Making an old city feel young again
By: JORDAN RAE LUCAS
The City of South Bend will be celebrating her 150th birthday next month, and the yearlong celebration is well underway in the downtown area. Area businesses, from tried and true favorites to new ventures, are doing their part to bring residents to the revitalized downtown.
Peg Dalton, owner of DTSB staple Le Peep for 15 years, has been on the forefront of the activities. The restaurant, open for breakfast and lunch, has been serving coffee in special “SB150” mugs since before such merchandise was available to the public, making them the first business to have any.
Though it hasn’t been officially publicized, Le Peep will be collecting “150 reasons we love South Bend” to post in their front window on Michigan Street throughout the month of May. They will be giving out prizes to go along with this promotion.
Just south of Le Peep is the six-month-old bar and brewery, South Bend Brew Werks, who are also doing their part to promote the city’s sesquicentennial.
Bar manager Michael Cook said, “each First Friday we’ve been releasing a new SB150 series beer.”
Brew Werks has helped bring a younger crowd to the downtown area, but they aren’t just trendy. It’s also for a good cause. Every beer sold earns a 50-cent donation for one of the bar’s community partners: La Casa De Amistad, Inc., Neighborhood Resources Connection, or The Music Village. The sales of last month’s SB150 series brew, an Irish Red in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, were donated to the local Boys and Girls Club.
Indiana University of South Bend student and lifelong South Bend resident, Danielle Schmidt, is thrilled to see the comeback the city is making. She is now able to take her children downtown for the various community events, something she never did when she was growing up.
“It was like a ghost town. You didn’t go there,” Schmidt said of the DTSB from her childhood. “To see it revitalized the way it has been has been really great. I don’t think they’re getting the credit they deserve.”
In light of a recent collegeranker.com poll, Schmidt may be right. The site posted a list of “The 50 Best College Towns to Live in Forever” last month and South Bend was ranked number seven. The problem? The list only included pictures of the Eddy Street Commons.
Dalton gasped when she heard this. Ever the optimist, she was quick to take a positive spin on the situation.
“First of all, it makes me feel great that we’re number seven and it doesn’t surprise me at all,” she said. “It’s okay because we’re all experiencing great student business and I’m sorry for the photographer because I believe we are every bit as much a part of student life as Eddy Street.”
In fact, according to Dalton, this year has been Le Peep’s best year for student business since they opened.
Cook echoed the sentiment that downtown South Bend is, now more than ever, the place to be.
“We’re trying to breathe some life back into [the area], make it somewhere that people want to be, that people want to live and raise their families,” Cook said.
The revitalization of South Bend has been social as well as economic. Schmidt described the city as always being more progressive than some of the surrounding towns. This continues to be true, as the city has taken a very public stance against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that was signed by Governor Mike Pence on March 26. The next day, Mayor Pete Buttigieg held a press conference at Le Peep where he and many local business owners spoke out against the law that some believe legalizes discrimination based on sexual orientation or sexual identity.
Dalton said the press conference boosted business at the restaurant, with five tables telling her they had never been to Le Peep before and wanted to come out and support the business because of their stance against the RFRA.
“I had 10 to 20 people say things to me about how happy they were about the press conference,” Dalton said.
South Bend Brew Werks also participated in the press conference.
“We are very ‘for’ serving anyone and everybody,” Cook said. “There’s no discrimination happening here. As you can see, our bathrooms are even gender neutral.”
Schmidt summed up her feelings about Mayor Buttigeig’s statement and the united front the city has presented in one word: “Proud.”