The Historic Seventh Avenue District David Suber sees today isn’t the one he opened his restaurant in more than a decade ago.

He and his sister, Doris Young, started Daddy D’s Suber Soul Food, named in honor of their father, in the historic 400 block of Seventh Avenue.

The district had a different public perception when the doors first opened, according to Suber.

“It had a reputation as the place people hung out and did things they couldn’t do in other areas,” he said.

Some Henderson County residents associated the area with crime and loitering, choosing instead to head to Main Street for shopping and dining.

But the Seventh Avenue Historic District has experienced a business boom over the last few years, offering a diverse array of businesses.

Recent additions include restaurants, breweries, a bakery, fitness studio, brandy bar, barber shop and hair salon and even a dog park.

They sit alongside storefronts such as Daddy D's, M & M Meatlocker and Lowe's, nonprofits from the Hendersonville Rescue Mission to The Storehouse, and attractions including the Historic Train Depot and Oklawaha Greenway.

The city has put a tremendous focus into the district, trying to tie it into downtown while working to keep its identity.

Streetscape improvements and a new police station are in the works. Property owners are becoming more invested.

A few longtime business owners and locals recall periods of empty storefronts and a battle against public perceptions. Some say the reputation was never deserved in the first place, and note the need to be mindful in the transformation.

All seem to be excited by the momentum and anxious to see additional improvements in a part of the city that already has a vibrant past.

A shift in mindset

As the view of Seventh Avenue has transformed over the years, it has reminded Suber of the district he came to as a child.

A native of Fletcher, Suber remembers tagging along with his mother to the laundry mat on Seventh Avenue in the 60s. He recalls shopping at Depot Salvage Co., which is where his soul-food restaurant now resides.

His family’s ties to the district go back in time. Suber’s wife and mother-in-law used to work at the Grey Hosiery Mill, which is being turned into apartment units.

Suber can pinpoint the recent shift to one night a few years back.

While closing up the restaurant, he heard loudness coming from outside. He rushed out to see a group that had eaten at the restaurant standing on the block talking and laughing.

“They were just enjoying themselves,” Suber recalled. “I thought to myself that things have really changed.”

Another sign was when an employee accidentally left the doors unlocked one night. When Suber returned the next day, nothing had been bothered. When Daddy D’s first opened years ago, their walk-in freezer that hadn’t been put together yet and was out back was stolen.

The transformation has been good for the restaurant’s bottom line, as business increases every year. “The more businesses that come to the area, the more traffic it brings and that helps our business.”

Suber says he has seen a lot of businesses, particularly restaurants, come and go over the years.

So why has Daddy D’s stood the test of time? According to Suber, the answer is simple: good food.

“We do home cooking from scratch,” Suber said. “If you got what people want, they come to get it.”

A vibrant past, an undeserved reputation

Like Suber, the Rev. Anthony McMinn remembers playing on the cobblestone streets of the district as a kid.

McMinn has been with the Hendersonville Rescue Mission for more than 25 years, giving him another unique perspective of the growing area.

The Rescue Mission, where McMinn is president and CEO, is across from the Historic Train Depot. That area of town was always seen as a gathering place for locals to come and catch up with both each other and the news, McMinn explained.

“People forget that Hendersonville really grew from Seventh Avenue because of the depot,” McMinn recalled.

Looking back, McMinn doesn’t remember a time of empty storefronts, but a vibrant business district and a close-knit community.

He remembers old businesses like Louis Williams and Sons hardware store, City Tire shop and Depot Salvage, and when the residential Green Meadows community bordering Seventh Avenue was fondly referred to as “Lil’ Brooklyn” by families, many who have lived in the district for generations.

Witnessing firsthand the continued growth of this part of the city has been “amazing,” McMinn said, and he has been supportive of the momentum.

In the future, McMinn says he would like to see more affordable housing in the district, and for families to be able to raise the next generation here. He also wants to see a business like a dollar store open up, and for more family oriented places to come on the scene.

McMinn commends leaders like City Manager John Connet and city staff for their efforts and thoughtful planning for the district.

As development continues, communication is key between the business, commercial and residential sectors of town, McMinn said.

He uses the Seventh Avenue Advisory Committee as a chance to voice his ideas and potential concerns.

“I think revitalization is great, but not at the price of losing some of the history and integrity of the community,” McMinn said.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Seventh Avenue over the years has been people’s attitudes toward the district, whether or not it is justified. “People’s perceived perception is Seventh Avenue being a dangerous place and it has never been,” McMinn emphasized.

He said inlaid racism could be a factor, as a large population of African-Americans have lived and owned businesses in the district.

Little by little, though, McMinn has seen viewpoints transform.

“We keep chipping away at that perception so people can come down here and see these are good people,” McMinn said.

Business owners take a chance, witness change

Matthew Hickman and Lisa Hoffman, co-owners of Underground Baking Co., saw both opportunities and challenges when they decided to move their business from Main Street to Seventh Avenue in the fall of 2010.

An obstacle for the business was the district's reputation.

“That was our biggest challenge, being in a district where a lot of local didn’t feel comfortable coming down here,” Hickman recalled.

The perception of crime wasn’t necessarily a reality, he added, but they had some issues with loitering and saw multiple vacant store fronts.

Hickman has seen upticks in development every couple of years for the eight that Underground Baking Company has been in the district. The most recent resurgence began around a year ago, Hickman says.

He believes this one will stick. “It is not stoppable at this point.”

Foot traffic has increased with each new business that opens. Customers no longer park and go into one store on one side of the street and leave, he added.

The city’s involvement has been crucial to the recent growth, Hickman said, along with a sparked interest from property owners in the district.

Hickman is one of the business representatives on the Seventh Avenue Advisory Committee, and has seen growing involvement from property owners with investing in the district’s possibilities.

Potential wasn’t the only main draw for the bakery owners back in the day. They appreciate what the district means to the city’s past.

“Seventh Avenue has been a very important part of Hendersonville’s history and development, so to see it really coming back is not only important to us, but for the locals we hear from that are excited to see a new energy,” Hickman said.

Hoffman and Hickman wanted to add even more to the momentum they saw firsthand when they decided to open Independent Bean Roasters in 2017.

Hickman said there was no question about whether or not they’d open the coffee bar on Seventh Avenue. It's on the same block as the bakery, in the spot occupied by Crystal Barber Shop for more than 50 years.

It was important to not only do the production at the space, but the retail side as well. "We saw it as another contribution and something else for people to experience,” Hickman said.

In the next few years, Hickman pictures a district with vibrant, independently owned businesses and an artistic hub with an edgier vibe.

With the way the momentum is going, Hickman sees it as only a matter of time before larger developers take interest in Seventh Avenue.

Businesses helping businesses

Local businesses remain at the forefront and continue help each other to grow. The addition of Southern Appalachian Brewery to the district in the spring of 2011 paired well with the bakery, he said.

Owners Kelly and Andy Cubbin also saw a lot of promise when they chose Locust Street off Seventh as a great spot for the county’s first brewery.

Kelly Cubbin attributes much of the district’s recent growth to more people and businesses seeing that potential. In the last eight years, the pride in both neighbors and business owners has grown exponentially, she said.

The beer scene in Henderson County has grown substantially since the Cubbins took a chance years ago. Two other breweries — Guidon Brewing Co. and Triskelion Brewing Co. — have opened in the last year and a half in the district.

Cubbin noted the diversity of businesses now nearby, and commended the city for its work promoting and investing in the district.

“It makes it easier for us to do what we need to do to grow,” Cubbin said.

Witnessing growth

More than a year after opening, Henderson County natives Becky and Jonathan Ayers can’t picture placing Triskelion Brewing anywhere but Seventh Avenue.

“A lot of us old-time locals had this stigma about this street not being a good area and it is just absolutely wonderful,” Becky Ayers said.

The brewery isn’t the first business the Ayers have been a part of on Seventh Avenue. They previously helped run a cabinet business near Lowe’s with Jonathan’s dad.

With the brewery, the couple originally expected to attract beer lovers from Asheville, but a large part of the customer base is from the Greenville/Spartanburg, South Carolina area. When those tourists drive up, they generally stick around the district and make a day of it, Jonathan Ayers said.

“With their awareness and tourism dollars coming up, it is really making a significant change in this area,” he said.

The couple, who also brew their beer on site, credit the closeness of local breweries with attracting more craft beer connoisseurs to the scene. Breweries often partner up with events and brews, bounce ideas off each other and offer support. That goes for the local business community as a whole.

“Rising tides carry all ships. That’s the philosophy we all have,” Jonathan Ayers said.

Owners of existing businesses helped elevate the area and make it easier for new ones to come in, Becky Ayers said, specifically mentioning the bakery, Southern App and Lux Salon.

Ayers said it's common for businesses to bounce customers around.

The couple say they are not only excited to see the growth on Seventh Avenue, but the community as a whole.

“…I like that things are progressing in this town,” said Becky Ayers, who is also a business representative on the Seventh Avenue Advisory Committee. “I like the increasing economic development and I like being a part of that.”

She’d like to see the residential sector of the district grow, and would even want to personally call it home one day. They would also love to see additional parking.

Another common theme is new businesses joining the district thanks to existing ones.

Michelle Stanly, owner of Root Performance Fitness, told the Times-News last month she was drawn to the district because she sees it as a tight-knit, up-and-coming area. When she found out it was sandwiched between Triskelion Brewing and Marco’s Pizza, another recent addition, she was sold.

New ventures are also putting a new spin on old-time staples. Amazing Pizza Co. opened a permanent space on Seventh Avenue last year in the former City Tire, which moved to Spartanburg Highway in 2017 after 65 years on Seventh Avenue.

Upon the pizzeria’s opening, co-owners Darren Stephens and Elena Saladukha noted the district was becoming a magnet for pizza places and breweries.

Along with repeats in business offerings, Seventh Avenue is attracting unique ventures.

Peace of Movement, a wellness studio, opened in February. Owner Leslie Carey is a stress management facilitator and reiki practitioner and instructor. She brought on board Aoife Clancy, who offers yoga classes.

Looking to the future

Chair of the Seventh Avenue Advisory Committee Ron Kauffman said there is a continued emphasis on attracting more businesses in a mindful way.

Several conversations have centered on making the district into a place for arts, entertainment and food, as that can draw more people to the area.

The updated streetscape will hopefully add more to the district as well, Kauffman said.

As a rebrand of sorts takes place, it's important to keep the history and soul of the district intact.

“We are trying to be very mindful as we change,” Kauffman said. “We don’t want to do it in a way that drives people away that have always been there.”

He's seeing more communication and interest from the community as a whole on how Seventh Avenue can continue to flourish.

“We keep seeing more people showing up,” he said.

In the years to come, Kauffman hopes to see more dining options in the district, and properties still in disrepair get the attention they need and deserve.

To help existing businesses, matching grants are available to help businesses spruce up their facades, Kauffman said.

“We are doing everything we can to make it as welcoming as possible,” Kauffman explained. “We can’t guarantee success, but we can change the things that guarantee failure.”