They can see change is coming. Giant cranes already tower above one end of Irby Avenue. Developers are making plans to build other new apartments and shops nearby, and vacant storefronts dot the area some call Buckhead’s “West Village.”
“I’m sure something is going to happen,” said Shana Pope, manager of the Five Paces Inn, a tavern she says has operated on Irby Avenue since 1955.
But she and some of the regulars at Five Paces hope their spot will remain unchanged for a while longer. “I’d like to think that after 60 years we’ve got an opportunity to stay,” Pope said. “I’d like to keep a little bit of history here.”
Some other shopkeepers say much the same. They know change is in the air, but for now, they say, that’s OK.
“I’m all for it,” said Edward Kenimer, owner of Buckhead Barbecue, a new business he plans to open in a building that long housed an Irby Avenue barbecue joint. “I kind of miss the old Buckhead. I think we’re losing that Buckhead charm, but I’m all for it [the redevelopment of the area]. I think it’s going to be great for business.”
Changes are obvious. Since California-based developers OliverMcMillan bought up the former Streets of Atlanta property in 2011 and brought its high-end Buckhead Atlanta redevelopment project to the Buckhead Village east of Peachtree Street, Buckhead has begun bursting with new office and apartment towers. Now, development is crossing to the west side of Peachtree and cropping up in the old shopping area there.
Texas-based apartment developer Hanover Co. is building a high-rise expected to hold more than 350 apartments and ground-floor shops at the corner of Irby and Roswell Road. South Carolina-based Edens, which develops shopping centers, reportedly has bought property in the West Village area, too. And the Buckhead Community Improvement District board recently voted to add a chunk of the West Village to the area in which the CID provides street improvements.
Meanwhile, the owners of Irby Avneue landmark Henri’s Bakery and Cafe announced last November they would sell the 61 Irby Avenue property to a real estate developer. The developer plans to build a mixed-use project on the site, and intends to include space for a new Henri’s café in the new building, Henri’s said when announcing the sale.
At Northside Tool Rental, branch manager Frank Davis hears a lot about construction projects coming on and around Irby Avenue. Much of what he hears is just rumors, he said. “We hear all kinds of things,” he said.
But for Northside Tool Rental, construction bring business. Construction requires tools, so he believes the owners of the tool rental business will stay put. What’s the construction mean to him? “I think traffic might get worse,” Davis said. “Other than that, it’s Buckhead. Something’s always changing.”
But construction proved too daunting for Desiree Osmon, owner of Sabot, a clothing store. A couple of shops next door to Sabot are empty now and Osman is moving from the storefront she’s occupied for 13
years to one in a shopping center up Roswell Road. She worried her customers, faced with construction and traffic delays, will stop coming to Irby Avenue.
She’s moving “mostly because of what our street looks like and all the hype about what’s going to happening in this neighborhood,” she said. “[It’s] really affected people’s perception of this neighborhood.”
She started her business in the West Village, she said, because of the feel of the place.
“I think change can be good,” she said. “But I love this neighborhood and the character it has. It houses a lot of small, local, individual businesses. I think with development that’s probably going to go away.”
At the Five Paces Inn, they’re not giving up yet. It’s the kind of place where old times are not forgotten. Regular customers grin from group photos on the walls. Ten regulars have their names engraved on brass plates marking their seats at the wooden bar. Pope, the bartender, seems to call just about everybody by name.
Hayden Smith, a 33-year-old who stopped by one afternoon with his dog, said he grew up around Buckhead and has watched the place change through the years. “It’s changed a lot …,” he said. “A lot of local culture definitely left – well, I shouldn’t say left, maybe relocated.”
A few seats away, Jack Russell said he’s been coming to Five Paces since the late 1960s or early 1970s. He’s one of the 10 with his name on a brass plate on the bar.
He sees both good and bad in the changes underway outside. The good is that the noisy bars that once attracted a late-night party crowd to Buckhead are gone. The bad news? Some of the older, less pretentious businesses are following.
At Five Paces, “everybody knows everybody,” he said. “If you got money, you got money, but if you don’t, you don’t.” Nobody cares, he said.
Pope said she’s worked at the tavern at 41 Irby Avenue for 19 years. New buildings may replace all of the old ones up and down the little street at some point, but for now, the six-decade-old tavern holds on.
“It’ll be nice to stay here as long as we possibly can,” she said.