A Scavenger Hunt in WesTen
The following is an article published by the OKC Chamber of Commerce for #ShopSmallforOKC, written by Laura Nance.
Robin Jones, director of the WesTen District, thinks exploring the district is like an adult scavenger hunt—finding hidden gems and a few surprises, like her recent discovery of Cottonwood Creek Ranch, a 25-acre facility that develops world champion Morgan and Saddlebred horses and riders. “It was a chance conversation with a realtor who told me she’d just sold a 25-acre property and even though I drove by it every day, I had no idea,” remarked Jones.
WesTen, spanning from I-44 to County Line and NW 16 to Reno, is the largest of Oklahoma City’s districts and is home to a mix of one-of-a-kind retail and locally owned, multi-generational businesses.
It was in 1959 that Smith Farm and Garden opened its doors on NW 10th and where it remains today. Started by Bill and Joyce Smith, members of the Smith family have been involved in the business for over 60 years including Bill & Joyce’s son Ken and daughter-in-law Stephanie, their grandson Geoff and even great-grandchildren are showing an interest. “I see us as problem solvers,” remarked Geoff Smith, president of Smith Farm and Garden. “Whether it is high grass or something else, we are here to help our customers solve their issues and we’ve done that since we opened.” Smith Farm and Garden has a unique blend of customers, from the homeowner with a small yard, to someone with an acreage, along with commercial and government clients.
The legacy of Smith Farm & Garden isn’t just the family, many of the company’s employees have been with them 20+ years, with one just celebrating his 40th anniversary. “Taking care of our employees is taking care of our customers,” added Smith. “We are also particular about the brands we sell, and we find those we think are the best to do business with, and many of those are family-owned, just like us.”
Over the years Smith has seen the WesTen evolve and he’s proud of the recent changes and improvements. “We have worked hard to clean up the area, it’s baby steps for sure but we are making progress in elevating WesTen.”When you walk through the door of Polar Donuts there’s a welcoming smile and a free glazed donut as you browse the case full of long johns, fritters of different flavors and their famous cereal-topped donuts which are only served Wednesday – Sunday. “I thought the kids would love our cereal donuts the most but the adults, they love their breakfast cereals. I think it brings back memories,” said Younts Waters, owner of Polar Donuts.
Polar Donuts has been in the district 29 years and in its current location near NW 10th & Meridian for 19 years, sharing Younts’ specially formulated potato dough donuts to generations of donut lovers. “I have customers who came in here with their grandma and now they’re bringing their own kids,” he said. “I have watched my customers grow up and that’s truly special.”
Choosing his location all those years ago came down to one thing: the area needed a donut shop. Located off I-44, it’s easy for customers to hop off the highway and stop in for a box or two as they head to the office or on a road trip. “People are discovering this area, it is a one-stop shop for retail, unique restaurants and much more. We have everything right here.”
Creating a community in WesTen was the goal for Matt Murray of Mad Potter Studio. Murray grew up near NW 15th and worked near NW 10th & May and felt a connection to the area. When his previous building lease was up in south Oklahoma City it was in the stars for him to find his way back home. “This space was everything I was looking for and I felt an instant kinship. I knew this is where I was meant to be.”
Offering both pottery classes and a retail area, Murray is dedicated to building confidence in art, regardless of experience level. “Art it is for everyone,” he adds. “It isn’t necessarily always about ‘doing the art’ it is about exploring new things and having that safe place to know you’re welcome.” And as the pandemic took away daily social connections, Murray knew he wanted to help reestablish the human experience everyone missed so much. “We need each other, and we need those connections, and this is the place to do it.”
Wisconsin natives and sisters Kari Lopez and Mary Wick know the power of location. Lorec Ranch relocated from I-35 near Edmond to 4111 N. Reno in 2008 and have seen their business soar. “We wanted to be in Oklahoma City near furniture row so our clients would have options and help those clients who need unique and different,” said Lopez, CEO of Lorec Ranch. Plus, it put them closer to the State Fairgrounds, known as the Horse Show Capital of the World. “So many of our customers are horse people and ranchers from all over the world and when they’re in town it is easy for them to visit us.”
Opened in 1993, Lorec Ranch is a one-stop furniture customization mecca. Clients can create their perfect piece, choosing the wood, size, color, accents and more. In addition to wood from India, Costa Rica and Mexico, Lorec Ranch offers state of the art upholstery with everything from Brazilian cowhide, to fine leather from Italy to Pendleton coverings.
Mary Wick, vice president of Lorec Ranch, says showing customers the areas where the creating and manufacturing are happening forges a connection and brings the store to life. “When customers see the upholsterers, the carpenters, and the stainers in action they are experiencing things they wouldn’t anywhere else. They’re seeing the story of what we are creating and getting to the heart of our business. That’s the success of Lorec Ranch, unique and timeless pieces you won’t find anywhere else.”
In addition to the custom furniture creations, Lorec Ranch boats a vast retail area with ready to purchase furniture, clothing, jewelry, bedding, artwork, outdoor pottery and custom florals.
While the businesses in WesTen are diverse, the commonality is how Oklahomans have embraced them.
“We have been so welcomed, we love this city and are not going anywhere, plus we just have fun and a true passion for what we do,” added Lopez.
“I’ve had to adapt a lot over the past 29 years and sometimes change my approach, but my customers, they keep me going,” said Younts.
Join us in supporting local by looking out for the latest district highlight on VeloCityOKC.com, using the hashtag #ShopSmallForOKC, and following @okcchamber on social media to get the latest updates on the campaign.