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Calhoun Street Soup, Salads & Spirits owner Donna Kessler said “SoCal” could help customers connect with the area.

Heading down to SoCal

Nickname appeals to merchants on South Calhoun looking for buzz

Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
The Oyster Bar is among businesses thriving on South Calhoun Street. Some like the idea of dubbing the area “SoCal.”
Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Pint & Slice and the Dash-In are among businesses that draw customers to South Calhoun Street.

– If New York can have a SoHo district, Fort Wayne can have a SoCal district.

Merchants along South Calhoun Street near downtown have begun using the marketing moniker in hopes of creating buzz – and bucks.

“We wanted a name with a big-city feel to it and something that would stick in people’s heads,” said Morrison Agen, owner of Neat Neat Neat Records, 1836 S. Calhoun St. “People are beginning to use it, especially on social media.”

The effort seeks to bring the type of attention to Calhoun Street that areas like the Wells Street Corridor and East State Village area have enjoyed. But unlike those neighborhoods, SoCal doesn’t have signs touting itself.

“We do some cross-advertising of things, but we haven’t got anything saying ‘SoCal.’ So that is something we’ll be working on,” said Jake Farris, who came up with the name.

Farris owns Studio 13 tattoo parlor, 1932 S. Calhoun St., and Conspiracy men’s boutique, 1934 S. Calhoun St.

“I do use ‘SoCal’ as my address on the door at the clothing store, though,” he said.

At present, the SoCal district encompasses mostly businesses along the street. Organizational meetings are pretty informal and held at various locations.

Advertising experts say direct marketing might help if boosters in the business district decide to get more aggressive in their campaign.

“We’ve found that to be a more affordable way to market ourselves at the local level,” said Amanda Borshoff, board president of the Indianapolis chapter of the American Marketing Association. “It works.”

The emergence of TiVo, satellite radio and other media allows people to bypass commercials, which mean ads for companies’ products are being ignored, she said.

The SoCal district can’t afford to throw away marketing money.

According to the Direct Marketing Association, businesses will spend $168.5 billion to reach consumers this year, accounting for 52.7 percent of all U.S. ad expenditures.

This year, the group expects direct marketing to account for 8.7 percent of the gross domestic product.

Those numbers are impressive, but Oyster Bar owner Steve Gard believes the area already has a few things working in its favor even without the SoCal brand. For example, it’s close to downtown events such as this month’s Democratic Party state convention, which drew about 3,000 people, according to at least one estimate.

Fort Wayne was tapped as host city for the gathering three months after the grand opening of the Courtyard by Marriott in September 2010. That is no coincidence; downtown developments help increase customer traffic, said Gard, who has run his restaurant at 1830 S. Calhoun St. for 25 years.

“With the new hotel, the Grand Wayne Center is able to have more conventions and really be utilized the way it was meant to be,” he said. “My sales have been increasing for the last few years.”

Another traffic magnet is Neighborhood Health Clinics Inc., 1717 S. Calhoun St., which attracts hundreds of patients to the thoroughfare each week. With a renovation and new parking garage planned for the medical operation, “it will only increase the people in the area,” Gard said.

Still, Calhoun Street Soup, Salads & Spirits owner Donna Kessler said being known by a nickname can be fun and an instant way for customers to connect with the area.

Her restaurant is at 1915 S. Calhoun St.

“It’s something that I think is catching on,” she said. “It takes time.”