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Dawdling a big seller in village

DAVENPORT -- The Village of East Davenport is the perfect place for shoppers who want to get away from the hectic pace of shopping malls and chain stores and absorb a little history.

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Nobuko Oyabu

Kathy Bartlett, owner of The Toy Box, is surrounded with fun in her store in the Village of East Davenport. In the past several years, the village has enjoyed a resurgence of businesses and renovated homes.

The riverview-village shopping district, surrounded by historic homes, has resurrected itself in the past 10 to 15 years to restore a family atmosphere and old-fashioned shops.

``At a mall, it's like you're on a conveyer belt,'' said Karen Anderson, who has lived in the village 24 years. ``In the village, you can create a pace for yourself. Climb a little set of stairs, open a little door, circle around and dawdle if you want. You can always find somewhere to watch people or look at the view.''

The village evolved from a log-rafting town in the mid-1800s to a sleepy family area during the mid-1900s, to a mecca of bars in the early 1970s. Today, people stroll along streets in search of specialty items such as personalized stationary, scented soaps, antique watches and gourmet chocolate.

Hungry shoppers can find everything from a thick, juicy hamburger to an old-fashioned ice-cream soda or a bean burrito at the village's many restaurants.

The move to renovate village shops and homes began about 15 years ago, said Village of East Davenport Association president Jack Bruchmann.

Since then, a strip joint has disappeared and small stores have become full-time, high-quality operations. Bars have turned into pubs, and mediocre cafes have become upscale restaurants.

New shops continue to open, although several old standbys have become favorites among village regulars.

At The Toy Box, everybody from toddlers to grandparents is dazzled by the eight rooms of stuffed animals and games.

Kathy Bartlett, who opened The Toy Box 15 years ago, said college students have come back and told her they shopped there as children. The store has become a family tradition for Ms. Bartlett's clan as well.

``I opened the shop when I was a new grandmother,'' she said. ``My grandkids all live out of town, and the first thing they do when they get in town is ask to go to Grandma's toy store.''

Tour groups across the country -- and sometimes around the world -- help channel money into the village economy.

``There are busloads of people coming in from all over creation,'' Del Blevins, owner of Pete Petersen's Wild Bird Shop, said. ``I meet an awful lot of nice people.''

Mr. Blevins lives in the same village house he grew up in during the 1940s and '50s, and he often walks to the bird shop.

He said he and his neighbors have worked hard to keep their neighborhood nice. When some historic homes started turning into drug havens in the 1970s and '80s, a core group of homeowners began buying the rundown houses, renovating them, and renting them to more desirable tenants.

Fourteen families own 62 properties, and a few families own as many as seven, Ms. Anderson said. They sometimes bought the houses for as little as $10,000, she said.

During the 1970s, residents founded Neighborhood Housing Services, a company that gives advice and financial support to people who want to buy and renovate village houses.

``People do not understand how I can name every neighbor in three blocks of me, either direction,'' Ms. Anderson said. ``They don't understand it when nine neighbors show up to tile my bathroom floor because I have to meet a deadline. They think it's unusual. Here, we don't find that strange at all.''

About 100 families had settled in the village by 1851. However, the first resident, Capt. James R. Stubbs, a West Point graduate, never owned a house on the hill. He lived, with a pig, a dog and a cat, in a cave on what is now Mound Street.

Thousands of people came to the village in the 1860s, when Lindsay Park served as the dressing grounds for Camp McClellan, the Civil War camp where Union soldiers were trained.

Several blocks from the war camp, several lumber mills churned out enough wood to help support offshoot businesses, such as furniture and wagon makers. Mill workers' families dined at restaurants like Casper Wagner's Saloon and Eating House, now Howard Jewelers.

All this history makes the village a special place to live, Ms. Anderson said. ``There's something magnetic about this setting.''

-- By Laura Oppenheimer (January 22, 1998)

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