Britton was once its own little town
When local businessman Andrew Hwang purchased the old Ritz Theater building on Britton Road in March, the roof leaked and the floor was covered in dead pigeon carcasses.
But Hwang sees potential in the neglected and long-vacant 1940s movie house, as well as this part of Britton Road between Western Avenue and Broadway Extension.
"Old Britton is kind of a cool place geographically, where it's located south of Edmond and north of Nichols Hills," Hwang said. "We feel there's a lot of potential, but there's a lot of work still to be done."
The area used to be an incorporated town, known as Britton, with its own post office, police and volunteer fire department. The town was founded in 1889 and named after Alexander Britton, an attorney for the Santa Fe Railway.
Britton still maintains its small-town Main Street vibe with rows of early 20th-century storefronts. Apart from a few vacancies, most of the storefronts are filled with small, local businesses, ranging from a golf repair shop to a tattoo parlor.
Britton voters approved, by just 30 votes, a proposal for Oklahoma City to annex the town in 1950, according to The Oklahoman Archives.
Hwang has put a new roof on the old Ritz theater and believes it would be a good location for a craft brewery. The area needs an attraction to lure shoppers, he said.
"It's a cool little town, except there's really no reason to come here," Hwang said. "There's no real thriving retail and this has the opportunity to be that."
Alley Records owner Ronnie Jay Wheeler has been a longtime believer in Britton Road. His record shop at 918½ W Britton is filled with crates of old vinyl and rock 'n' roll memorabilia.
His wife, an artist, has a studio in the front of the building. The entrance to the record store, where his band also practices, is on the back of the building off the alley.
Wheeler said even if the area doesn't become Oklahoma City's next hip business district, it's OK with him.
He's happy to have his off-the-beaten-path record store that advertises only by word-of-mouth.
"It's not going to bother me if it doesn't happen, but it would be great if it did," Wheeler said. "I'm saying, 'go for it, man. I hope it happens for you.' "
Wheeler said he was encouraged that the Ritz theater sold recently. He'd like to see more live music venues in the area that could turn it into another entertainment district.
"That could be the main hinge of stuff happening here," he said.
Bar owner Ricco Askew opened Foxy nights in a space formerly occupied by an Irish pub at 915 W Britton in May 2015.
"It just seems like there's no entertainment on this side of town, and it seems like a good business to start," Askew said. "I was told that Old Britton was an old bar and entertainment area. It was a place to see live music at one time."
Foxy Nights is now a low-key neighborhood bar, with most of its clientele coming from the working-class neighborhoods that surround the area.
"If you want to go out at night and don't want to drive all the way downtown, there's just nothing on that side of town without driving too far," he said. "The people here are really friendly once you get to know them, and we usually know everybody's name."
Askew would like to see more street lights in the area and more community involvement from business owners, he said.
Kristin Blazy, interim executive director of Mustard Seed Community Development, 701 W Britton, said the area is full of potential for businesses. Mustard Seed is a faith-based nonprofit that works to revitalize the neighborhoods around Britton Road.
Blazy said she believes more real estate investors are starting to look at investing in Britton Road.
The health care company Variety Care recently purchased the former Gateway Academy building at 721 W Britton and hopes to build a new community health center there.
The building is a former school that has been boarded up for years.
Mustard Seed also will have an office in the new clinic.
"That's really going to change the face of Britton," Blazy said.