingly popular pedestrian crossing on Main Street in Bricktown at the foot of the Walnut Avenue bridge (which is immediately west of Skinny Slims).
Sid Burgess, another downtown worker and Deep Deuce resident, then noted how someone (not the city) posted signs warning pedestrians the crossing was not protected. Those signs were taken down. I checked with the folks at City Hall, and they said they neither posted the signs nor removed them.
But had city workers spotted the signs, yes, they would have removed them anyway.
Some may argue it is incumbent on the city to realize this has become a pedestrian crossing and to either post a warning or make it a marked crossing.
But area residents and business owners also can act on their own, and not by posting unauthorized signs. Instead, they can contact the traffic management office at 297-2531. If the crossing is at an intersection, the city is authorized to sign the crosswalk without going through the city's Traffic Commission.
Mid-block crossings, however, require an application to the Traffic Commission — a process that can be assisted by the city's traffic management office. This also corrects another false assumption by some (including myself): that the city will not tolerate mid-block crosswalks.
Downtown is changing, and the pedestrian environment is taking root. With that change, a great dialogue, and education, must follow — even if it takes place over drinks at Skinny Slims.