Riverfront development is boosting investment along Wells Street Corridor

As President of the Wells Street Business Association, Shawna Nicelley knows the historic corridor just north of the downtown riverfront like it was her home.

After all, her family has owned G.I. Joe’s Army Surplus at 1638 Wells St. for more than 50 years.

In that time, they’ve seen the charming village-like street go from Fort Wayne’s second-oldest shopping district to an area blighted and considered dangerous, and now back to a popular destination once again.

Over the last 15-20 years, businesses like G.I. Joe’s have banded together with members of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood Association to clean up the area and reinvest in it.

Now, with riverfront development underway, all of their hard work is paying off.

“Things go up for sale, and they sell in a day around here,” Nicelley says. “People are speculating of what’s going to happen with the riverfront and with the North River property.”

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

Near Wells Street, the North River property is 29-acres bound by Clinton, Fourth, and Harrison Streets that has not been actively used since 2006. The City of Fort Wayne owns it and put out a request for proposals (RFP) to develop it, but an official announcement about the area’s use has not yet been made.

Depending on what it is, Nicelley believes it could be a boon to the success that is already happening along the corridor, turning the entire area into a hot spot near downtown.

In light of this, she's working on a new project of her own: Fixing up the large red and yellow building at 1434 and 1436 Wells St. that has long sat empty next to Hyde Brothers Booksellers.

Nicelley is renovating the large red and yellow building at 1434 and 1436 Wells St.

Nicelley says parts of the mixed-use space date back to 1876. It was added onto in 1905, and it now has seven apartments and two retail storefronts, most recently home to Linda Lou's Furniture. She hopes to have a mural painted on the side of the building and get new retail tenants into the storefronts by October.

While these tenants are still to-be-announced, there are two other local businesses opening on Wells Street this fall, too, she says.

A new restaurant called Bird & Cleaver is opening soon in a renovated brick house that was once a medical office at 1603 N. Wells St. Owned by caterers and food bloggers John and Lindsay Cheesebrew, it will feature a variety of locally-sourced dishes with vegetarian options, an event space, and a large outdoor dining area.

A former medical office at 1603 N. Wells St. will be home of the new Bird and Cleaver.

Adding to Wells Street's eclectic appeal, a “freedom business” called Sari Bari also recently opened at 1008 North Wells St. It sells bags, accessories, and other products made from repurposed Indian saris to help women who have been exploited in the sex trade or who are vulnerable to trafficking.

Nicelley is excited to see small businesses filling out the urban corridor and building on its historic vibe. She tried to buy another space on the corridor herself recently, but this time she was too slow.

“It went for sale one day, and the next day it had a sold sign on it,” she says. “In one day.”

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.