Stand Tall, Shop Small for OKC: Bricktown spotlight

Published Monday, July 12, 2021
by Perrin Clore Duncan

Bricktown was a warehouse district before its restoration, but it now employs more than 1,000 Oklahomans in a variety of capacities and serves as a popular destination for baseball games, nightlife, shopping and so much more.

“Bricktown has always been what I’ve thought of when I think of Oklahoma City. Bricktown has something for everyone: food, entertainment and fun for all ages. If it’s not here already, it will be soon,” shared Justin O’Neal, Bricktown’s district manager. “COVID made everything stop around here. It’s really exciting to see everything come back, though. We’re seeing really promising signs as people begin to gather again and enjoy what the district has to offer. Some of our numbers are even better than 2019, and on the Fourth of July, there were 21,000 people out for celebrations on Mickey Mantle Drive.”

The vibrant community in Bricktown has a strong history, and it continues to grow. Avis Scaramucci, owner of the Painted Door, has played a crucial role in Bricktown’s retail and overall growth over the past 30 years. She opened her store in 1991 after questioning how she could turn her love for helping people into a career. Without any previous retail experience, Avis decided to open Painted Door as a gift boutique and filled it with things she loved. Several months after opening, she began stocking clothing items as well, which was an uncommon choice for the time. Now, she sells about 50% gifts and 50% clothing.

Scaramucci was nervous when she first opened Painted Door. She shared, “I put the open date up six times. I had a whole group of friends that would help spread the word, and then I’d take the sign down. Finally, one of my friends said ‘Okay, whatever date you put on the door, don’t change it because I am telling people and they are going to show up.’” With pressure from her friends, Scaramucci finally had to make a commitment and bravely open her retail shop. 

“I chose Sept. 19, 1991. Everyone broadcasted the opening for me, but 30 minutes prior to opening, I got so scared that no one would show up. I just went to the back room and cried. The doors opened at 10 o’clock and, finally, at 10:20 my husband came back and asked when I was coming out. I peeked out and all across the building as far as I could see, it was fully packed with people. That was when I really cried. When I was out on the floor that day, I realized: if you create a space where people can come and enjoy, they will come. A good retail experience is more than just buying something.”

Scaramucci and her team are conscious of making the experience at Painted Door exceptional for all their patrons. They offer complimentary gift wrap for any item purchased, regardless of price. The effects of the pandemic were life-changing, according to Scaramucci. She explained, “I have loved Painted Door ever since we opened. I have been so blessed to have long time employees, and when you come to a point in your life when everything stops, it makes you think about what’s important. We were closed for six weeks and it was extremely slow. I came down every day and it was desolate, but you just take it day by day and believe that things will come back.”  

To her delight, it seems like business will continue to improve throughout 2021. “I just came back from a Dallas market and people were so excited to go to market again to purchase for their stores. I am thinking it’s going to be a wonderful ending of this year. In my mind, if I don’t plan for the future, I have nothing to offer. You have to make those choices. You have to make plans ahead of time, so when the time comes you are prepared, and I can hardly wait to see what happens.”

Painted Door offers a combination of staple items, like the Old World Christmas blown glass ornaments that they’ve carried all 30 years, in addition to the newest trending items, like mommy-and-me clothing. Items like these come in and out of style over the years, and Scaramucci is constantly finding new products to bring into her store. She stated, “There’s always people in the marketplace that come up with something different and unique, and I pay attention to them because it makes a difference in the store. If you never add new products, you will lose interest of your customers.”

“Pioneers like Avis Scaramucci and Jim Brewer have helped make Bricktown what it is today, leading the way for other retailers and businesses to find success in the district,” shared O’Neal.

Less than a block from Painted Door, you’ll find another special place for gifts and other items, Exhibit C Gallery. This art gallery and retail space is proudly owned by the Chickasaw Nation, and its products highlight First American artists who represent communities around Oklahoma. In addition to being an incredible place to find authentic jewelry, pottery, paintings, and clothing handcrafted by Chickasaw and other First American Artists, they carry Bedré Fine Chocolate. If you’ve never tried one of their milk or dark chocolate dipped potato chips, you are in for a major treat. Bedré has set the standard for premier chocolate nationwide, and they are the only First American-owned chocolatier.

Exhibit C’s Manager Ali Bivens shared, “While small businesses and art galleries everywhere have been heavily affected by the pandemic due to less travel and foot traffic, our supporters helped keep us motivated to come back strong. After being closed for three months in 2020, we held virtual events and relied heavily on communication with our visitors and artists through social media. We are very happy to have guests back in the gallery in person again, practicing social distancing!”

This month, Exhibit C opened a brand-new gallery exhibition called Women Warriors. “It features work by three First American women artists with diverse artistic skills. Shelby Rowe is a Chickasaw bead worker whose intricate designs often feature portraits inspired by First American culture. Karin Walkingstick echoes her Cherokee culture in her handmade pottery and Kindra Swafford, a Cherokee painter, is inspired by pop culture, movies and video games,” added Bivens.

While Exhibit C loves meeting people and welcoming anyone into their space, they also foster the success of other businesses in the community. Bivens explained, “Bricktown is a tourist destination for many out-of-state people here for work, vacation or just passing through. We enjoy recommending restaurants, shopping and public art spots around the district to our guests and encouraging them to take a map of Bricktown which lists over 100 attractions.”

Other fantastic retail opportunities in Bricktown include the American Banjo Museum, Jumpin Jackalope mercantile, and Put A Cork In It Bricktown Winery.

EXPERIENCE BRICKTOWN FOR YOURSELF

When you are ready to experience one of the nicest cruises the city has to offer, head over to the Bricktown Canal which flows through the area. Bricktown Water Taxi offers rides for individuals and groups to see the bustling life around the city from a unique perspective. When visiting Bricktown, a ride on water through the district is not something you’ll want to miss. If you’re making an evening out of your time in Bricktown, consider checking out a concert on one of the boats through the showboat concert series. During these mini-concerts, local artists share their talent live on a water taxi as it cruises through the downtown area.

Bricktown is a place where you can bring the whole family while you shop and support local. Before or after your shopping spree, spend a few hours and relieve some stress at Brickopolis with games of mini golf or laser tag. You can also search for precious emeralds, fossils, and gemstones through their gemstone mining sluice, which offers a fun way to learn about the history of mining practices. If you prefer a more passive form of recreation, an OKC Dodgers game is the way to go. You can find their season schedule here.

Dining options to make everyone happy are readily available in Bricktown. For a casual meal, consider grabbing tacos from Fuzzy’s or Yucatan Taco Stand. If you’re looking for a slightly different Mexican-style cuisine, you may want to visit Chico Blanco, the district’s newest restaurant featuring tasty eats and trendy cocktails. Their soft-opening fell over the weekend, and they officially open today, July 12.

For the adventurous foodie, check out the alligator bites (yes—real alligator) from Bourbon St. Café. According to O’Neal, Bourbon St. also makes an incredible brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s hard to beat their blackened salmon benedict or bananas foster french toast. “In the mornings, the canal is really calm, making it a perfect spot to enjoy brunch. It’s a relaxing contrast from the excitement of an evening on the canal, filled with music, flashing lights and people enjoying all that the Bricktown night scene has to offer.”

O’Neal is also a big fan of Rendezvous Pizza. They make great wings and both New York and Detroit style pizzas, with the freshest ingredients. It’s also a great place for cold beer, which they take pride in offering at some of the lowest prices in the city—a perfect solution for unwinding after a big day of shopping.

Sharing a spotlight on Bricktown would not be complete without mentioning Mickey Mantle’s Steakhouse. Since 2000, it’s been one of the most popular steakhouses in the city. If you’re up for fine dining, there’s no better experience than the one offered at Mickey Mantle’s. Throughout the summer, they are also offering summer cookout kits to take home. If you are a grill-master, or just don’t want to leave the house, consider purchasing one of these kits which includes a selected cut with their signature steak rub and two side options for every individual in your party.

From the canal to the earthy red brick lining the streets, Bricktown is certainly a destination. Despite things being a lot better than several months ago, our local businesses still need support. We would love for you to consider being a part of their progress. Join us in supporting local by looking out for the latest district highlight on VeloCityOKC.com, using the hashtag #ShopSmallForOKC, and following @okcchamber on social media to get the latest updates on the campaign.

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