Stand Tall, Shop Small for OKC: Paseo District spotlight

Published Tuesday, July 20, 2021
by Perrin Clore Duncan

In Oklahoma City’s Paseo district, you find yourself surrounded by brightly colored buildings and a tasteful hodge-podge of small businesses, shops, restaurants, and galleries. The district has been part of the city for nearly 100 years, originally developed in 1929 by G.A. Nichols as the first shopping center north of downtown. Nichols was a leader at the Chamber of Commerce for many years. He was dedicated to the success of our city through his many endeavors, including the development of Nichols Hills, Crown Heights, Brookhaven, Mesta Park, and thousands of homes throughout the city. One of his great contributions, the Paseo, has continued to flourish year after year as a staple place to shop local.

“For years, we’ve been growing. We’re growing up, not out. It’s become a first-class arts district because we’re not sprawling out and tearing down buildings, we’re fortifying the two-block-by-two-block area that we’ve always had. The buildings have been here for nearly a century, and many of the local owners have purchased them to renovate and make them nice places to live and work,” said Executive Director of the Paseo Arts Association Amanda Bleakley.

Recently, the Paseo Arts Association moved into a larger space, just down the street from their previous location. In quadrupling their square footage with the move, they were able to expand their gift shop, offer new programs and opportunities for artists, create a large community space for events and workshops, and provide multiple studio spaces for rent. They also opened an artist in residence program last year. Here, you can learn more about their new artist in residence, Verdean Evergreen, who began the program on the first of July.

“It was evident a few years ago that we needed to move to a bigger space to do more for our community. I was hoping to rent the upstairs to another art organization, but it wasn’t easy during the pandemic to find people who wanted to move. I ended up making it ten studio spaces and I have filled them with ten artists who are making work in the building. We’ve got a combination of emerging and established artists here, which is wonderful because they support each other with wisdom and new ideas,” shared Bleakley.

Each of the artists who rent studio spaces in the building also spend time working a shift in the gift shop each month. They are encouraged to make art as they work, which makes shopping an educational and engaging experience. The shop currently features items from 15 Oklahoma artists and art vendors. Homemade cards, games, portraits of artists on recycled bottles, Bedré chocolate, Honestly Margo products, old Paseo Arts festival posters, and more are for sale. It’s a great starting point when you want a taste of the district.

In terms of supporting local artists and makers, Paseo offers some of the best options in the city. There are no chain shops or chain restaurants in the district, which makes it a perfect place to find creations that no one else owns. Buy a hand-painted silk scarf in the Paseo Art Association’s gift shop or a funky handbag from Eden Boutique, and you’ll have a one-of-a-kind conversation starter to wear at your next event.

The Paseo District is the place to be if you are looking for a piece of local flair to add to your home’s décor or if you’re looking for a statement piece from an international artist that doesn’t require a trek outside of the city limits. The district’s galleries overflow with work from around the state, country, and world, featuring Oklahoma’s most talented artists among the work of individuals from across the globe. There are options available for individuals to purchase at a wide range of price points, making it possible to be an art collector at nearly any budget. Find bold abstract paintings at the Contemporary Art Gallery, handblown glass at The Epic Giraffe, or claim your very own Denise Duong print at the Little D Gallery. There is a piece of work in Paseo for every style of art appreciation.

The oldest gallery not only in the district but in all of Oklahoma City, is Chamber Member JRB Art at The Elms. They have an 8,000-square foot space with work from emerging, established, local, and international artists of all media forms. Because their exhibitions rotate on a bi-monthly basis, there is always an opportunity to see new and exciting work.

JRB Art has played a key role in making the Paseo a district known for its art and has led the way for other galleries to plant themselves throughout the district. Everywhere you turn, you’ll find powerful artwork to see and purchase.

To visit all of Paseo’s galleries, you would want to make a day of it. Luckily, each month, the Paseo Arts Association organizes First Friday Gallery Walk events where you can freely walk through the district as you engage with more than 25 businesses within walking distance. These events feature the work of over 80 artists, and it’s always an exciting evening. Many galleries offer opening receptions in conjunction with the First Friday Gallery Walk to showcase never-before-seen work. The evening provides a wonderful opportunity for anyone who hates to leave their furry friend at home on a Friday night adventure--leashed pets are always welcome in the Paseo. The next First Friday event will happen on August 6th from 6-9 in the evening.

The OKC Chamber’s senior manager of retail development and recruitment, Tammy Fate, visited a First Friday in the district last month. “The First Friday art walk allows families, friends and even four-legged furry friends to congregate and meet artists,” she said. “It’s great to see the beautiful collection of talent in our community. Shops and artists welcome pets so openly in the district, which is refreshing because I love to bring my dog, Lucy with me when I can.”

When asked what makes the Paseo Arts District special, Bleakley didn’t hesitate. “Immediately, I think of the people here. They really care about both the district and Oklahoma City. We probably have the most concentrated group of art galleries and art of any place in the state, and we want to be known as the place to buy great art.”

Hungry in Paseo? Say no more!

In addition to the fabulous shopping opportunities within the Paseo District, it is also home to some of the city’s best cuisine. If you arrive on an early morning, visit Holey Rollers for a coffee fix and indulge, guilt free in a hand made donut. Their donuts are dairy free, egg free, and they carry gluten free options. Baked, fried, fritters, and donut hole-lovers, they have an option for your at Holey Rollers. They also have exceptional syrup flavors for your coffee or tea, like rosemary clove and honey lavender.

A few hours later, you’ll want to check out brunch options at Oso on Paseo, Frida Southwest, or one of the area’s classics: Picasso Café. Your tastebuds will thank you at any of these locations. At Picasso Café, you’ll have something new to try with every visit because two of their six menus change every month. They also have a tradition of whipping up a unique five-course vegetarian meal each month, with the option of adding wine pairings. It’s reasonably priced for a multi-course meal and is made with rich flavor, so even the most carnivorous person will enjoy their experience.

True meat-eaters and burger-lovers will want to visit Burger Punk, a specialty burger joint that expanded from its beginnings as a food truck into a full brick and mortar location in 2020. They are also known to serve great whiskey and beer. Another location with a food truck history is Goro Ramen + Izakaya. At Goro, you can enjoy satisfying bowls of ramen in addition to special Japanese-inspired snacks like eggplant wontons, koji-marinated fried catfish, and steamed pork and crab dumplings. They even have a round of beers for the kitchen on their menu, which you can purchase for eight dollars and make the crew’s day.

Paseo Grill is another local restaurant offering classic American cuisine with international flair. This month, they are celebrating 15 fantastic years of operation. Known for their great service and delicious options of steak, seafood, and more, Paseo Grill offers a cozy spot for a lunch or evening meal. 

Later in the evening, stick around for live music and conversation at one of the district’s bars, many of which are also restaurants. The Other Room, Red Rooster, and Scratch Kitchen & Cocktails create drinks with fresh ingredients and have atmospheres that will put you at ease, whether you’ve brought out your little black dress or you’re touting jeans and a weathered tee.

“The uniqueness and creativity in the restaurant and retail tenant mix, including galleries and a relaxed atmosphere makes this district appealing and inviting on many different levels,” shared Fate.   

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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