For all the talk about economic growth and revitalization, business owners and longtime residents maintain that the Germantown and Schnitzelburg neighborhoods aren’t the new Highlands.
“We’d rather just be Germantown and Schnitzelburg,” said Lynn Hite, co-owner of Hauck’s Handy Store, a 105-year-old Schnitzelburg neighborhood store.
Maybe Goss Avenue will eventually rival Bardstown Road with its restaurants and shops, she said, but today, it doesn’t. The street, which serves as the main thoroughfare for both neighborhoods, is a mix of businesses and single-family homes.
Gary Allen, former head of the Schnitzelburg Area Community Council and longtime resident, said the neighborhoods have improved “in a good way, so far,” but he is concerned about too much growth, too quickly.
“I want to keep it a hometown feeling in the neighborhood,” Allen said.
Sometime in the past decade, the Germantown and Schnitzelburg neighborhoods went from declining to rising. New businesses such as The Post pizzeria and Lydia House opened, and professional flippers started renovating of the neighborhoods’ more than 100-year-old homes, attracting a new generation of homeowners and increasing home values.
In summer 2015, houses in the Germantown and Schnitzelburg neighborhoods would hit the market and sell within hours. At the same time, work continued on the Germantown Mill Lofts, which developer Underhill Associates billed as a cool, modern loft-style apartment complex that would appeal to young professionals.
Economic growth continues today with the current renovation of Bradford Mills and the Boyd Moving and Storage buildings into a 147-unit apartment building and new businesses like El Camino moving in. Workers are still renovating homes, working their way down different streets in Germantown and Schnitzelburg.
The conversations around Germantown and Schnitzelburg have become about how the historically blue-collar neighborhoods are gentrifying. But the closure and rebranding of the Germantown Craft House and the temporary closure of Eiderdown begged the question: How much have Germantown and Schnitzelburg truly changed?
“I think at its essence, it is always going to be a starter home neighborhood,” said Emily Ruff, owner of Lydia House, a noodle and sandwich shop that opened in Schnitzelburg in 2015. “It can’t be a rich people neighborhood because the houses are tiny and are two feet from each other. I just don’t see that happening.”
The neighborhoods have a similar heritage as working-class neighborhoods where German immigrants built their lives.
Germantown and Schnitzelburg have always been characterized by the people who lived there, “good, working people,” Hite said. “That’s what Dad always told us.”
The streets in both neighborhoods are lined with economical housing styles, shotguns and camel-backs.
Where Germantown ends and Schnitzelburg begins depends on who you ask. Many people don’t discern between the two, simply referring to the entire area as Germantown. Some describe Schnitzelburg as a small neighborhood nestled inside of Germantown. Even some businesses bill themselves as Germantown establishments but truly reside in Schnitzelburg.
According to Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government, Goss Avenue divides the two neighborhoods. Germantown is bound by Barret Avenue, East Breckinridge Street, Goss Avenue and railroad tracks, while Schnitzelburg is bound by Goss Avenue, South Shelby Street and Clarks Lane.
An everyday restaurant for residents
At least so far, business owners said, they’ve found that the new influx of people hasn’t changed the economics of the neighborhoods much. Just because young professionals are starting to populate Germantown and Schnitzelburg more, doesn’t mean they’ve lost their blue-collar identity.
Lydia House’s Ruff retooled her menu a couple of months ago to make sure the prices fit the surrounding neighborhoods. Her noodle bowls originally started at $10, with customers paying extra to add in a meat or other ingredients.
Making the broth is labor intensive, Ruff said. She thought most people would come in and only order the basic bowl with noodles, ginger pickled carrots, scallions, a soft egg and nori-miso butter, so she set the price at $10 to make sure the cost of the bowl would cover the associated labor and ingredient costs.
“As it turns out,” Ruff said, “people come in and see the list of add-ons and add two, three, sometimes five add-ons.”
She decided to drop the price to $8 for the basic bowl to make it more affordable, Ruff said, adding that the bowls are big enough to serve as two meals for some customers. “I never spend $20 on an entree. I never wanted to have a restaurant that I would never be able to eat at on a regular basis.”
She isn’t the only restaurant owner to take stock of her restaurant’s position in the neighborhood as of late.
Business partners Pat Hagan and Beau Kerley rebranded the Germantown Craft House as the Goss Ave Pub and introduced a new menu with entree prices range from $6.95 to $12.95. Although Kerley told Insider Louisville that the prices weren’t the main reason the partners closed the Germantown Craft House, some locals commented that the Craft House’s prices, which ranged from $12 to $24 for an entree, were too high by Germantown and Schnitzelburg standards.
When the restaurant reopens, they said in a Facebook post, customers can expect “more sandwiches, fewer entrees, no $32 anything.” Burks and Gunnoe apologized for pricing out some of the neighborhoods’ residents.
“I think there is a realization that it’s not the new Bardstown Road,” said Mark Skillman, who’d stopped in at Hauck’s Handy Store last week to buy a lottery ticket.
Behind the hype
New businesses have opened in Germantown and Schnitzelburg in the past year to take advantage of the influx of new residents, and some property owners have listed homes for $200,000 or more, hoping to profit off the demand.
Longtime resident Allen said that the listing price for some Germantown and Schnitzelburg homes have gotten “ridiculously” high. “But if people are willing to pay for them, that’s fine,” he added.
The hype surrounding the new businesses and the strong demand for housing has given some the impression that they can come cash in on the neighborhoods’ development, said Ruff of Lydia House.
“I think that they got the wrong idea honestly,” she said.
Hite told IL that she’s read articles about the boom in Germantown and Schnitzelburg but not experienced it herself.
“None of that has really brought business into us,” she said.
While they aren’t seeing an overnight difference, business owners and longtime residents said they are glad to see new people coming into the neighborhoods and redevelopment projects such as the Germantown Mill Lofts and Bradford Mill Lofts.
“I’m all for it, anything that brings people back,” Hite said.
Resident Kevin Bryan, 38, bought a house in Germantown two and half years ago because he was looking for something close to his work in the Highlands (Bryan owns Big Bar) but at a lower cost. He bought a shotgun for $86,000 and took it down to the studs.
“I see tons of potential in Germantown with Paristown Pointe and obviously Goss Avenue,” he said, referring to the $28 million to $30 million Paristown Pointe development project. “It’s not just about being close to the Highlands; it’s everything.”
Jonathan Lintner, 26, said he was drawn to the Germantown-Schnitzelburg area for similar reasons. He bought a home in Germantown last year for $195,000.
“It was all about the affordability of getting a nice home that was fixed up and still be close to downtown,” said Lintner, media director for Louisville City FC.
The home had been kept up well, he added, so he was willing to pay a price that is on the higher end for the neighborhood.
“For me, it was just being able to move in. Life is busy so I didn’t want to have to do all that myself,” he said. “I’ll pay a little bit more to have it done.”
He also liked the mix of people living in the neighborhood. To one side of his house, there is a set of grandparents, and a young married couple lives on the other side. There’s also a family with small children a few doors down, he said.
“It’s a super diverse place,” Lintner said. “We have all of that on one street. I am sure it is different than it was 10 or 15 years ago but not for the worst.”
For Lintner, his Germantown house is a starter home. He may not live in the neighborhood for decades like some current residents, but he isn’t looking to leave anytime soon either. He said he’s excited to see how the neighborhood directly around him will change as Bradford Mill Lofts opens.
Given the Paristown Pointe project and the proposed redevelopment of the Urban Government Center on Barret Avenue, Germantown and Schnitzelburg are going to change, Bryan said, but it’s not going to be instantaneous.
“It’s going to take a long time for gentrification,” he said. “I know that it’s happening. I feel like it’s a great mix (of people in the neighborhoods), and it’s not going to change anytime soon. It’s not going to be like Brooklyn that seemed to change overnight.”
‘Right now, we’re Germantown’
Although some of the faces in the neighborhoods are changing, the new homeowners seem to be young families or young couples who may be looking to start families, which isn’t different from Germantown and Schnitzelburg’s past residents.
It’s the generations of families that make the two neighborhoods what they are, said Skillman, who said he’s lived in the neighborhood more than 40 years.
It’s nice to see new young people moving in, he added. “Hopefully, the neighborhood will be as good to them as it is to us.”
Come Back Inn owner Cathy Able-Zachari said that while there are always new faces at the Italian restaurant, she hasn’t noticed a big difference in its customer base.
“What I’m seeing is the kids that I used to wait on when I was waiting tables are now bringing their kids in here,” she said.
The neighborhoods are still working class and family oriented, and new businesses need to consider that, Allen said.
“I hope that any other business that moves into the neighborhood will look around and see the neighborhood,” he said “I don’t like to see them come and charge $14 for a hamburger.”
He added that he hopes the economic development in the Germantown and Schnitzelburg neighborhoods will entice more retail shops to open.
“I like the mom-and-pop shops,” he said. “It gives Goss Avenue a more hometown feeling.”
Come Back Inn has operated for 20 years in Germantown. Able-Zachari said the restaurant has been successful because it caters to the neighborhood’s residents and hasn’t priced itself into being a “special occasion” restaurant.
“In order to be a staple, you have to be in tune with the neighborhood,” she said.
Many of the customers are young families who have mortgages and other expenses, Able-Zachari said.
“These are working people who don’t have time to go home and cook a meal or aren’t going to go spend $40,” she said. Former owner Mark Wagner’s “goal was to keep everything affordable with really good portions of food. It would be great to make 40 to 50 percent on your food cost, and I think in some neighborhoods you can probably do that. I think in blue-collar neighborhoods, you have to work with the people around you.”
As long as she can pay her bills, Able-Zachari said, she’s fine. New business owners need to take the temperature of a neighborhood before they open to see what the residents need and are willing to pay, and right now, Germantown and Schnitzelburg residents aren’t willing to pay Highlands prices.
“Maybe we’ll eventually be the next Bardstown Road,” she said, “but right now, we’re Germantown.”