If you are anything like me, you are probably dying for some good news right about now. And good news I’ve got. Yes, I’ve been keeping a lid on this for a couple of months but have received word that I can officially spill the beans. This Friday, April 1, Almost Music and their roomie-sister store, Solid Jackson Books will be all moved into their new location at 3925 Farnam Street. They will be closing their Benson location. I am more than overjoyed to welcome, what I consider, one of the best little shops in Omaha to this great midtown location in the Blackstone District. If you haven’t been to this store yet, let me assure you that it is the best of both worlds, records and books, wrapped into one. Brad Smith, owner of Almost Music offers a well curated, small, but varied collection of new and used vinyl. The records and bins are very clean, well organized and pricing is more than fair. Brad is as well informed about an eclectic mix of music as he is kind and genuine. This can be a rarity at a record store. My one regret when I shop at Almost Music is that it becomes very difficult for me to stick to my Miss Cassette budget. But I suppose that isn’t entirely Brad’s fault.
Solid Jackson Books, which shares space inside of the record store, is the satellite to the incredible Jackson Street Booksellers in the Old Market. Amanda Lynch, Carl Ashford and Sara Joyner hand select the books that they offer at this smaller location and with a sharp eye, I might add. Solid Jackson is a perfect, small assembly of the beautiful, odd and the unexpected–three of Miss Cassette’s all-time favorite things. Their books are in excellent condition, ideal for gift giving as well as inspired impulse buying. Regrettably this half of the store is also a danger to one’s pocketbook. They began moving to 3925 in the Blackstone area today.
The Revitalization of the Blackstone District
Let it be known that Miss Cassette, can at times, become intensely curious about the workings of this town. My curiosity was piqued about four or five years ago by rumors of turning, what we had always called, the Farnam area or the Gold Coast into the Blackstone District. I was perplexed as I had never heard that name before and had lived in the area for many years off and on. Mr. Cassette and I wondered if it was some sort of marketing dream town gimmick, like Village Pointe or Aksarben Village. (By the way, Mr. Cassette enjoys calling Midtown Crossing, Amidtown Crisis.) ***New research***I have found many apartment listings from the early 1930’s that showed this area as being the “Blackstone District.” This label was used through the 1940’s. It might have just fallen out of favor. Or maybe I’ve just hadn’t heard it called that.
After some digging those years ago, I found that Green Slate Development had plans to turn 36th to 42nd Streets, all along Farnam, into a walking-living-eating-drinking-retailing mixed area–with explicit intention of leaving the current buildings, restoring them and building up empty pockets along the corridor. I thought Now This is Fabulous as this part along Farnam had always been a favorite of mine. From 38th St to 40th always felt like its own little town to me–like a Benson or a Florence. I had always enjoyed walking Farnam when I lived in various apartments in the neighborhood. Good vibes and good bones. I could understand why a developer would want to spruce the place up, as Farnam naturally had everything those faked villages wanted to be.
As an aside, I still have yet to find where or when the name of the Blackstone District began. Of course the Blackstone Hotel had called 36th and Farnam home since the early 1900’s. I understood where the name came from. The Green Slate developers and Omaha city planners might have come up with “Blackstone District” for this project. This very area was called the West Farnam Neighborhood throughout its early life. From the book West Farnam Story by B.F. Sylvester, I learned that West Farnam was considered a district, not just a street. At that time (early 1900’s) the district was bound by Davenport south to Jones and 32nd Avenue to 40th Street. The Gold Coast was a neighborhood within the West Farnam District, and a very wealthy neighborhood it was. By some accounts it was originally spelled Farnham. Which is extra confounding as it was apparently named in honor of Henry Farnam, a banker from Connecticut and one of the promoters of the Rock Island Railroad. Farnam Street was the original main street of Omaha. As far as streets go, having made it all that way out to 40th earned this area the title of West Farnam. Also in early ads for rental space there was a name I saw frequently in the World Herald: West Farnam Smith and Co. They were possibly property managers or early developers in this area. Note: $60 a month to rent 3925 in the 1920’s.
From what I have heard and observed, Matt Dwyer and Jay Lund of Green Slate Development have done a remarkable job with this project. I know of two people who worked the initial crew rehabbing the buildings. Through them I know much care went into preserving both the character and structure of these buildings. (They told me stories about some of the cool things they found within the walls of the shops!) Green Slate have also done an excellent job of getting these spaces filled with vital businesses. Additionally they have worked hard with the city getting the streets, sidewalks and street lights up to Blackstone District standards. If you are no longer living in Omaha you will be interested to know that Farnam, at least in this stretch, is now a two-way street.
I see so much improvement but in all honesty, Miss Cassette doesn’t like her old buildings quite so power washed and tidy. A couple more years will add the wear that I like. Also I am missing a few of the oldest utilities poles in Omaha that could still be found standing in between McFoster’s and Brother’s Lounge up until this renovation. I noticed they are now gone. The new black light poles are seen from Midtown Crossing all the way to 42nd Street. There were and are continued concerns about gentrification. We will have to see where this leads in time and what happens to current tenants living in the apartments along Farnam. Please check out www.facebook.com/blackstonedistrict/ and blackstonedistrict.com for more information.
Let us take time to give credit where credit is due. Trey and Lallaya at Brother’s Lounge, Tom and Mary at McFoster’s Natural Kind Cafe, The Frame Shop, Bill at Crescent Moon, Sullivan’s, the generations of kids (from the mid 80’s on) living in the Farnam Street House/Jerk Store/Gun Boat/West Wing and Victor of Victor’s Gyros Falafel and Mediterranean Food were, and are, the real champions for this area. When I think of authenticity, I think of those original people and those businesses who were not afraid of, and in fact embraced, the grit of Farnam throughout the 90’s and 2000’s. That is why I am so glad that Almost Music-Solid Jackson Books will be joining the ranks. We will also look forward to the true blues at Ground Floor Guitars and the rumor of another music venture, further east on Farnam. I would also like to add Gordon’s Exclusive Hair to that list because I always loved looking in that little salon. I do not have the same fond memories of Cheater’s Bar and Shooter’s before it. Although I did go into a Shooter’s a few times…you’ve got to have your perilous adventure from time to time.
The History on 3925 Farnam Street
I found that 3925 Farnam was originally built in 1900. Most of the buildings from 39th to 40th were built in the early 1900’s and a couple sprung up in the mid 1940’s. 3925 is a classic midtown bay at 1,847 sq ft. 1913 was the first listing I could find for 3925 and it was called the Aug Feldhusen Hardware Store. This store continued to operate out of that location until 1925 when Harry Cohn Tailor moved in. Interestingly enough, Aug Feldhusen apparently moved shop across the street to 3926 at that time. Mi Cleaners took over the lease in 1938. By 1949 The Fortieth Street Radio Center moved into 3925. Mi Cleaners then moved east a number of bays. Walker’s Music, owned by Jack Walker, settled into 3925 and was there until the mid 1970’s. I love to think of record store moving back into that space again.
1977 brought Rexair Rainbow of Omaha, a vacuum cleaner store. Rexair was in that space until 1990. The address went vacant from 1990 until 1999 when Bill Cramer moved in. I am not sure of the kind of business he was running, if any. The 2000’s welcomed One Studio Recording Studio and record label. I remember seeing that National Sound Equipment Co Stereo and Sound Equipment sign in the window next door forever. Apparently National Sound had been in that location from 1977. Iwen Exposure Photography was the last business at 3925. Brad Iwen continues to own the building to this day.
Interesting list of businesses in the area from 1961. First time Sullivan’s Bar is listed.
April 1930. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt Collection at the Durham Museum Photo Archive.)
I hope you will pop into Almost Music-Solid Jackson Books the next time you’re in the Blackstone District. I know I cannot wait to see the inside of 3925 Farnam Street and try to get a feel for all that came before.
April 1930. Looking west toward 40th Street on Farnam. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt Collection at the Durham Museum Photo Archive.)
Addendum: I just have to include this hilarious article from OWH 1970. A year end review of music. I found it because there is a quote from Jack Walker, Walker’s Music owner. Jim Jackson, general manager of Moose Productions, is quoted as saying that while it’s sad that Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin have died this year he doesn’t think they had much effect on music.
More about the Blackstone District can be found at Then & Now: 40th and Farnam.
I welcome your comments and would love to hear your memories from this area or thoughts on the new development. Click on the title to enable comments. Thank you, Omaha friends.