SASY Neighbors walking and biking their way to local businesses and sustainability

by Hannah McClung

J401 Spring ’11

Downtown SASY neighborhood - Atwood Avenue

Surrounded on three sides by water, the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara neighborhood boasts family-oriented walkability, a thriving local business community and resident activism focused on cleaning up surrounding waterways.

Before the SASY Neighborhood became an eclectic mix of young professionals, families, pillars of the community, activists, entrepreneurs and artists it was a blue-collar community more concerned with preventing crime than buying local.

Starting SASY

“In the 70s this neighborhood was a rough and tumble area,” said Dan Melton, SASY Neighborhood Association president and resident for over 40 years.

The residential side of the neighborhood was stable but storefronts up and down Atwood Avenue were empty, according to Mike Barrett, neighborhood council member and resident for 15 years. Parking codes requiring one parking spot per two seats in a restaurant were stopping businesses from opening in the area.

Once entrepreneurs realized the community would support a business without a lot of parking, residents started petitioning the alderperson and the city. Businesses opening in the Atwood neighborhood still have to petition to waive the parking codes but the process has become only a formality instead of a hindrance to businesses.

Local Businesses

The Jenifer Street Market, located on the far eastern edge of the neighborhood, is considered one of the most valuable neighborhood establishments.

“They’ve purposely been moving towards more organic and locally sourced products because they know the neighborhood will support it,” said Melton.

The market is locally owned, sells local products and produce, and has more bike racks than parking spots to encourage pedestrian and bike traffic.

“They’re at the heart of what the neighborhood is about,” said Melton.

Restaurant options from one end of Atwood Avenue to the other range from coffee and sandwiches to Indian, Thai, Mexican and vegan menus.

“We’re so proud of what [restaurant owners] have built here,” said Melton. “We don’t have to drive to an Olive Garden for dinner.”

At the heart of the SASY neighborhood is Schenk’s Corner where four main traffic arteries and the bike path cross. Three local institutions, all equally dubbed “the capitol” of the neighborhood, are located at Schenk’s Corner. The Barrymore Theater, once an adult theater, is now one of the most historically valued music venues in Madison. The theater’s noticeable teal dome, colorful marquee and headlining acts draw people from all over Madison to the SASY neighborhood.

Monty's Blue Plate Diner parking shares a boarder with a community sculpture garden

Across from the Barrymore Theater is Monty’s Blue Plate Diner. Monty’s serves diner food with a twist listing classics like hamburgers, and macaroni and cheese next to meatless loaf of the gods and a weekly grilled cheese special on the menu. Though Monty’s only celebrated its 20th birthday this summer, this diner’s booths are always full of neighborhood regulars and visitors from all corners of Madison.

Just down the street from the Barrymore Theater and Monty’s is the Harmony Bar. Advertised as a bar but recognized as a family restaurant, the Harmony Bar is the epitome of a neighborhood business.

“People bring kids to the Harmony for dinner because nothing disgusting ever happens there,” Barrett said.

According to Barrett the neighborhood bartender is responsible for keeping that side of Schenk’s Corner so family-oriented.

People personally make the businesses of this neighborhood work because they are so dedicated and they understand what will work with the neighborhood, according to Melton. The businesses are not obvious; they run against the grain.

The Green Owl Café, a vegan restaurant opened on Atwood Avenue because of the perseverance of the owner and now the Green Owl is a thriving addition to the SASY business community.

“People are coming to the area for our restaurants and shops,” said Melton. “We’re proud to have businesses drawing people from Madison to our neighborhood.”

There’s a visible connection between residents within walking and biking distance and local businesses. Dividing the neighborhood into the east and west sides is the City of Madison bike path, which provides local and Green traffic to businesses on Atwood.

Café Zoma and Absolutely Art have paired together to offer outdoor seating that frames their bike path entrances.

“Café Zoma’s front door faces the bike path, not the street,” said Barrett. “There’s a symbiosis between residents and businesses. [The businesses] depend on people who walk and bike.”

Community Spaces

SASY neighbors who have lived in the area for more than five years attended community learning workshops and neighborhood meetings at the Atwood Community Center. The Atwood Community Center outgrew its location between Plymouth Congregational Church and St. Bernard’s Church on Atwood Avenue and relocated to a new location with a new name. The Atwood Community Center became the Goodman Community Center located right off the bike path behind Atwood Avenue. The new name comes from the Goodman brothers who donated $2 million to build the new center and the new location offers more community space.

Bike path entrance at Cafe Zoma

The center has a full gym, workout room, teen center, after school program, community rooms and a café. According to Melton, the Goodman Community Center also sponsors a large portion of the community gardens that run parallel to the bike path.

Another community organization in the neighborhood is Sustainable Atwood, which, according to its website, is “a plan to measure, evaluate, expand and create sustainable practices, designs and systems” in the neighborhood.

Whether neighbors are biking past Café Zoma, meeting at the Goodman Community Center, gardening in the community gardens or walking to the Jenifer Street Market, they are all enjoying valued features of the SASY neighborhood.

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