Fort Wayne entrepreneurs share why the Wells Street Corridor is ‘the next best place to be’

When Shawna Nicelley was eating breakfast with her husband at Klemm’s Kafé the other week, she saw it happening.
 
“Young professionals and couples were walking down Wells Street, popping into businesses like the Honey Plant or going to the Big Eyed Fish,” Nicelley says. “My husband and I smile about that because we’ve been working a long time for this to happen.”
 
As the Vice President (and former President) of the Wells Corridor Business Association, Nicelley and her family have spent generations investing in Wells Street, where they’ve owned G.I. Joe’s Army Surplus for more than 50 years. In that time, they’ve seen the eclectic, village-like area go from being Fort Wayne’s second-oldest shopping district to being a place left behind by suburban sprawl. 

Shawna Nicelley and her family own G.I. Joe’s Army Surplus at 1638 Wells St.

Now, thanks to investments from small business owners like herself, dedicated neighborhood volunteers, and a wave of new interest from Fort Wayne’s expanding Riverfront, Wells Street is growing faster than it can keep up with.
 
“I’m getting emails and phone calls all the time now from people asking what’s for sale here, and there’s nothing for sale anymore,” Nicelley says. “Where were all these buyers 10 years ago when we needed them? Now, there’s not enough real estate.”

Wells Street is home to an eclectic, village-like strip of local businesses.
 
As Riverfront development continues, Wells Street is seeing an influx of new life and renovation, from its small business storefronts to its homes in the nearby Bloomingdale Neighborhood. Nicelley says Bloomingdale’s new President, Chris Walker, is working closely with the Business Corridor to advance the community. She’s optimistic that as homeownership increases in the area, it will sustain more stable growth and investment.
 
“It’s just getting better and better and better here,” she says. “It’s really exciting to think what the next 10 years will bring. I think it will be more homeownership, pride, flowers, kids playing the front yard, people walking their dogs.”

A wolf and fox mural by Tobias Studios on the side of the former Linda Lou’s furniture building at 1434 and 1436 Wells St.
 
In addition to managing her shop, Nicelley and her husband own a few buildings on the Corridor, including the former Linda Lou’s furniture building at 1434 and 1436 Wells St. next to Hyde Brothers Booksellers. They commissioned a large wolf and fox mural on the side of it by the local Tobias Studios, and it is currently leased by the Honey Plant, which is expanding and tripling its size.
 
Down the street, a women’s clothing, jewelry, and décor shop called Monarch Boutique opened during the pandemic, as well as Hidden Treasures Antiques.

The Honey Plant is expanding inside the former Linda Lou’s furniture building at 1434 and 1436 Wells St.
 
Here are three more small businesses making the Wells Street Corridor a popular place to be.
 

Cog & Pearl

1420 N. Wells St. 

Georgina Jordan, who grew up near the Wells Street Corridor, opened a global gift shop, Cog & Pearl, there in July 2021.

As a kid growing up a few blocks away from the Wells Street Corridor, Georgina Jordan never imagined she would own her own small business there someday.
 
“But I really loved this area,” Jordan says. “There are a lot of stories here.”

Georgina Jordan, left, who grew up near the Wells Street Corridor, opened a global gift shop, Cog & Pearl, there in July 2021.
 
Today, Jordan is the proud owner of a global gift shop, Cog & Pearl, in a yellow, two-story house built in 1869 on the South side of Hyde Brothers Booksellers. She spent most of her career working for Lincoln Financial, largely in annuities, and when she lost her job due to downsizing, she was inspired to give entrepreneurship a try. While traveling with her husband, she came across colorful artisan crafts in Lorado, TX, and wanted to open a gift shop in Fort Wayne to share her finds.
 
“I had an idea for my shop, but I didn’t know anything about running a business at the time,” Jordan says.

Cog & Pearl is located at 1420 N. Wells St.
 
With a concept and a will to succeed, she enrolled in SEED Fort Wayne’s Build Institute Program, a nine-week basic business building course for entrepreneurs and graduated at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Since then, Jordan has used the Build Institute’s connections and Facebook group to troubleshoot challenges along the way of opening her brick-and-mortar shop in a historic home.
 
“One of the challenges I ran into was finding a commercial contractor to help me get an occupancy permit, and I was able to do that through the SEED program’s Facebook page,” she says.

Cog & Pearl carries goods from places, like Texas and Mexico, to Guatemala, Indonesia, and Kenya.
 
In 2019, Jordan received a Façade Grant from the City of Fort Wayne to help renovate her shop and sidewalks. She and her husband, who serves as her maintenance man, spent about three years rehabbing the house, repairing its roof, repainting its exterior, and stripping its floors down the original hardwoods.
 
“While we were working, so many neighbors came by and said, ‘Thank you for renovating this space,’” Jordan says.

Cog & Pearl carries goods from places, like Texas and Mexico, to Guatemala, Indonesia, and Kenya.
 
Since opening in July 2021, Cog & Pearl has been welcoming customers to browse a selection of artisan items collected on Jordan’s travels. It carries goods from places, like Texas and Mexico, to Guatemala, Indonesia, and Kenya.
 
“I try to source as many ethical and fair-trade products as possible,” Jordan says. “We sell a little bit of everything, and I usually select products based on what I would choose for myself.”

Hours
12-5:30 p.m. Tue - Friday
11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday

Meraki Boutique

1530 Wells St.

Meraki is located at 1530 Wells St.


When Courtney Freeman-Spann of Sarasota, Fla., started modeling for the boho fashion brand Free People, she fell in love with the fashion industry. But rather than being in front of the camera, she wanted to be behind it—and she wanted to curate a shop of free-spirited, feminine products for women of all ages.
 
After earning her wholesale license and hosting photoshoots with other models, she opened her first shop, Meraki Boutique, in the lake town of Warsaw, about an hour Northwest of Fort Wayne.
 
“Her parents had a lake house on Lake Wawasee, and she would go there during the summers, so she ended up meeting her husband there,” says Raegan Cureton, Operations Manager for Meraki. “That’s why she opened her first shop in Warsaw, and when she did, I was her top customer.”

Meraki's owner Courtney Freeman-Spann in the dressing room at the Fort Wayne shop.
 
Cureton grew up in Fort Wayne and quickly started collaborating with Freeman-Spann to develop Meraki’s brand. When they were looking to expand their business, they planned to open a second shop in Fort Wayne, and the Wells Street Corridor quickly became their ideal location.
 
“Initially, we wanted to be in the heart of Downtown, but as we thought more about Meraki’s brand and how we see ourselves as trendsetters, aspiring to see what’s coming next, we wanted to go somewhere that’s going to grow and be ‘the next best place to be,’” Cureton says. “We also feel like the businesses on Wells Street really fit our aesthetic.”

Inside Meraki at 1530 Wells St.
 
Cureton describes Meraki as fun, girly, unique, and pink. It carries a whimsical selection of women’s clothing, home goods, beauty products, and children’s items. Since it opened during the pandemic, it’s been collaborating closely with another new business, Ophelia’s, a coffee shop and cafe across the street. This Valentine’s Day, Meraki, Ophelia’s, Fleur to Gather, and Pop Pop Balloons are hosting a Sweetheart’s Bubble Bar Bash brunch and shop event with pre-made bouquets, a mimosa bar, pastries, and swag bags. Meraki, Ophelia’s, Fleur to Gather, and Pop Pop Balloons are hosting a Sweetheart’s Bubble Bar Bash brunch and shop event with pre-made bouquets, a mimosa bar, pastries, and swag bags.
 
“We want everyone who comes in to feel happy, elevated, and have the best experience,” Cureton says.
 
As a 23-year-old earning her degree in graphic design at Huntington University, she’s excited for what the future holds for Meraki, Wells Street, and Fort Wayne, in general. She believes the community is a destination where more young entrepreneurs will be eager to invest.
 
“I’ve been living in Fort Wayne my whole life, and I tell people how great it is all the time,” she says. “Some of my family and friends who have moved away are like, ‘Yeah, sure, Fort Wayne.’ But I keep telling them, ‘No, seriously. Come, and look because it’s so different now. It’s still small, unique, and local, but it’s expanding.”

Meraki carries a whimsical selection of women’s clothing, home goods, beauty products, and children’s items.
 
Hours
10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday
 

Ophelia’s

1603 N. Wells St.

Ophelia's is located at 1603 N. Wells Street.
 
As Owner and General Manager of Ophelia’s, Brittany Pape has been in the restaurant business since she was 16.
 
“I’ve done everything from hosting and serving to working as an assistant manager and a general manager,” she says.

Ophelia's owners are, from left, the married couple, Paige and Taylor Tiernon, and their friend, Brittany Pape.
 
Born and raised in Fort Wayne, she spent most of her career at the sushi spot Asakusa and most recently worked at the Thai-fusion restaurant Nawa as a General Manager. Then, she and two of her married friends from high school, Paige and Taylor Tiernon, decided to launch a café and coffee shop of their own.
 
“Paige and Taylor have traveled a lot, and they wanted to bring their experiences from other big cities back to Fort Wayne,” Pape says. “When we found this space on Wells Street, we fell in love with its vintage vibes, and we came up with a concept for it.”

Ophelia's name is derived from the vintage vibes of its 1800s-era house.
 
The restaurant’s name, Ophelia’s, is a nod to its quaint, 1800s-era house-turned-restaurant. The spot was formerly occupied and renovated by Bird & Cleaver (which is reopening as a merchant at the future Union Street Market at Electric Works).

Along with its building, Pape says her team at Ophelia’s fell in love with the greater Wells Street Corridor, as one of Fort Wayne’s walkable near-Downtown neighborhoods, offering a mix of housing, dining, retail, and entertainment options.
 
“We could see a lot of growth happening in the neighborhood the next couple of years, especially as Riverfront development continues,” she says.

Ophelia's serves a twist on “brunchy comfort food,” offering a selection of breakfast items, pastries, salads, yogurts, sandwiches, and burgers.
 
So what’s on the menu at Ophelia's? Pape describes it as a twist on “brunchy comfort food,” offering a selection of breakfast items, pastries, salads, yogurts, sandwiches, and burgers all made in-house, from scratch, and using local produce as often as possible.
 
“You can either come in for a quick coffee and pastry or for a full meal,” Pape says.

Ophelia's serves a twist on “brunchy comfort food,” offering a selection of breakfast items, pastries, salads, yogurts, sandwiches, and burgers.
 
And don’t forget about the drinks! Ophelia’s has a custom coffee and cocktail menu, including mimosa flights, and it concocts all of its own syrups.
 
For food, Pape recommends the Steak Benedict with espresso-rubbed Wood Farms steak, tater cakes, poached eggs, arugula, and jalapeno hollandaise, or the Spiced Sweet Potato Pancakes with fried chicken.
 
“Or if you’re a grilled cheese lover, the Lady O’s Grilled Cheese will be the best you’ve ever had!” she says. “It has challah, Braeburn apple, onion jam, Hufford cheddar, chevre, and arugula.”

The popular Sweet Potato Pancakes at Ophelia's.
 
Ophelia’s is open six days a week, Tuesday-Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. But if you want to book a brunch date on the weekend, you’ll have to make a reservation early.
 
“Our Saturdays and Sundays start filling up at least a week or two in advance,” Pape says.

The Wells Street Corridor is a hot place to be.

Hours
9 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday
 
What’s next?
 
Judi Wire, President of the Wells Corridor Business Association, says Wells Street is continuing to work closely with the Bloomingdale Neighborhood and its President Chris Walker this year. In spring or early summer, they’ll be implementing some traffic-calming measures to make the area more pedestrian-friendly and reduce vehicular congestion coming out of the Downtown roundabout. She and Walker are also collaborating on public art projects, park enhancements, and alleyway beautification projects with outdoor seating and lighting.

More residents are moving into the Bloomingdale neighborhood near Wells Street and traffic-calming measures are underway.
 
While she can’t share details yet, she can give an update on a few projects in the works along the Corridor. Negotiations are underway for the Richard’s Bakery building at 120 W. Wayne St.
 
“There’s some activity at the corner of Fourth and Harrison Street, and there’s activity at the corner of Fourth and Wells Street to the West,” she says.

Renovation continues at the Jack & Johnny’s building at 1137 N. Wells St. owned by Purple Mountain Cheesecakes and Desserts.
 
PUNCH Films at Sixth and Harrison Street is expanding. Renovation continues at the Jack & Johnny’s building at 1137 N. Wells St. owned by Purple Mountain Cheesecakes and Desserts. The former Mr. Wimp’s Coins & Jewelry shop at 1215 N. Wells St. has a Façade Grant and will start to redo the exterior of its building this spring and summer.
 
“They are looking to put in some type of business on the first floor and then do apartments upstairs, so it’s mixed-use,” Wire says.
 
She notes that many homeowners in the area are investing in their properties and renovating, too.

As Riverfront development continues, Wells Street is becoming a popular "place to be."
 
“It’s nice to see people coming back to the neighborhood,” Wire says, having lived and worked in the area herself for the past 50 years. She and her husband, river advocate Dan Wire, own Great Panes Glass Co. at 1307 N. Wells St.
 
“There’s definitely a lot happening on Wells Street these days,” Wire says. “Hang on, because we’re in for a whirlwind the next five years!”


This story is part of an Entrepreneurship series made possible by funding from SEED Fort Wayne. To learn more about SEED, visit its website at fwuea.org.

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.