Heart of Tyler is busy at work for downtown’s stakeholders just as they’re all striving for the sake of their own businesses, employees, customers and families. Whether in a store, an office, or restaurant, the people behind each of these operations chose Downtown Tyler as the place they wanted to plant their flag and get to work. They are the core of the community Heart of Tyler has been serving for 33 years, and they are the frontline voices who can tell the story of downtown Tyler and show the evidence of its energy.


Rick Eltife

“I really do enjoy seeing old buildings come to life.”

The O’Sullivan family has been breathing new life into old downtown properties for the better part of three decades. It’s an occupation, a hobby, a passion.

Sure, some people think it’s crazy to try to resurrect a condemned property that’s become nothing more than a roost for pigeons. It’s easy to doubt it will ever be anything more than a mess, destined to be torn down.

That rough structure can be resurrected, though. It can turn out, John Sr. says, to be a truly beautiful property – again.

“I’ve got some pictures, you would not believe,” John Sr. said, “of what these old buildings looked like.”

He got his start alongside Rick Eltife in the early ’90s.

“Rick and I have been friends since 1959, when I moved with my parents to Tyler from New York,” John Sr. said.

“From there I went down to Randy Gilbert – he was wanting to restore the jail from 1881,” and that 1993 project at 309 E. Erwin (now on the National Historic Registry) led to another a year later: “John Sauls got me to restore 108 S. Broadway for an apartment upstairs and his antique dealership below.”

Folks noticed the progress, and “We had a lot of people say it would sure be neat to live downtown.”

John Sr. listened, and when 119 E. Erwin came up for sale in 1995 on the courthouse, he found a willing backer in longtime Tyler banker George Hall (now retired).

“He was all about getting buildings restored downtown,” John Sr. said. With a loan in-hand for the project, “We started restoring it. We determined we could get eight apartments in it and two commercial spaces. As we were restoring it, people started stopping by. By the time we finished, the whole building was leased out.”

Years later, John Sr. said, it’s been leased out at 100 percent for 99 percent of the time – and it still looks great.

“It won Best Restoration in the state with the Texas Main Street Association. That 119 went so well, George said we should do one every other year.”

The effort became a string of properties.

At 300 E. Erwin, “We converted an old warehouse into seven more loft apartments. Again, they were all leased out before we finished” in 1997. “My wife and I moved into an apartment there, and we’ve been there since.”

Next was 107 E. Erwin and more apartments completed in 1999. It also houses the East Texas Symphony Association; notably, the O’Sullivans owned Liberty Hall at one point before selling it to the City of Tyler – “It was a big undertaking,” John Jr. said. “We didn’t want it torn down the way Tyler Theater was,” John Sr. agreed.

The restoration and renovation efforts ultimately expanded into a new generation: sons John Jr. and Bryan have contributed to a myriad of projects, such as the remodel of 124 S. College, an old parking garage that’s now on the historic registry.

“My boys were recently able to buy 108 S. Broadway. John Jr. runs the apartments,” and Bryan is a licensed architect. According to John Sr., “We don’t really sell our buildings. We hold on to them, and I have the next generation taking over.

“Over the years, we’ve restored 10-11 buildings in downtown Tyler. We just continued on, and we’re continuing on. I really like being in downtown.”

The O’Sullivans’ built their office and shop at 325 E. Erwin in 2017. Importantly, John Jr. noted, the family focuses on style and materials to reflect the existing downtown aesthetic.

“It doesn’t look like a metal shop or a modern structure – we bricked it all,” John Sr. emphasized.

They’re hoping a new courthouse in downtown Tyler will also complement the existing style.

John Sr. is a fan of what he’s seen of the plans so far: “I like the design of the new courthouse. We’ve totally outgrown what we’ve got,” he said. “I don’t want to try to do patchwork on it. I think it will look better being a big green space where the present one sits, with the new courthouse on the east side of the square.

“I know it will be expensive, but it’s also going to be very long-term.”

Key to the O’Sullivan family is preserving the past of the heart of Tyler.

“All these buildings have history,” John Sr. said. “Like the old parking garage – it had valet parking and a pole the attendants would slide down, a ladder to get up to the cars.

“I’m always amazed at how pretty these buildings were built with the technology they had at the time. They didn’t have all the things we have, but they had these beautiful old buildings.”

The oldest property in the O’Sullivan stable is 101 E. Erwin. It was built in 1869 like many of the buildings along the square, constructed in the 1870s-era during the boom following the Civil War.

“That’s when a lot of the wood structures got replaced with the present brick. You can’t build an old building like these – that material is just not there anymore. We actually save a lot of the old material,” storing vintage woods and other resources in a warehouse for later use.

John Sr. has always crossed his fingers they’ll one day break through a wall in an old building and find a bag of Double Eagle gold coins waiting for them… but it hasn’t happened yet.

“We found a lot of paperwork when we restored 101 E. Erwin that belonged to the original carpetbagger who officed upstairs there after the Civil War,” he recalled. The family passed the documents on for historical preservation. Another document from the same era, signed with an X, was a complaint to the local Justice of the Peace about a crooked dice game. “We found some graffiti on the wall where people said they were ‘not guilty’ and signed their names. Above 107, we had a dentist there, and we did find a handful of old teeth between the floorboards.

“We save the little things that we find.”

“As a living I did nursing homes besides restoring these old buildings – you don’t make a lot on these old buildings until they’re paid for,” John Sr. noted. “If we had a good nursing home project, it would give me enough seed money to put down on a new building.”

He’s eager to keep contributing. He remembers both the days when downtown was the center of shopping in the city and, decades later, when it seemed to be a ghost town.

“My wife and I enjoy traveling, and we’ve gone to a lot of places where they’ve restored stuff and turned it into walking downtowns,” especially in Europe, where ‘old’ for them is the 1500s or 1600s, not the 1800s. “We just like the feel of being able to walk around and have unique, individual businesses and not big strip malls or big box stores.”

He likes the permanence of the family’s efforts, and the progress too: John Sr. is pleased to see Heart of Tyler activity, and he looks forward to what comes next – things like developments in Plaza Tower and the People’s Petroleum Building or the revitalization of the old Greyhound bus station.

“I really expect to see downtown boom,” he said. “For so long, it was just Rick’s on the Square and us doing a little bit of building every other year. Now there’s other people getting involved.

“It’s just putting a lot more energy downtown. It’s all going to come together with a nice courthouse, and before we know it we’re going to have a real vibrant downtown again. I’m really excited about different things happening.”


    • Rick Eltife always wanted to run a bar. His uncle, Edmond, had one on Spring Street in Shreveport, the Fort Knox Cocktail Lounge, and Rick has fond memories of lending a hand as a kid.

      “I always kinda helped him set up,” he recalls. “I kinda got the bug then.”

      Decades later, he’s the dynamo behind Rick’s on the Square and the Black Pearl Oyster Bar. It was a long road to get to downtown Tyler and his hard-earned success as an entrepreneur.

      As a young adult, Rick worked in oil and gas, putting in about 20 years before, at about 39 years-old, his old dreams came back to haunt him with gusto. It was around 1990 that he started looking throughout Tyler for a place to carve out his niche.

      “I looked and looked and looked, made my way downtown, and found a building that had been for sale about 15 years. Downtown had been dead about 15 years, most of the buildings covered in aluminum.”

      The building was 125 years-old at the time, and Rick keeps a ‘before’ photograph on hand, a reminder of how it’s been transformed.

      “I bought it, closed on it Oct. 1, 1990, started working on it nights and weekends. The building kind of dictated where things would go – you really don’t move things around in a 125-year-old building, you kind of work with what you got.”

      Rick found an old, antique bar and stripped the 104 W. Erwin space back to the rafters and brick walls.

      “I was gathering equipment and trying to figure out what I was going to do… After about two years, I opened it up on Sept. 10, 1992.”

      Rick started out with a little live music on the weekends, mainly the Blues.

      His vision was straightforward: “I wanted to serve a real high-quality food product for the people who were drinking in my bar – had no intention of being a restaurant.”

      He opened a patio space next door the following Spring, April 1993, and kept moving forward as business picked up, as food service picked up.

      “I didn’t advertise. I didn’t even have a sign for the first few years I was open. It was more of a word-of-mouth kind of thing. I just finally put one out – everybody was on my butt to do it.”

      “Never planned on that, but it’s what happened. It was just an extra thing for my clientele. I was still doing live music on the weekends. It kind of morphed into playing more and bigger bands, mixing some party bands and cover bands in with the Blues. All along the way I was remodeling and building, Cajun stuff.”

      Across the 28 years he’s been open for business, Rick’s changed the lighting two or three times and swapped out the furniture as frequently. It’s all been a work in progress with steady improvements to both interior and exterior.

      “I’m not naturally gifted administratively,” she said, chuckling. With Danielle handling the day-to-day business, “That frees me up to be able to do what I’m good at.”

      “A 150-year-old building (today) is a great canvas to start with. I’ve just added and added and added to the ambience as I’ve gone along without really changing anything, just enhancing things. Everything I did was something that would have been done 100 years ago. I didn’t add anything modern. It was always something that was period. I haven’t tried to make it something that it’s not,” Rick maintains. He hammers at his mantra: “I always wanted to maintain consistency. I wanted the food to be consistent, the entertainment to be consistent, the service to be consistent.

      “I always wanted to go overboard, to really stress service and quality of product. The menu’s grown, but the basics have been the same for 28 years.”

      “If there was one thing I didn’t have, it was location.”

      In the early days and for years after, everything was gravitating to South Tyler – there wasn’t anything downtown to speak of.

      The situation evolved, however, as the late ’90s saw the opening of Jake’s (and, unfortunately, its closure not long after) among gradual developments. It was a nice place, Rick remembers, and after about a year in limbo he bought it, re-opened it and operated it along with Rick’s until he sold the second operation in 2008.

      “They did a beautiful job, the building was beautiful,” he recalls, with a different style of menu and a more upscale atmosphere accompanying a craft cocktail bar that was ahead of its time. “I always hoped that people would come down and put other places in. The more, the better, as far as I was concerned.

      “Even today, I don’t look at anything opening as bad for business, but good for business. It brings more traffic downtown.”

      Rick fed into that traffic even more when he began renovations on a nearby tattoo parlor at 106 W. Erwin in 2014, opening the Black Pearl Oyster Bar two years later in Fall 2016.

      Rick always liked oysters, and he did his homework, traveling New England to find the best oyster bars.

      “I wanted to see how they looked and how they ran. Most of them were small places,” he explained. “I wanted to see how Boston and New York were using small spaces. They know how to use small spaces. Space is a premium. A live oyster bar seemed to be the thing to do.”

      The Black Pearl’s been operating ever since – with, of course, the exception of about 3 months during the 2020 pandemic.

      At the end of the day, Rick’s businesses operate in his name, and that means something to him.

      “The most important thing to me has always been consistency, quality of product, quality of service,” he repeats. For a dozen years, he lived upstairs in a little room of Rick’s on the Square, “totally hands-on. I ran it, I was always there, always meeting people, always making sure everything was consistent. People just started coming. The food was good. Service was good. They kept coming. Pretty much word-of-mouth then and still pretty much word-of-mouth today.

      “I think that has to everything to do with the longevity, the consistency. Everybody will tell you ‘location, location, location.’ You still have to ride on quality of product, quality of service, atmosphere.”

      Now, the days of downtown as a dead zone are a thing of the past, and the heart of Tyler is pulsing with renewed energy. Rick’s glad he’s still around to see it.

      “I always thought they’d wait ’til I was dead before they did anything,” he quips. “It took a long time for downtown to come around, just slowly, slowly coming around. Probably in the last 4-5 years people started really giving it a try. They started trying to open up places; buildings were being bought and remodeled. It takes a lot of work. You have to be able to manage it. You can’t just throw money at a restaurant and expect it to operate. You really have to manage it – work with what you have.”

      In the heart of Tyler, businesses open, some close, new ones seize the opportunity, and Rick’s excited about what’s ahead: “I wish ’em well. The more, the better. I’ve just always tried to do the best I can at what I do and not worry about anybody else.”

      Uncle Edmond would be proud.

    • “I think this orchestra punches above its weight category, for sure. It’s hard to prove. It’s not as if we have contests or matches or games against other orchestras.”

      According to East Texas Symphony Orchestra Music Director & Conductor Richard Lee, the orchestra does have a proven track record of retaining guest artists – it maintains a good relationship with Bela Fleck, for example, among others. It does, in a given year, see an average audience of 1,500 to 1,600 in its primary large venue, the Cowan Center – in a year not marred by a global pandemic, of course.

      “We’re not a top-tier American orchestra,” Lee allowed, “but given where we are and who we are and our budget, this is the best we can do. We’ve really achieved our threshold.”

      COVID-19 has forced ETSO and its peers around the world to rethink their foundation – performing in-person for many hundreds of concertgoers, usually in an enclosed space. Their mission is unchanged, however: to foster a love of live music from professional musicians, entertaining and educating simultaneously.

      “The paradigm shift, obviously, is this has really forced every orchestra on the planet, with very few exceptions, to change how they deliver music.”

      The downtown-based orchestra typically has 66 core players under contract, Lee noted. Sometimes not all of them are utilized, and sometimes even more are needed and will be hired for specific concerts.

      “We really do punch above our weight,” he repeated. “We’re ready. We’re prepared. We’re responsive.

      We’re going to make sure the music works and it gels. It’s a place where you have to work hard, and you’re really prepared. We expect a quality performance. We expect effort. We expect something that is worth (the audience’s) investment in terms of time and money.”

      Lee has spearheaded the orchestra since 2012.

      “I like to think that first and foremost I’ve improved the quality. The musical product, I think, is far more convincing, far more technically accomplished, far more interesting to listen to.”

      The programming has become far more diverse, too, he added, most recently by necessity, in the form of the 2020 pandemic. Working within their current constraints, the orchestra is venturing into new interactive territory while being kept a safe distance from audiences.

      “A lot of orchestras that are in our boat, they’ve really suspended everything for the time being. Every orchestra is trying to up their digital platform and try to figure out how to monetize it,” Lee acknowledged. “It’s been a huge challenge. It has not been easy for any orchestra. For us, it’s been particularly hard.”

      Facing the realities of COVID-19, “We canceled the last two concerts of the last season. Then we postponed the start of this season ’til January. We recently decided to postpone this season,” meaning there will be no main stage concerts until November 2021.

      It’s been frustrating, but East Texas Symphony Orchestra has adapted and evolved and even expanded whenever possible, offering modified entertainment in various formats.

      “We have a lot of smaller concerts that we’re doing, especially now during COVID,” Lee noted. They feature just 3-6 performers if it’s an enclosed space, and up to 10 orchestra members at outdoor venues like True Vine Brewing Company, Willow Brook Country Club, and others. “These are small-scale, outdoor concerts, social distancing and the like – more like ‘pop-ups’ than anything else.”

      A normal year would also include 3-4 school shows (“That’s, of course, also on hiatus.”) and five main stage concerts at the Cowan Center, including a holiday performance of “The Nutcracker” or a general Christmas concert. Musical selections and added entertainment run the gamut from classical offerings to movie scores, pop adaptations, and more. Concerts in the past have featured everything from circus artists to a tap dancing soloist.

      “Anything we think might intrigue folks locally, we try to branch out more in addition to the classics we usually do,” and now they (like so many others) have added ‘virtual’ entertainment into the repertoire in order to keep audience members engaged in this extended off-season. Facebook users can stream an array of concerts on the East Texas Symphony Orchestra page.

      Orchestras everywhere are facing the same question: “If they’re going to do live concerts, how do you do that safely?” Lee pondered. “People have to really think about upping their game in terms of streaming, digital options. They’re actually doing stuff they’ve never done before.”

      The orchestra’s long-time, cozy venue, Liberty Hall, continues to serve in the midst of COVID-19. It’s always been a place for smaller concerts, with stage room for a (tight) 13-musician setup, while Cowan Center is ETSO’s primary venue, typically holding 70-80 musicians for major shows (in addition to a similarly-sized choir, when appropriate).

      “We’ve had 160 people on stage for really big shows,” Lee noted, packing the audience several times during his tenure.

      The most substantial source of funding for the orchestra comes from individual and corporation donations. In a regular year, for any orchestra, ticket sales comprise just 25-35 percent of the budget.

      “If we relied solely on ticket sales, there’s no orchestra on this planet that would survive,” Lee said. “Some governments help – not much in Texas. We do get a good subsidy from the City of Tyler,” and the Women’s Symphony League raises a good portion of the operating costs.

      Musical education continues to be a major driver, sowing a love for classical music and live concerts early.

      “We really are trying to make sure we up our game in terms of reaching the kids,” Lee said. “It’s far easier to convince people to come if they have positive memories of classical concerts as a student going through school.

      “We really do welcome everyone and understand that not a lot of people on a regular basis listen to, say, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. They really should, but on a regular day it’s not part of the listening habits of most folks. Whatever it is we consume, it’s always better to consume variety. My selling point is to make sure this music is a part of your regular routine – that starts somewhere.”

      With regular live-streamed shows available to all during the pandemic, he hopes more people are discovering the orchestra and discovering the same enjoyment newcomers find during a typical season: “Most people, when they come, it’s not as boring as they think,” Lee quipped.

      An ongoing challenge is just to pull people away from their screens.

      So, he said, once standard, live concerts are the norm again, East Texas Symphony Orchestra will continue working to incorporate screentime, when possible and within reason. It’s a way to engage people more deeply, by turning their phone from a distraction into a concert accessory, co-opting their desire to dig a device out of their pocket midway through a concert.

      “We’re starting to encourage this. There’s a certain demographic – Gen X and younger – where asking them to put their phones down is a fruitless battle. They can’t put their phone away for two hours without feeling antsy,” he said, impacting their enjoyment of a concert. “There is a movement to accommodate people to be interactive; that’s something we’re certainly going to experiment with once we’re back on stage.

      “Obviously, there are folks who don’t think this is even mildly, remotely appropriate. It’s a bit of a challenge.”

      For many orchestras, the solution has been to utilize an app that helps audience members of any age plug into the music they’re listening to, engaging with it through their smart device while the concert’s still underway.

      “There’s things like live chats and program notes while the music is going on,” Lee said, curated by a dedicated orchestra staffer who shares insights, inviting audience members to respond back mid-show, creating a temporary digital community within the concert.

      It includes working to minimize light pollution from the screens and noises from the gadgets while also asking users to police themselves so they don’t disturb other patrons. “This is a more and more common thing we’re going to try to do in some sort of judicious manner.”

      East Texas Symphony Orchestra has a long relationship with the heart of Tyler, from its home in Liberty Hall to regular performances on the square.

      “There’s an environment for us to perform for the public that is very natural,” he said, an environment that continues to improve with ongoing revitalization downtown. “We are, of course, proud to be part of that. Even in the last eight years, downtown’s changed quite a bit, especially recently with the number of businesses there. It’s something we hope continues with the success of Liberty Hall and the other establishments.

      “It certainly informs our philosophy. We should be accessible to the people. We’re happy to be downtown. If we’re a small contributor to that, that’s great.”

    • Callynth Finney got her first “real” camera in 1995, finally upgrading to something a little heftier than a point-and-shoot.

      Eight years later, Callynth went to work for a nonprofit, contributing her skills behind the camera to the cause and eventually becoming the organization’s photographer. The year 2000 marked the first time she documented a client’s live childbirth. A Minneapolis native, she and the family moved to Tyler in 2001. In 2006, she shot her first wedding.

      It was 2008 when she laid the foundation to go behind the lens full-time with Callynth Photography. Seven years later, she hung her shingle in downtown Tyler.

      In January 2015, “The downtown atmosphere even at that time was still fairly dead,” Callynth recalled, but she wanted a studio and liked the idea of working only a short trek from the house. “I was running my business out of my home, and it just got to be too much. I had built enough clientele by that time it warranted getting a new space that was just for my business.

      Taking on overhead, “It was a little scary, but within six months I was back up to making the same profit. Within one year, I was making more.”

      A long-time Canon devotee, she’s recently started experimenting with camera equipment made by Sony, but she hasn’t started utilizing it professionally yet. Five years in her studio, and many cameras between since she first upgraded, Callynth Photography is thriving – in no small part, she says, from working in the heart of Tyler.

      “I love downtown. I love having my business here. I can’t imagine being anywhere else,” Callynth says, and she’s grateful for her clientele, the downtown community, and for “the best landlords in the world,” the O’Sullivan family, who helped her put down stakes. “They were very supportive of my dream for the studio. They were in the process of turning that space into apartments,” but reconsidered when they heard the vision for a studio.

      “Generously, they restructured the space to fit my business – I had some crazy ideas of what I wanted to do. I wanted chandeliers on pulleys; they figured out a way to make that happen.”

      As of 2020, there are seven chandeliers on-hand, rising (or lowering) to suit the occasion so Callynth can control the ambient lighting in the space. Among all the different facets of her craft, lighting can be essential in helping capture the essence of the people in front of her lens.

      Recently, Callynth was the photographer behind the ‘Busyness’ profile portraits for Heart of Tyler, often asking her subjects to bring in an item to help tell their story through the portrait. Her services run the gamut of client needs, from family photo sessions to weddings, live births, professional portraits, and more.

      “I do a lot of branding photography,” she noted. “I meet with clients and hear about their business, about their mission statements, and try to capture images that match that, that match what they’re trying to communicate.”

      Joining just five percent of American professional photographers, Callynth earned her certification from Portraiture Photographers of America, a 150-year-old organization with whom she’s also insured.

      For example, working with an attorney, “They want to be perfectly posed, looking directly into the camera,” whereas a startup business owner might want to capture a particular aspect of their new enterprise’s personality: “Maybe an entrepreneur comes in. Their brand is really about them. I need to get know them. I need to draw from them what they want to communicate – capture laughter, capture life, capture their message, their brand, their self.”

      On the logistics side, Callynth relies on her one employee, Danielle, to help manage the studio.

      “I’m not naturally gifted administratively,” she said, chuckling. With Danielle handling the day-to-day business, “That frees me up to be able to do what I’m good at.”

      Callynth’s work has been featured internationally on a number of occasions – through the Discovery Channel, the Golf Channel, O Magazine, Match.com, Pop Sugar, Vogue Australia and other outlets – with some photos and series drawing viral fame.

      A waterbirth image, for example, was picked up and carried around the world. Similarly, a portrait of a blended, co-parenting family gained traction along with a surprise pregnancy announcement.

      “That’s been neat,” Callynth said, always gratified when people connect with her photographs.

      Like so many others, she’s watched her business change during 2020’s pandemic, but she’s still offering the vast majority of her services. For example, her complimentary wet bar is still available for clients – photo sessions include a no-charge half-hour cocktail session to help subjects loosen up in front of the lens.

      Her husband, Robert, has had his work in financial services impacted by COVID-19 as well, and the year’s seen him utilizing the space, too.

      In a regular year, “I also teach workshops and do private lessons,” Callynth added. Those 8-hour workshops have had to come to a temporary halt due to the novel coronavirus, but that’s the only thing that’s on hold. “I really enjoy sharing what I’ve learned.

      “I’m a really relational person. I love people, and I’m creative, so photography is a great avenue for me to be creative and to interact with other people.”

    • For Ryan and Traci Dixon, True Vine Brewing Company is a unique, comfortable experience – whether patrons visit the main location on Earl Campbell Parkway or try out the still-new True Vine on the Square in downtown Tyler.

      Wherever they choose to go, “The majority of the people that come out here, they really love the vibe,” Ryan said, “and I think that’s one of the things that sets True Vine brewing apart.”

      The idea began fermenting about a decade ago, and True Vine was officially founded in 2011.

      “We started seriously brewing beer out of my garage with big dreams,” Ryan said, “and from there developed the company and the plan, all of that. It was literally a start-up garage venture.”

      Part of the moniker was inspired by nearby Vine Avenue.

      “We’re inspired by a lot of heroes,” Ryan said. “One of our biggest heroes in life is Jesus. He said He is the true vine, and we are the branches, and apart from him we can accomplish nothing. We believe that as a family and as business owners.

      “We named it True Vine for a myriad of reasons, and it’s worked out really well because it’s unique.”

      The fledgling company also found direction in the biography “The Search for God & Guinness” about the history of the famous brewery.

      “They utilized their position in their community to make it better than they found it,” Ryan said. “That was one of the finer points for us making a brewery.

      “We also love horticulture and growth, everything that goes into the organic side of brewing.”

      The first home for True Vine was off Englewood Avenue in Tyler. With all their licensing and other necessities in place, the brewery had its grand opening in March 2013.

      “We had three very unique and bold beers at that particular event,” Ryan said.

      They couldn’t have handled much more, Traci jokes.

      “It was a 2,000 square-foot site,” she said. “The whole facility was the size of our current taproom now. It was a tiny space.”

      The company remained there for several years.

      “There were a lot of challenges there,” Ryan said. “We eventually stumbled on a new location for the future of True Vine, off of Earl Campbell Parkway,” staging a grand re-opening on True Vine’s five-year anniversary in March 2018.

      2020 included another grand opening, in partnership with Plaza Tower: True Vine on the Square officially debuted in mid-February at 110 N. College Ave. #102.

      A month later, unfortunately, the rise of COVID-19 forced a shutdown, a shared reality across the area, country and world. Finally open for business again, the Dixons and their team are excited for the future of the new location in addition to the prime HQ.

      “We’ve always loved the downtown, Ryan said. “True Vine has always wanted to be a part of that, we just had to wait until the time was right and the opportunity was right. We’re excited to be a part of that life down there.”

      “Our brewing philosophy is, honestly, taking an artist twist on traditional beers. Everything has to have some reason for going into the beer. There has to be some sort of purpose behind it.”

      According to Ryan, there are about two dozen beers on draft at the main location on Earl Campbell Parkway.

      “There’s a lot of them, which is exciting,” he said. “They’re all unique, and they all fit a specific style of what people are into these days,” in addition to presenting patrons with new options, “something you haven’t had before or something with a different twist.”

      Ryan was a home brewing enthusiast long before the True Vine concept began to formulate.

      “I’ve been involved in cooking and art and beer and wine for many years,” he said. “That kind of love for those things created a desire to learn how to brew beer and to get into the craft beer scene here in East Texas. Craft beer really started to hit here in Texas. It just created a love for trying to create it myself. I’m a little obsessive compulsive as a human being, so when I get involved in something I kind of go crazy with it.

      After researching and reading, experimenting with recipes and brews, there was still some early trepidation about jumping into the business side of the craft.

      “We had some concern in the very beginning just because no one had ever done a small craft brewery in a very traditional city in East Texas and Tyler,” Ryan admitted. “We were nervous about the success of it. Could it be successful?”


      “We were blown away,” he says now, almost a decade later. Canning their brews was an essential next step, and True Vine launched that venture in 2016: “That’s been very good for us and for our community as well. It’s been really very well-received.”

      Culture and community are big parts of the enterprise.

      “We love, love, love having people at our taproom and the events we host, our weekly hang time and live music,” Ryan said. “It appears as though people like it.”

      Traci agrees: “One of our core values here at True Vine is community,” she said. “Everything we do here is to strive to create community, to bring people together around craft beer.”

      From the early days, hundreds of people would pack into the small yard of True Vine’s warehouse space. Years later, that atmosphere persists.

      “It’s just neat to see Tyler come together and sit around a table and have a conversation and make memories,” Traci said. “To create a product that allows that to happen is very humbling.

      “Tyler is a unique community. We have a lot of great, supportive, awesome people here in this town. Whenever there is a new business that comes out, people are willing to try it out, support it, go and see what it’s all about.”

      It’s a community with a great potential for success, she added, especially to entrepreneurs, especially in the heart of Tyler.

      “There’s been a lot of things happening in Tyler over the past several years. It took us a little while to find our place,” Traci noted. Years later, “We’ve seen so much growth and potential in downtown and beyond with art and craft goods and music.

      “As a brewery business, it definitely has its ups and downs just like any business, but I think Tyler is a great place to start a business right now.”

      It’s also a great place to grow a business, Ryan says.

      “Plans for the future are just to keep increasing our production capacity here at True Vine Earl Campbell as well as opening additional taprooms throughout our area, similar to what we did downtown, then to continue to make Tyler proud,” he said. “That’s one of our big goals: to be that hometown hero that people can be excited it started in their community and take a six-pack to friends out of town when they go visit.

      “We want to be part of Tyler’s history.”

    • “Creativity blooms out of the box.”

      It’s one of the guiding principles at Lightbox Collective, according to co-owner Shadai Perez, still getting used to his new workspace alongside partner-photographers Samuel Richman and Daniel Poe at 110-A West Erwin on the square in the heart of Tyler.

      “We just recently moved to this location,” he said, shifting deeper into Tyler’s downtown from their previous digs on Broadway. It’s a prime location to help local (and far-flung) businesses and individuals tell their stories: “The only thing we have left in life are stories. Stories are what drives the world. It preserves our history. It allows our youth to grow. That visual element, where people are able to be immersed, it’s just a lot more powerful, more tangible for everybody.

      “It’s easier for people to understand. That’s our passion, to create compelling and emotional stories, to make people laugh or cry, to have a connection. When we do photography, we capture those emotions.”

      The trio launched their joint business venture five years ago.

      “It started out with a dream and a goal, and now it’s fully fleshed-out into a reality as a full marketing and video production agency,” Shadai said. “We’ve worked with local and nationwide companies… the full scope of marketing other than print – everything is digital.”

      Whether photography, filmmaking or social media marketing, everything’s possible in the trio’s downtown studio.

      Daniel is a native Tylerite. Samuel arrived here from Flagstaff, Arizona. Shadai moved to Tyler from an agency in Florida.

      “Each of us was working in town as a photographer,” Shadai explained, making a living with wedding shoots, travel photography and more. He got his start in the hospitality industry before moving into digital marketing. “I was doing advertisements and commercials, the same field. They were doing production by themselves, doing their own thing. Now, it’s a family here together.”

      Their family is thriving, he added, with help from the local economy.

      “Tyler is a really good community – booming,” Shadai said. “There are a lot of opportunities here.”

      The typical client profile at Lightbox Collective is a company that’s looking for high-end video production and marketing. It’s the standards, style and flavor clients would associate with larger markets – New York, California, or Miami, Shadai said.

      “It’s us being able to provide a comprehensive assessment tailored to each business,” he added. “We strive for quality and consistency in that quality.”

      They’re ready to serve any local, national or international client, he noted, and they are right now – international clients find marketing solutions at Lightbox Collective.

      “We generally go above and beyond for our clients. We become friends with our clients, and we have that sense where they could call us anytime, and we’re there for them.”

      What motivates the trio?

      “It’s a combination of things,” Shadai said. “We want to spread the light of God and goodness to others. It’s just an all-encompassing mantra of goodwill to others and the company that we serve.

      “We’re here to serve the community in any way possible.”

      For example, last year Lightbox invited the community at-large to drop by for a complimentary professional portrait, complete with hair and makeup prep.

      “We also partner up with a lot of nonprofits here in the community. We offer quality that brands pay a lot of money for, but we offer discounts to (nonprofits) as an incentive. We want to give back to the community, and nonprofits are very near and dear to our hearts.”

      Among Lightbox Collective’s nonprofit partners, Shadai says the trio has found value in their relationship with Heart of Tyler.

      “We just wanted to be a part of the community and part of any outreach,” he said. “We know that Heart of Tyler is very special here. It’s a program incentivizing and helping businesses and awareness.”

      More community mentorships, programs and incentives will be coming through Lightbox, he added.

      “We just want to help the community, at an affordable rate, and allow people to develop their skills. We’ll include equipment and all of that as well.”

    • “There’s only so much you can get from a screen.”

      It’s a truth Chris Rasure takes to heart. As a child, he gained so much from going out and experiencing nature and science in the outdoors, from camping and participating in hands-on activities. Today, he’s Executive Director of Discovery Science Place, where hands-on learning is core to the museum’s mission, and Rasure and his team are always brainstorming strategies to pull people of all ages, especially kids, away from their gadgets.

      “What we’ve found is nothing beats a hands-on experience,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how many YouTube videos you watch or how much virtual reality is on your phone, nothing beats a hands-on experience. Nothing beats the real thing.”

      Founded in 1993 in Downtown Tyler, Discovery Science Place still stands at its 308 N. Broadway Ave. home, but it’s evolved a lot inside over the past 27 years. It continues to grow and change along with its audience (any young mind, whatever the age, is welcome) including bringing on a new director a few years back.

      “There have always been two threads throughout my life: science and education,” Rasure said. For him, Discovery Science Place is a combination of both threads. Admittedly, he took a fairly circuitous route to reach the museum off the square, but the “avowed geek and lover of science” made it eventually.

      “I’ve been a lover of science since I was a little kid,” Rasure said. What did he want to be when he grew up? “All of my answers had to do with animals and nature and science. It’s just always been a part of my life.”

      After working as an educator at Tyler ISD’s Moore MST Magnet School (Rasure: “Go Mustangs!”) he took up a post with the University of Texas at Tyler before ultimately making his way to Discovery Science Place, initially filling in on an interim basis.

      “The position just fit me so well, and it aligns with my personal mission,” Rasure said. “I really liked the mission of the museum, so I applied for the job and here I am.”

      That mission, according to DiscoverySciencePlace.org: Igniting curiosity in young minds through fun, hands-on exploration.

      Young minds, Rasure emphasizes. It doesn’t matter how many years-old the person may be.

      “That doesn’t tell you the age of the body. As long as you’re young in mind, it doesn’t matter if your body is age 3 or age 93,” he said, “not if you’re curious and want to learn how things work.”

      The museum puts particular emphasis on hands-on. It’s what visitors want and, as Rasure says, what they need.

      “That’s what gets the kids’ attention and gets the adults’ attention as well,” Rasure added, the opportunity to interact, to put knowledge to work – by hand: “What you learn in the classroom is important, but so much of what you learn about the world and what stokes your curiosity happens outside the classroom.

      “Every kindergartener I’ve ever met is a born-scientist. Why do some people stop being curious like that?”

      One task for Discovery Science Place and facilities like it, he added, is to work to keep that curiosity from fading.

      “There’s no way you can’t do that all the way through adulthood. There’s nothing that says you have to be an adult who isn’t curious. We’re trying to keep that curiosity alive. Keep figuring out the world.”

      Yes, naturally the museum caters to children, but it’s never at the expense of the larger audience.

      “Our main focus tends to be on that younger age group,” Rasure said, particularly children in the 3- to 10-year-old age bracket. “Over the years we have worked really hard to expand that range. We do a lot of educational offerings that go beyond that elementary age.”

      Ongoing exhibits and activities fill the museum, from the facility’s train set to the Hometown Veterinary Clinic, Imagination Playground, One World Bistro, the Dino Dig Pit and more. Temporary and traveling exhibits help keep offerings fresh – for example, DSP’s ‘The Art and Science of Arachnids’ exhibit opened in July and continues through Nov. 15 in the museum’s annex.

      “More than 100 live specimens of scorpions and spiders from around the world. Some of them are as large as your hand,” Rasure said gleefully. “You don’t have to have a kid to enjoy that exhibit. You learn all sorts of things.”

      At work and at play in the heart of Tyler, Discovery Science Place has benefited from downtown’s revitalization and from its energy.

      “We love being downtown,” Rasure said. “We have been here since the very day we opened. You’re talking well over 25 years of service to the City of Tyler, and it’s always been at this location. We love our location, and we’re happy to be a part of the downtown community.”

      “We love being downtown,” Rasure said. “We have been here since the very day we opened. You’re talking well over 25 years of service to the City of Tyler, and it’s always been at this location. We love our location, and we’re happy to be a part of the downtown community.”

      “We’re really thrilled, especially over the last dozen years, how downtown has grown,” and how the excitement around it has brought new visitors to the museum’s doors: “It gives them a reason to come up here. We love downtown, we support downtown, and we like being part of that community feel.”

      A large part of that community element is proven by the continued existence of the museum: “It is our community supporters and our donors that allow us to continue on. We want to be an integral part of the community, and for us to continue like we’re doing – especially in a year like 2020 that’s been devastating – we can’t do it by ourselves.”

      At least a small element of the museum’s educational focus is educating the public about the museum’s needs.

      “I do think people are unaware that we are a nonprofit institution,” Rasure noted. “Because there is an admission charge, people see it as entertainment. The admission that we charge does not pay all the bills.

      “We have to have that community support. We’re a nonprofit. We’re a charity. For us to continue doing what we’ve been doing for the past 27 years, we have to continue to have that support.”

      The museum is a living thing, changing with the times while staying true to its core mission of education infused with entertainment.

      “We have adapted, of course,” adding more digital content and interactive displays. They all feed the primary mission, though: “The truth of the matter is, kids crave an opportunity to have fun, to play, to touch. Those types of activities are irreplaceable.

      “As we move more and more into this digital age, I think we’ll find they need that even more, and they’ll appreciate it even more – because they don’t get it as often as we did growing up.”

    • Back when Jose Lucio got started in shoe and boot repair, it was just a job. It was 1983, and he was just looking for some work. The teenager had no idea he’d turn that first job into career; he didn’t imagine he’d end up owning the business or that one day it would bear his name.

      It’s also become a calling: the craft is on the decline as the shoe industry evolves, and Jose’s skill set gets a bit more rare with each passing year.

      “I’ve been doing this most of my life, since I was a teenager,” he said, glad for the work and the apprenticeship he received at Beckham Shoe Repair. “I learned the business. I learned the process of doing repairs.”

      At that time, there were five departments within the operation, and Jose was trained in each specialization. He ultimately acquired the business more than two decades ago – by that time, Jose had been trained in each part of the process at 519 S. Beckham St.

      After 22 years helming the store, he relocated the operation to its 305 W. Front St. location in Spring 2019.

      “The old location was small, so we moved to a bigger location,” he said. “We never did close, we just moved.”

      He did give it a new moniker: Lucio’s continues to offer the same essential craftsmanship in its niche.

      “The industry, how they’re making shoes, it’s changing things,” he explained. “They’re making shoes that might not be repairable. Nevertheless, there’s a percentage of people who have shoes and boots that are repairable,” and they’re sometimes hard-pressed to find someone who can handle the task.

      “Our goal has always been to provide the community with service and be there for the community. In this case, since shoe repair is very rare, hopefully we can contribute.”

      Jose’s glad to be able to bring the techniques to Downtown Tyler, and he’s grateful to have been embraced by the community since relocating closer to the square.

      “The downtown community has been very supportive of us,” he said. “Some people that we didn’t even know, they kind of took us in. It’s been a very good welcome for us.”

      The business is usually two or three people at work – Jose has trained his son, Gabriel, in the craft. They bring on extra help as needed.

      “As you know, this kind of trade is rare. Man, there are some challenges,” Jose added. “We get some shoes that have a lot of wear on them. We have to do extra stuff to bring them back to presentable, things our customers don’t see, behind the scenes. Most of our customers are happy when they see the result of it.”

      Importantly, the business is more than shoe and boot repair, its narrow wheelhouse when it was located on Beckham.

      “As my son came on board, we incorporated boots, belts, hats, shirts, wallets… We try to sell something unique, something you might not see all around,” Jose said. “That’s where our goal is.”

      Work boots, too, were a new addition to the inventory, and they’ve helped to expand Lucio’s customer base.

      It’s all part of staying in business, Jose said, ensuring the doors stay open for the customers.

      “It’s a lot to it. It’s a lot to keep a business moving,” he explained. “You have to do a lot of work. You have to do late hours when you need to. You have to take care of your finances. You have to do that customer service to keep your customers coming back.

      “That’s our goal, to keep the community happy. We get paid for it, but we also want our customers to be happy. As a result, we do have a lot of repeat customers.”

      The first one that springs to mind is a former Tyler-area pastor who’s since moved out of the community.

      “He’s been here since we’ve been doing business,” Jose said. Even though the preacher is no longer in Tyler, he still brings his shoes to the people who have kept them in good repair for years. “That’s our goal.”

      Yes, the industry has changed.

      For example, the operation used to have a lot of single-stitch business.

      “Now, the young generation, they like the square toe with the double-stitch,” Jose said. It’s another language to someone who’s not part of the trade; it’s what the latest batch of customers want: “Those are the ones who have gotten the shoe repair business back in gear. One time, it was even slowing down because less people were wearing boots.”

      For their part, the team at Lucio’s is doing what they can to reverse that trend – while they keep locals’ kicks in the best shape possible.

      “We hope the Tyler community has what they need in Tyler.”

    • “Once historic structures are torn down, they’re gone forever.”

      It’s a truth Ashley Washmon keeps close to heart, whether she’s reminding herself or explaining the mission of Historic Tyler, Inc. to someone encountering the historic preservation organization for the first time.

      “Personally, I think the older historic structures give a town its own unique character and charm and personality,” she says. “All of these places have a story,” and it’s fun, gratifying to uncover them and to tell them.

      Preserving those stories, “It helps Tyler connect the present community with the past. You see the story of the town and what played a part in creating the community that we live in.”

      Closing in on the end of her first year as executive director of Historic Tyler, Washmon also keeps a firm grasp on the bigger picture of historic preservation, the tangible impact of reinvesting in a community’s revitalization.

      Similarly, “You’re not wasting resources,” she said. “I think it’s environmentally-friendly if you can take an old building and repurpose it for an office or a store.”

      At Historic Tyler, a nonprofit established in 1977, “Our mission is we advocate, educate and raise funds for the preservation of our town’s historic buildings, sites and structures,” Washmon said. “We have funded, over the years, really impressive preservation projects around the city.

      For example, “We’re responsible for the historic designation of the Azalea District, the Charnwood District – there are six historic districts in town that give notoriety and documentation for these historic homes. We’re working on an additional district. We’ve worked closely with the city in the past on these projects.”

      Washmon took the reins as executive director in October 2019.

      “It’s been an unusual 10 months,” she quipped. That said, “It was surprising to me to see how many different arms, facets of historical preservation exist in our city.”

      Every year, Historic Tyler embarks on a couple of preservation projects, varying in size and complexity. At Oakwood Cemetery, the organization funded the use of ground-penetrating radar to help locate lost graves and then went on to fund historical markers for them.

      “We find different projects like that so we can invest in our community,” Washmon said. “We’ve worked in conjunction with the city on different projects.”

      Part of that collaboration intersects with the mission of Heart of Tyler.

      “Their mission is to improve downtown, and we kind of overlap in some areas. We just support each other as organizations,” Washmon said. “We all have different functions, but we’re all working for the preservation of historic Tyler and to make our city function.”

      Historic preservation can also bolster tourism efforts, Washmon added.

      Think Charleston, South Carolina, she says: beautifully-preserved, charming unlike any other city.

      Drawing on that example and others, “If Tyler can maintain our historic sites and structures, I think we can maintain part of the appeal of our city,” she said. “It grounds people. In an ever-changing world, it’s important to know where you come from, and it also influences where you’re going.

      “I do think it’s really important, especially in today’s age when everyone’s so busy and technology-driven… I think people have this pull, or connection, to their city. I think it improves satisfaction with where you live – quality of life – when you feel connected to your community.”

      Learning the histories and personal stories of particular places plays a part in that, Washmon added. So does repurposing those places and creating opportunities for new stories to be born.

      Look, she says, to the energy that’s been crafted in downtown Tyler and what that momentum is accomplishing for the broader community.

      “That historic area is one of the more walkable places in Tyler,” Washmon praised. It’s an asset, “when you have a space in your town that you can enjoy and gather with people there.”

      Partnering with Heart of Tyler and other organizations where common interests align, Washmon hopes to build on past years’ successes, moving the community forward, not backtracking.

      “If you get rid of the historic structures and sites, you kind of sterilize the city. I think that’s tragic. Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back,” Washmon repeated. Fortunately, Historic Tyler, working with Heart of Tyler and other stakeholders, is at work. “The majority of the overlap is in downtown. We have some remaining original downtown storefronts on the square,” some of which can be preserved, fueling economic development to benefit the present, future, and the past, too, not at its expense.

      Parallel interests make for shared success, a strong working relationship between the two organizations.

      “I think it’s mutually-beneficial. Heart of Tyler wants revitalization of downtown, Historic Tyler wants to see those historic storefronts maintained.”

      For more information about Historic Tyler, Inc. contact Executive Director Ashley Washmon at ashley@historictyler.org. On social media, follow progress via @historictyler on Facebook and Instagram. Log on to historictyler.org for more resources.

    • It’s the feeling of having a neighborhood pub to go to, Matt Gilstrap says, a place to hang out after work, to meet with friends, to have a pint and talk about the day, to talk about the future. Whatever ails you, “Nothing helps that better than sitting around with close friends and having a pint.” It’s a feeling that’s definitely on tap at East Texas Brewing Co.

      “We’ve invested our lives, our livelihoods,” says brother, fellow brewer and business partner Brian Gilstrap. “We’ve put everything we own on the line – we’ve taken savings out to be successful. We’re glad that we have a city that has our back and is willing to put forth the same, to put forth their heart and soul into helping us be successful.”

      That success has been hard-earned, agrees Annie Gilstrap, rounding out the trio at the Broadway Avenue alehouse and eatery. Brian’s wife and Matt’s sister-in-law, she’s the dynamo in the mix.

      “I’m not part of the brew process. I’m here for the tasting,” Annie quips. “I like being able to come up with really fun, creative ideas and bring it to the guys.”

      Those kinds of ventures find fertile soil in downtown Tyler, she added, and ETX Brewing Co. is all about opportunities. “We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a lot of room to grow.”

      There are a lot of ingredients that go into making a community thrive, and there’s a lot of the same that goes into a good brew. Put things together in different ways, new ways, Brian says, and any number of possibilities await.

      “It’s like cooking. Every recipe, a little bit of love goes into it,” he explained. “For me, it’s all about the creativity, just the love and passion behind the beer itself, being able to appreciate it for what it is.

      “You take basically the same ingredients for every beer, and you can have them taste completely different. Being able to do that, it’s basically magical.”

      The Gilstrap brothers began home-brewing in 2002. Annie was happy to give them an extra push, when necessary, to turn the hobby into a business.

      “They’d gotten really good at making beer,” she recalls, telling the brothers, “I’m tired of hearing you dish about your jobs. Why don’t you do something you want to do, something you love doing?” Fair enough, the pair thought.

      “We both worked in the corporate world, got tired of our jobs,” Matt said. “We’d always talked about opening a brewery.”

      When they discovered the potential of 221 S. Broadway and re-imagined the former tire shop as a restaurant, they knew the venture was moving forward.

      “Ultimately, it was just the search to find a great building that would align with our core values: community, giving back,” Brian said. “This building was old and dilapidated for a long time. We never really paid attention to it until we were looking to open the brewery up.

      “We immediately fell in love, and this is where we wanted to be. What better place to do it than downtown Tyler?”

      They did their due diligence, he added, looking into other areas, like South Tyler, putting some consideration toward warehouse spaces and industrial districts.

      There were buildings available, but none that spoke to the Gilstraps. It was hard to find one that was the right fit, especially considering the brewery is categorized as a ‘manufacturing facility,’ limited to specific zoning.

      Finally finding the perfect spot on Broadway, they were eager to plug-in to downtown’s business and arts culture.

      Among other boons, it’s a centralized location, Annie said, much better than ending up off the beaten path where similar operations are relegated in other communities – “You kind of have to hunt for some of these breweries.”

      The warm welcome the brewery received from the community was more than the founders anticipated. “We thought the original taproom was big,” Annie said. “We learned from the first night of opening that it was too small. We knew from that point that we wanted to expand.”

      There’s plenty on tap at ETX Brewing Co. Though she’s not plugged in to the brewing process directly, “Once a great recipe has been developed and brewed,” Annie said, “I have to be able to present it to the general public so they’re aware of what’s in it, what’s gone into it, and to also come up with an appealing label, a design.

      “You’re going to pick something up for what it looks like before you know what it tastes like.” There’s a similar, wide variety on the roads around the square as well, and people don’t really know everything that’s at hand until they plug in to experience it:

      “I didn’t realize how much tourism there is in Tyler,” Annie said. “I didn’t realize how many people come regularly, just to visit Tyler.”

      For Brian, “Tyler’s just far enough from Dallas/Fort Worth that we still get a lot of that influence,” he said. “Tyler is a growing community. With that comes diversity and a lot of different lines of thinking. That’s ultimately what fosters growth in any environment. That’s ultimately what we’re after, to bring as many people here as possible, to bring that community aspect.”

      All the various stakeholders seem to be on board, he added. “Everybody wants to see downtown be successful. The people that are around downtown and are in downtown, they want the same thing that we want,” Brian said. It’s a genuine sense of community, he added, that keeps the district pulsing and helps businesses like East Texas Brewing Co. thrive, “just the sheer, amazing support that we saw from the get-go.”

      The trio wants to feed downtown Tyler’s progress as much as they want to benefit from it. “A lot of cool local businesses have been going in downtown,” Annie said. “Everybody just wants the best for Tyler and wants to see downtown grow. Downtown really is the heart of the city.

      The trio wants to feed downtown Tyler’s progress as much as they want to benefit from it. “A lot of cool local businesses have been going in downtown,” Annie said. “Everybody just wants the best for Tyler and wants to see downtown grow. Downtown really is the heart of the city.

      In addition to the community support, Brian said, the business and others like it receive healthy, practical support from the City of Tyler and organizations within it.

      In addition to the community support, Brian said, the business and others like it receive healthy, practical support from the City of Tyler and organizations within it.

      “We see a lot more city support just because of the same goals of growth and building more awareness of what Tyler has to offer. We’ve got the same goals as the city; we’ve got the same goals as the businesses. It brings that support community together,” and it’s not to be found elsewhere.”

      Growth is part of the brewery’s future and the present, too.

      There’s been a lot happening, despite the challenging circumstances of COVID-19 – there were some specific plans in place prior to the shutdown, Matt said, plans that are still going to move forward as soon as the opportunity arises, especially since they could help the business weather the new reality of a post-pandemic economy.

      For example, “We’d like to put a covered patio out front, making it more welcoming throughout the day,” he said, whether it’s breaking the heat, fending off the rain or helping people social distance. They’ve considered putting down Astroturf as well, “to bring in a backyard-feel to the downtown. “When we don’t have to social distance so much, bigger and better events.”

      Opportunities are rife throughout the nearby area, Annie added. “I think we’re seeing that downtown is growing. There are more new things every month coming in. Our plan is to continue to grow with that.”

      The brewery will continue to give people, residents and visitors, more options and things to do in Downtown Tyler, Brian agreed.

      “Keeping it fresh,” Annie said. For example, “We’re constantly coming up with new and very different beer” in addition to new menu items and specials: “It’s not the same thing every time you come in. Whether you haven’t been here in a year or whether you come in every week, there’s something new.”

      “What gives me the chills is when I look out there at night, all those picnic tables are full.” They’re 16-foot tables, Brian said, but they’re filled with all manner of diners – some come for the beer, some for the food, some for the atmosphere, some for the camaraderie. Whatever brings them in, the brewers have a warm welcome waiting.

      “Every single table is full and you’ve got nothing but smiles from people that don’t even know each other, sitting next to each other,” Brian said. “We really pride ourselves on just being a cool place to hang out, to provide a cool atmosphere.”

      “So many people from so many backgrounds, so many different ages and races and genders, sitting next to each other with a big ol’ pint of beer Matt and I created with smiles on their faces. That’s what gives me the most satisfaction out of making beer: They’re happy about it.”

  • Name Company Website
    Allen Bell Allen Bell Property Services Company Website
    Patty Steelman Austin Bank Company Website
    Robert Bailes Bailes & Co., P.C. Company Website
    Andy Bergfeld Bergfeld Realty Company Website
    Mechele Mills Better Business Bureau Company Website
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    Kay Latta Henry & Peters P.C. Company Website
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    Don Warren Lomoco, Inc. Company Website
    Fred Haberle Orion Pipeline, LLC Company Website
    John O’Sullivan O’Sullivan Management and Construction
    Russell Patterson Patterson Commercial Property Group Company Website
    Paul Latta Paul N. Latta DDS, P.C. Company Website
    Garnett Brookshire People’s Petroleum Building LLC Company Website
    Robert Peveto Peveto and Associates, Inc Company Website
    Bob Garrett R.W. Fair Foundation
    Chad Cargile Regions Bank Company Website
    Rick Eltife Rick’s on the Square Company Website
    Steve Roosth Roosth Production Company Company Website
    John Musselman Southwest Operating, Inc.
    Melissa Combs Squyres, Johnson, Squyres & Co., LLP Company Website
    Drs. Cory & Marvin Stephens Stephens and Stephens Orthodontics Company Website
    Cathy Hirt T. A. & T. Finance Corp. Company Website
    Jon Honea Texas Bank and Trust Company Website
    Ray McKinney The Genecov Group, Inc. Company Website
    Henry Bell Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce Company Website
    B.J. Hornbostel United Heritage Credit Union Company Website
    Allen Bell Wadel Connally Building
    Mark Whatley Whatley Holdings/Burns Commercial Properties LLC Company Website
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      A&B Brake & Alignment Automotive
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      B&B Used Cars Automotive
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      Bumper to Bumper Auto Parts Automotive
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      Cuvelier Used Cars Inc. Automotive
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      East Texas Alternator Automotive
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      ET Automotive Automotive
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      KASCO Paint & Body Automotive
      Kent’s Auto Sales Automotive
      Le Monds Automotive Automotive
      Leon’s Carwash Automotive
      Manriquez Used & New Tire Shop Automotive
      Muffler Shop Automotive
      Murillo Motorsport Automotive
      NAPA Auto Parts Automotive
      Off Gentry Car Wash & Detail Automotive
      Old Geezer’s Vintage Auto Automotive
      S&S Auto Sales Automotive
      Thompson Tire & Services Automotive
      Tony’s Cars Automotive
      Torreon Auto Electric Repair Automotive
      Tyler Auto Finance Automotive
      Tyler Car Audio Automotive
      Tyler Radiator Shop Automotive
      Unique Auto Sales Automotive
      Valle Motors Automotive
      Wallace Upholstery & Trim Automotive
      WC Supply Automotive
      Weather’s Quick Wash Automotive
    • Business Name Category
      Smith County Sheriff’s Office Civic
      Adecco Civic
      East Texas Cornerstone Assistance Civic
      First Place Civic
      IOOOF Civic
      Masonic Lodge Civic
      Pearson Professional Center Civic
      People Ready Civic
      RB Hubbard Center “The Hub” Civic
      Smith County Clerk Civic
      Smith County Courthouse Annex Civic
      Smith County Historical Civic
      Smith County Office Building Civic
      Smith County Veterans Services Civic
      Smith County Chamber of Commerce Civic
      Tyler City Hall Civic
      Tyler Code Enforcement Civic
      Tyler Parks & Maintenance Civic
      Tyler Planning & Zoning Civic
      US District Court Clerk Civic
      US Marshals Service Civic
      William M. Steger Federdal Building & U.S. Courthouse Civic
    • Business Name Category
      Trico Enterprises Commercial Services
    • Business Name Category
      808 Cellphone Repairs Computers & Electronics
      AJC Electronics Computers & Electronics
      Cricket Wireless Computers & Electronics
      D&S Electric Services Computers & Electronics
      East Texas Alarm Inc. Computers & Electronics
      iPhone Repair Genius Computers & Electronics
      Metro by T-Mobile Computers & Electronics
      Dealers Electrical Supply Computers & Electronics
    • Business Name Category
      Affordable & Cheap Construction
      Commercial Doors & Hardware Construction
      Dennis Scott Architects Construction
      Independent Glass & Mirror Construction
      J&S Blueprint Construction
    • Business Name Category
      Texas Wide Insurance Consulting
      Community Insurance Consulting
      EMA Consulting
      Sharie Withers: Allstate Consulting
      Social Security Disability Specialist Consulting
    • Business Name Category
      Adams Design Service Creative
      Co. Work Creative
      cue:creative Creative
      ETLB Graphics Creative
      Hanson Image Works Creative
      Lightbox Collective Creative
      Map Production Creative
      The Media Room Creative
      Wings of Tyler Creative
      Xpresso Print Cafe Creative
    • Business Name Category
      Building Blocks Education
      Caldwell Arts Academy Education
      Faith Learning Center Education
      Tyler Public Library Education
    • Business Name Category
      Caldwell Auditorium Entertainment
      Cindy’s Balloon Decorations Entertainment
      Cotton Belt Depot Museum Entertainment
      East Texas Symphony Association Entertainment
      Gallery Main Street Entertainment
      Goodman Museum Entertainment
      Liberty Hall Entertainment
      Meeting Place Entertainment
      Millennium 2000 Club Entertainment
      People’s Petroleum Building Entertainment
      The Discovery Science Place Entertainment
      The Garage Bar Entertainment
    • Business Name Category
      Albright Furniture Repair Home Service
      Hamilton Supply Home Service
      Morrison Supply Home Service
    • Business Name Category
      Aaxion, Inc. Industrial/Manufacturing
      ABC Supply Co. Industrial/Manufacturing
      Athletic Bag Co./RYNO Industrial/Manufacturing
      Borden Dairy Co. Industrial/Manufacturing
      Bradco Supply Co. Industrial/Manufacturing
      Copeland Equipment Co. Industrial/Manufacturing
      Innovation Pipeline Industrial/Manufacturing
      Matheson Industrial/Manufacturing
      Schaumburg & Polk Industrial/Manufacturing
      Texas Sweetwater Industrial/Manufacturing
      Twice the Ice Industrial/Manufacturing
      United Elevator Industrial/Manufacturing
    • Business Name Category
      Arrow Credit, Inc. Investment/Finance
      Austin Bank Investment/Finance
      Austin Finance Investment/Finance
      B&F Finance Investment/Finance
      B&W Finance Investment/Finance
      Bank of America Investment/Finance
      Barri Office Investment/Finance
      Discount National Mortgage Investment/Finance
      DolEx Dollar Express Investment/Finance
      Edward Jones Investment/Finance
      H&R Block Investment/Finance
      Hauk WC CPA Investment/Finance
      L&L Trading Group Ltd. Investment/Finance
      Martinez CPA Investment/Finance
      Regions Bank Investment/Finance
      Regions Financial Corporation Investment/Finance
      Rose Point Capital Advisors Investment/Finance
      TA&T Finance Corp. Investment/Finance
      Texas Cash Finance Investment/Finance
      Tex-Way Loans Investment/Finance
      Toledo Finance Investment/Finance
      Tyler Finance Dept. Investment/Finance
    • Business Name Category
      Beddingfield Bail Bonds Legal
      Bobbit/AIA Legal
      Buck Files Legal
      Davidson Law Office Legal
      EZ Out Bail Bonds Legal
      Ben Jarvis Legal
      Ladd & Thigpen, PC Legal
      Law Office of Andrew Carter Legal
      Lira, Bravo, & Martinez PLLC Legal
      Lone Star Legal Aid Legal
      Longinos Bail Bonds Legal
      Martin Walker, PC Legal
      Murphy & Baker Law Firm Legal
      Randal B. Gilbert Attorney At Law Legal
      Scammahorn Law Firm Legal
      Smith County CSCD Legal
      Smith County Jail Legal
      Smith County Probate Court Legal
      Strike Three Bonds Legal
      Tyler City Municipal Courts Legal
      Tyler Police Department Legal
      US Probation & Parole Office Legal
      White-Shaver Law Firm Legal
    • Business Name Category
      BCFS Health & Human Services Medical
      Cherished Birth Medical
      City Small Animal Clinic Medical
      Comfort Keepers of Tyler Medical
      Encompass Health Medical
      Foot Clinic of East Texas Medical
      Our Family Vet Glenwood Medical
      UT Health East Texas EMS Medical
      WIC North Tyler Medical
    • Business Name Category
      KLTV News
      Alpha Media East Texas News
      East Texas Radio News
      KYKX 105.7 News
      Tyler Courier Times News
      Tyler Morning Telegraph News
    • Business Name Category
      Abundant Life Ministries of Shabach Non-Profit/Church
      Bethlehem First Baptist Church Non-Profit/Church
      Calvary Chapel Tyler Non-Profit/Church
      Centro Cristiano Restaurcion Non-Profit/Church
      Child Evangelism Fellowship Non-Profit/Church
      Christ Episcopal Church Non-Profit/Church
      Church Under the Bridge Non-Profit/Church
      East Texas Communities Foundation Non-Profit/Church
      First Baptist Church Non-Profit/Church
      Goodwill Administration Non-Profit/Church
      Gospel Warehouse Non-Profit/Church
      Highway 80 Rescue Mission Non-Profit/Church
      Horizon Industries Non-Profit/Church
      Iglesia Nueva Vida Asamblea Non-Profit/Church
      Lighthouse for the Blind Non-Profit/Church
      Marvin Methodist Church Non-Profit/Church
      Mitchell Chapel COGIC Non-Profit/Church
      Neighborhood Services Non-Profit/Church
      New Birth Tyler Church – The Living Non-Profit/Church
      New Generation Baptist Church Non-Profit/Church
      Next Step Community Non-Profit/Church
      The Gospel of Jesus Christ International Ministries Non-Profit/Church
      The King’s Storehouse Food Bank Non-Profit/Church
      True Vine Baptist Church Non-Profit/Church
      United Health Church Non-Profit/Church
      West Erwin Church of Christ Non-Profit/Church
      West Fellowship Hall Church Non-Profit/Church
    • Business Name Category
      D&N Grocery Oil & Gas
      Express Stop 2 Oil & Gas
      Fender Exploration & Production Oil & Gas
      First Alt Fuel Oil & Gas
      Graward Operating Oil & Gas
      Jasper Exploration Oil & Gas
      Lake Ronel Oil Co. Oil & Gas
      Legacy Royalties Oil & Gas
      Penco Oil Co. Oil & Gas
      Petroleum Data Library Oil & Gas
      Pitt Stop 2 Oil & Gas
      Richard Griffin Petroleum Oil & Gas
      Texaco Tyler Oil & Gas
    • Business Name Category
      Backbone Hair Personal Care Service
      Brooks Sterling & Garrett Funeral Service Personal Care Service
      Cuttin’ Up Barbershop Personal Care Service
      Estetica Irma Personal Care Service
      Freestyle Barber Shop Personal Care Service
      Front & Beckham Barber Shop Personal Care Service
      Ladies Time Beauty Personal Care Service
      Lulu Beauty Salon Personal Care Service
      Mass Connection Barber Personal Care Service
      Moon Rivers Naturals Personal Care Service
      One Stop Barber Shop Personal Care Service
      Quality Cleaners Personal Care Service
      Rudy’s Barber Shop Personal Care Service
      Salon Selections Personal Care Service
      Sankofa Natural Hair Personal Care Service
      Star College of Cosmetology Personal Care Service
      The Press Personal Care Service
      Visable Difference Personal Care Service
      Vivana Cleaning Service Personal Care Service
      Yasel Beauty Salon Personal Care Service
      Backbone Hair Personal Care Service
    • Business Name Category
      D&R Properties Real Estate
      Griffin Real Estate Group Real Estate
      Maddox Residential and Commercial Services Real Estate
      Martin Heines Properties Real Estate
      Moore Grocery Lofts Real Estate
      Tyler Affordable Properties Real Estate
    • Business Name Category
      Bakery Outlet Restaurant
      Cafe 1948 Restaurant
      Catalina’s Authentic Mexican Cuisine Restaurant
      Chick-Fil-A Restaurant
      Church’s Chicken Restaurant
      Culture ETX Restaurant
      DoeBoy’s Taste of Chicago Restaurant
      Don Juan’s Restaurant
      El Puente Restaurant
      ETX Brewing Restaurant
      Flowers Baking Co. Restaurant
      Fruteria Abarrotes Ruby Restaurant
      Gentry Donuts Restaurant
      Janie’s Cakes Restaurant
      Little Caesar’s Pizza Restaurant
      Mexico Lindo Restaurant
      Moocho Burrito Restaurant
      Palace Seafood Restaurant
      Paleteria Y Nuverua Polar Restaurant
      Pots N’ Pans Restaurant
      Rhea’s Hot Links Restaurant
      Rick’s on the Square Restaurant
      Tapatio’s Restaurant
      Taqueria El Lugar Restaurant
      Taqueria Palacios Tortilleria Restaurant
      The Foundry Coffee House Restaurant
      The Porch Restaurant
      The Same Good Donuts Restaurant
      The Staby Taco Joint Restaurant
      Tyler Tortilla Factory Restaurant
      Wendy’s Restaurant
      Williams Fried Chicken Restaurant
    • Business Name Category
      8th Street Boutique Retail
      903 Handmade Retail
      Accredited Resale Retail
      B.B. Taylor Wholesale Produce Retail
      Bell Finance Furniture Retail
      Best Jewelers Retail
      Bill’s Unclaimed Furniture Retail
      Bontanica San Judas Tadeo Retail
      Brookshire Grocery Company Retail
      Buddy’s Home Furnishings Retail
      Citi Trends Retail
      ESW Elegant Suit Warehouse Retail
      Family Dollar Retail
      Fresh Pair Sneakers Retail
      Goodwill Store Retail
      Hacienda Gallery Vintage Shop Retail
      Harris Finance Furniture Retail
      Hixson Ellis Inc. Retail
      Katy Novelty Gift Shop Retail
      La Michoachana Retail
      Lone Star Pawn Retail
      Lucio’s Boot Repair & Western Wear Retail
      Mac’s Gun Shop Retail
      Mi Young’s Bride Retail
      Midtown Appliance Retail
      Mike’s Food Mart Retail
      Moss Retail
      Nostalgia Estate Jewelry Vintage Retail
      Rando’s Comedy Store Retail
      Rent-A-Center Retail
      Rose City Farmer’s Market Retail
      Salvation Army Retail
      Sherwin-Williams Paint Store Retail
      Tyler Gold Crafters Retail
      Victorian Impressions Retail
      Western Hat Tyler Retail
      Ye Olde City Antique Mall Retail
      Young At Heart Accessories Retail
    • Business Name Category
      Transportes San Miguel Transportation
      City of tyler Public Transportation Transportation
      Custom Truckers of Tyler Transportation
      Smith County Juror Parking Transportation
      Smith County Juror Parking Lot A Transportation
      SNL Distribution Transportation
      Tyler Cab Transportation
      Tyler Public Warehouse Transportation
    • Business Name Category
      The Woldert-Spence Manor Travel/Hospitality
    • Business Name Category
      AAA Sanitation, Inc. Utilities
      AT&T Utilities
      City of Tyler Waste Utilities
      Locksmith Express Utilities
      Pegasi Energy Resources Utilities
      Southern Utilities Utilities
      Tyler City Water Utilities Utilities
      Tyler Recycling Collection Utilities
      Tylex, Inc. Utilities
  • Heart of Tyler presents the annual Brick Award to a person, organization or business that has demonstrated outstanding support of Downtown Tyler Revitalization. The award is presented at Heart of Tyler’s annual meeting.

    A nominee’s tenure, level of participation, support and other factors go into selection of the recipient among the nominees.


    Know a person, organization or business that has demonstrated outstanding support of Downtown Tyler Revitalization? Feel free to submit a nomination!

    Past Winners

    • Mike Allen
    • J.D. Osborn
    • Steve Roosth
    • Dr. Keith McCoy
    • City of Tyler Parks and Recreation Department
    • General Obligations Bond Projects Task Force
    • Sheriff J. B. Smith
    • Karen Hampton
    • Claire Squibb
    • Debbie Roosth
    • Tyler City Council
    • Janet Drake Fair, George Hall
    • Judge Judith Guthrie
    • James Fair
    • Rick Eltife
    • Joyce Buford
    • Dr. Dana Adams
    • Henry Bell III
    • John O’Sullivan
    • Ingrid Young
    • Tom Mullins
    • Junior League of Tyler, Inc.
    • East Texas Symphony Orchestra
    • Travis Booher

Looking for upcoming events?

Downtown Tyler is humming with activity, day and night and in-between. There’s something for everyone in the Heart of Tyler – join us!


Let us know by filling out this form below. We’ll get back with you as soon as we can.