Move over, downtown: Fort Wayne’s corridors are where it's at, just ask this rising creative company

For years, the Historic Wells Street Corridor has been home to a quirky and eclectic mix of locally owned businesses.

From Hyde Brothers Booksellers to La Michoacana Mexican Restaurant and G.I. Joe's Army Surplus, you never quite know what you’re going to find.

But if you’ve been driving along Wells Street lately, you might have noticed a few new neighbors in the mix.

Spurred on by Riverfront development and a renewed interest in those quaint village-like storefronts linking downtown to its nearby neighborhoods, a new generation of business owners are bringing the city’s second-oldest shopping district back to life—in their own way.

First, there was Hop River Brewing Company, which took up residency a few blocks off the main corridor in the spring of 2018. Then there was Bird & Cleaver, a made-from-scratch eatery that opened in a refurbished brick house.

Now, in the former Linda Lou's Furniture building across the street adorned with a fox mural by Tobias Studios, you’ll find two new businesses. On your left, there’s the Instagram-worthy shop, the Honey Plant, offering boutique botanical designs with succulents, cacti, leafy plants, and more. And on your right, there’s the young-but-mighty production company, Lofthouse Creative Co., owned by 20- and 30-something brothers Brandon and Aaron Voglewede.

Lofthouse is on the right side of the building, and a shop called the Honey Plant is on the left side.

Originally from Decatur, the Voglewedes founded their company with their friend and intern, Demi Brunner, as Lofthouse Films in Brandon’s downtown Decatur loft in 2016—hence the name.

They’ve recently rebranded the business to cover the myriad of services they offer, ranging from web videos, to website design, social media management, photography, and more.

But perhaps what’s most curious about Lofthouse is that they recently left a highly coveted office space in downtown Fort Wayne to move into a renovated storefront on Wells Street instead.

Why? Because the city’s corridors are where it’s at, Brandon says.

From left to right are Brandon Voglewede, Demi Brunner, and Aaron Voglewede of Lofthouse Creative Co.

So what’s the story behind this young creative business investing in the future of Fort Wayne’s near-downtown neighborhoods? Oddly enough, it starts in the manufacturing industry.

***

Around the year 2014, Aaron Voglewede was working a job in purchasing for an auto manufacturer in Decatur.

As such, salespeople at other companies would often pitch their products to him. But after seeing product after product, company after company, Aaron began to notice a trend.

“There really wasn’t much effective marketing material out there—nothing that spoke to me,” he says.

Salespeople often handed him outdated brochures or directed him to poorly designed websites, and it made it difficult for him to determine who to work with.

Then, one day a company came in to pitch their product with a well-crafted, one-minute video, and it was a gamechanger.

“I was able to qualify that company right then and there as a serious candidate to do business with,” Aaron says.

Aaron and Brandon Voglewede help clients discover the emotional impact behind what they do.

That’s when a lightbulb turned on for him. His younger brother, Brandon, had recently dropped out of school at Ball State University to pursue a career in freelance videography fulltime. With his own connections in the manufacturing industry as a start, and his brother’s video skills to boot, they could fill a gap in the market, helping business owners of all types update their images and improve their sales.

Before long, Aaron left his job, and the brothers landed their first client, REV RV in Decatur (now Fleetwood RV).

Soon after, they moved operations from Decatur to a small office near downtown Fort Wayne on West Main Street in 2016 where they began to land clients of all types.

As their clientele grew, their vision as filmmakers evolved, too, Brandon says. As Lofthouse’s Chief Videographer and Creative Director, he started out making films to showcase clients’ products and processes in a clean and concise way.

But when he and Aaron landed clients who needed storytelling and branding services, they began to evolve their model to include more powerful techniques aimed at helping clients discover the emotional impact of their work—and communicate that to audiences on various media platforms.

Lofthouse's office is a large, open-concept space with high ceilings.

This approach was largely shaped by a project they did for the Lutheran Foundation, producing a series of documentary-style short films on mental health programs and organizations in northeast Indiana.

Now, narrative storytelling is at the core of what Lofthouse does—and hopes to the do in the future, Brandon says, crafting stories that move people.

“It’s always great to improve a company’s bottom line and have that success,” Brandon says. “But it’s a lot more gratifying to know that when we make a video it can potentially impact somebody’s life, and that’s where we’ve found a lot of success.”

This people-first approach to production is reflected in the company’s connectivity on a local level, too.

While filmmaking tends to be highly competitive work in smaller markets like Fort Wayne, Lofthouse likes to reach across boundaries and find creative ways to collaborate with their competition.

While Lofthouse started in Decatur, they are rooted in Fort Wayne today.

As a fulltime team of two, the brothers often land projects for medium and large regional companies whose vision often requires a whole host of creative talent to accomplish. So to grow their team, they often hire interns and freelancers in the region to help out on projects, particularly on the post-production side of things, Brandon says.

Lofthouse even shares their new Wells Street office with another film production company, Blade Creative, who also collaborates on many projects with them.

“In all reality, when we’re collaborating, we’re building up the whole industry here rather than trying to do it all ourselves,” Brandon says.

It’s a good time to be looking for film talent in the Fort Wayne area, too, he notes.

“There are a lot of creatives out there in Fort Wayne who are doing their own thing and starting their own company, or they just left a company to do their own thing,” Brandon says. “So when a company comes calling, and they’re a Fortune 100 company who needs a huge production, we can assemble a talented team and make it happen.”

But while Fort Wayne may not be hurting for film talent, as these rising entrepreneurs grow, the city may be hurting for something else that they desire: Affordable creative office space.

It’s a challenge that Lofthouse understands from firsthand experience.

***

While Brandon and Aaron loved their downtown Fort Wayne office at the Shindigz building, they decided to move to Wells Street in 2020 for a few reasons.

First, they wanted room to grow, Aaron says, and it was always their dream to purchase a building of their own someday. But much of the downtown real estate was already bought up or too far out of their price range as an up-and-coming business.

So they began looking into the city’s historic corridors instead: Calhoun Street, Wells Street, and Broadway, just to name a few.

However, what they found with the corridors is that they were still coming up empty handed for the most part. Sure, there were vacant buildings, but most of them were owned by property groups waiting for high-dollar bidders or private owners who were difficult to contact.

“One of the main things hurting entrepreneurs in Fort Wayne is having that workspace available,” Brandon says. “You have the Atrium, and things like that. But when you graduate from there, and you want to have your own space, and you want it to have a certain look, there’s just not many options for that here, unfortunately.”

Workstations line the wall inside Lofthouse's office.

Then, one morning while he was eating breakfast at Klemms Café on Wells Street, he spotted a vacant storefront for lease across the street. Not just any storefront, but a space with a historic brick exterior, tall ceilings, and an open concept floor plan—the type of place that would be perfect for a modern creative studio.

And it was available at an affordable price point.

“A space like this in a larger market is going to be triple what we’re paying for it,” Brandon says. “I know that if we started anywhere else, we probably would have had a hard time even having our first location.”

Since Lofthouse moved into Wells Street in January, they haven’t been disappointed with the decision, to say the least.

While they don’t own the space, they have a benevolent landlord, Shawna Nicelley, who is President of the Wells Street Business Association and owns G.I. Joes a few doors down. They also still enjoy many of the same perks and amenities they had downtown, but now, on the street level.

Having a street level location on Wells Street has helped Lofthouse feel more connected to the Fort Wayne community.

That means, for the first time, they’re getting walk-in traffic, and it has proven beneficial not only in client referrals, but also in helping them feel a part of the Wells Street community—providing those close-knit human connections that attach people to place.

“I’ve always said that I think downtown Fort Wayne is great, but the moment that we get the city’s corridors to be improved and to be walkable—where you have maybe three or four outlets to the city where you can walk to stores and restaurants and organizations in those spaces—that’s when Fort Wayne has really made it,” Brandon says.

From the looks of it, Wells Street is well on its way.

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.
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