Growing up in Broad Ripple, Ted Miller was one of the "kids on the bridge," who hung out where Guilford Avenue passes over the Central Canal. Miller was a Broad Ripple bartender during college, then left for a decade spent working in brewpubs in Seattle, Hong Kong, the Caribbean and Taiwan.
But when he decided to start his own, called Brugge Brasserie, Miller knew there was only one place for it. And he made sure all the restaurant's marketing emphasized its owners' local roots.
"Indianapolis is the biggest small town in America, and Broad Ripple embodies that," said Miller, 38. "It's that network, that familiarity, that tribal thing where you can count on everybody in your group. That's what brought me back."
"We knew by being from Broad Ripple we were going to be embraced by the community because we were born and raised there," he added.
Miller opened Brugge Brasserie in 2005 with the help of five partners. He met them in the halls of Broad Ripple High School—all were members of its class of 1987. The brewpub itself is at 1011 E. Westfield Blvd., in the same building where Miller once bought fishing gear.
Many Broad Ripple business owners are also neighborhood natives with similar stories. For them, the neighborhood is an oasis for eclectic and independent small entrepreneurial ventures. And Broad Ripple offers them both real and intangible business benefits. The village has a sizable base of loyal visitors, for starters. What's more, since they're friendly with one another, area proprietors frequently share resources and refer customers back and forth.
Northside News and Cafe's four co-founders, for example, were also members of that Broad Ripple High School class of '87. Co-owner Matt Elliott said local businesses understand that a rising tide carries all boats. His newsstand at 5408 N. College Ave. regularly shares tables and chairs, garbage bags, tomatoes and freezer space with the nearby Jazz Kitchen music club—which, by the way, is owned by another Broad Ripple High School '87 graduate, David Allee.
"If his servers make money, if he has a good show and they want a soda or something to eat, they'll come to my place. And if I want to knock back a drink, I'm going to go to his place," Elliott said. "His business doing well helps my business, and my business doing well helps his business."
Mike McCune, owner of art supply store Multi Media Art Material and Custom Framing at 6507 N. College, has worked most of his life in Broad Ripple except for a five-year stint in the Air Force. His business has been selling paints, brushes and specialty paper in a succession of three locations, all on the same block, since 1976.
McCune is weathering the recession better than many small-business owners thanks to his faithful customer base of artists, which both he and the neighborhood have cultivated.
"All I've ever known is Broad Ripple," he joked. "I'd probably get lost in Fountain Square."
Growing up on the north side, Curt Churchman remembers biking to Broad Ripple to buy jazz records and take guitar lessons. Today, he owns Fine Estate Art and Rugs at 5914 N. College and lives close by. Churchman said he seldom leaves Broad Ripple's three-mile radius.
"I like the small orbit. I certainly like the live-work situation," Churchman said. "I'll come back [to my shop] after I put the kids to bed and work for an hour or two on paperwork that I can't get done in the day."
Churchman, a sole proprietor, didn't have a formal business plan in 2001 when he opened his store, which imports handmade Iranian carpets and also sells local art. But he knew it was important to be in a place with lots of traffic.
He's been pleasantly surprised since then by the friendliness of business colleagues. This fall, for example, when the credit crunch began making national headlines, Churchman grew worried. People stopped visiting his store and sales plummeted. Churchman called his neighborhood landlord, who told him not to worry. They could work out new terms if necessary.
Fortunately for Churchman, sales picked up around the holidays. He attributes the swing to Broad Ripple's loyal customer base.
"I was bracing for the worst, but I had my best quarter ever," he said. "A couple good art sales can make up for a lot of lost rug sales."
Specializing in custom design and restoration of stained glass, Fox Studios is at 5901 N. College. Its co-owners, sisters Claire Fox Acheson and Ann Fox Vannice, began working there for their parents in the early 1970s, then took the business over. They both still live in the neighborhood.
"Everything we need is right here. We love the area," Acheson said.
She said it's hard to describe exactly what's so special about Broad Ripple, or how it contributes directly to her business, but said it clearly stems from the devotion of people who love the neighborhood.
"There's a lot of networking done here. ... It all contributes to a good business environment," she said. "It's owners who put their heart and soul into what they do. And they know all the other business owners experience that same challenge they have, but are willing to accept it. This whole community thrives as a unit."
Acheson believes the local Broad Ripple business owners who grew up in the area generally offer a higher level of customer service than what's found in the malls or big-box stores. And that's why Broad Ripple has, so far at least, avoided the worst effects of the recession, she said.
"Now more than ever, customers expect to be appreciated," she said. "They always want that. But in this area, they get it, and I think they know that."