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Dave Olson, Published September 06 2013

‘SoMA’ highlights neighborhood’s historic, artsy vibe

FARGO – Ashley Dedin didn’t plan on becoming a business owner.

But when her handmade neckties created out of thrift-store shirts started getting attention at craft fairs and boutiques, she decided she might be onto something.

That inkling grew after someone told Dedin about a small retail space available on Eighth Street South in Fargo and she checked it out.

“As soon as I came into this space, I knew it was my store,” Dedin said.

Her shop, Aendee, has been open for a little over a month and is doing “really well, incredibly well,” said the 25-year-old Dedin, who hails from Joliet, Ill., and is a 2012 graduate of Concordia College.

Dedin said part of what sold her on the notion of setting up her own store/sewing studio was the character and vibe of the neighborhood, which reminded her of the quirky business districts in Chicago.

“A lot of people come in and say, ‘I don’t feel like I’m in Fargo,’ ’’ said Dedin, a strong backer of a recently launched initiative called “South of Main Avenue.”

SoMA’s aim is to heighten awareness about the three-dozen or so shops and restaurants south of Main, which will soon include Arthous Retrobelia, a retro art and décor store set to open down the block from Dedin’s tie emporium.

SoMA began as an idea about two years ago during a conversation between friends Dirk Ockhardt and Dominic Fischer at Rhombus Guys, a business that just happens to be on the south side of Main Avenue.

‘Little Europe’

As they relaxed over beers, talk turned to Fargo‘s downtown and the variety of neighborhoods it encompasses.

They began to focus on the area south of Main for its links to the past and its current iteration as a place where art, fashion and lifestyle come together, said Ockhardt, a native of Germany who describes himself as a real estate consultant who enjoys working and playing downtown.

“It’s my little Europe,” he said.

Ockhardt and Fischer donated time and money to create promotional materials and have set up a Facebook page and a website promoting the mix of boutiques, restaurants and specialty stores doing business south of Main.

Their efforts have the blessing of Mike Hahn, president and CEO of the Downtown Community Partnership. He said the initiative complements the work done by the partnership.

“We feel as downtown grows, we will see more of these districts pop up,” Hahn said. “They provide their own kind of identity and own kind of flair.”

Hahn would like to see something similar develop in neighborhoods along the Red River.

Fischer, a landscape architect and an assistant professor at North Dakota State University, said a big part of SoMA is its place in Fargo’s history.

“It’s really been a neighborhood since the late 1800s, because it was basically the only neighborhood that survived the fire,” Fischer said, referring to a conflagration that ravaged much of downtown Fargo in 1893.

“We started thinking about giving the neighborhood a name and figured South of Main Avenue is what it would be,” he said.

Fischer owned Fargo’s Red Raven Espresso Parlor in downtown Fargo from about 2005 until 2010 when it was located on Roberts Street. It later moved to 916 Main Ave. and has settled into what was formerly a fire station on the south side of Main.

Something different

The Red Raven isn’t the only business moving around.

The bouclé yarn studio recently shifted from Broadway to 616 Main Ave., which gives it SoMA status, though owner Sue Kuhn is of two minds about that.

“I really like the idea of downtown being really cohesive, but I also see the wisdom of delineating certain areas,” Kuhn said.

“There are a lot of artists here and there’s a little bit of difference between us and Broadway,” she said.

The move to Main Avenue turned out to be a good one for her business, she said.

“I don’t mean anything negative about Broadway because we loved Broadway, too,” she said. “But there just is a little bit different atmosphere.

“We’re kind of a specialty store and we have a lot of classes at night and groups of women coming in,” Kuhn said. “We feel this is just a much better fit, parking-wise and just accessibility.”

Nichole Hensen, who owns Nichole’s Fine Pastry shop on Eighth Street South, said she appreciates the effort Ockhardt and Fischer put into promoting SoMA, but she has mixed feelings about giving a new name to one of Fargo’s oldest neighborhoods.

“When I talk to people who have lived here much longer, they speak about Hawthorne as a title that’s been given to some of this area,” Hensen said.

On the other hand, she said the area does have a personality distinct from other parts of downtown and now might be a good time to give it a fresh moniker.

“There’s a different atmosphere down here that maybe does warrant some different title,” Hensen said.

Ockhardt said pushing SoMA’s special appeal shouldn’t take anything away from other urban neighborhoods.

“We do not try to separate it from downtown. It’s part of downtown,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555