In the early 1980s, you could wander between Downtown and Campus and find art galleries. They were there, scattered mostly between Russell and Warren streets, stuck in dilapidated buildings and forgotten storefronts.

In the early 1980s, you could wander between Downtown and Campus and find art galleries. They were there, scattered mostly between Russell and Warren streets, stuck in dilapidated buildings and forgotten storefronts.

You could walk around and find a gallery. You just wouldn't want to. To most Columbus residents, the neighborhood known for years as the Near Northside was a place where you picked up prostitutes, not paintings.

Gallery owners in the area might not have felt threatened, but they knew their customers did. So, in October 1984, a handful of shops that had recently coalesced around Lincoln Street tried something new. They synchronized exhibit openings, combined mailing lists, stayed open late and had a party.

They picked the first Saturday of the month. An institution, which continues its 25th anniversary celebration this weekend, was born.

"It was safety in numbers," said Maria Galloway, owner of PM Gallery, which organized the inaugural event. "It got people there after dark. Once they came, then they felt a lot more comfortable coming here during the day. It allowed us to break a psychological barrier."

The event started small: PM Gallery, Michael Allen Gallery, UNICEF Glass Galaxy, a nonprofit collective known as ArtReach, a curio shop called Ritchey's at 714 and HandMotions, which sold hand-painted T-shirts.

It didn't even have a name until a year later, when Spangler Cummings Galleries jumped on board and started marketing the idea with the fledgling Short North Business Association.

Gallery Hop was an instant hit.

"When the first Hop took off, it about killed me," Galloway added. "Our business tripled in the first year. That sort of thing just doesn't happen."

From there, the Hop grew organically, like the neighborhood around it. Crowds came - art collectors and casual shoppers alike. Niche shops and additional galleries followed, drawn by a buzz amplified monthly by an art event everyone was talking about.

"It helped me realize what was happening down there," said Sherrie Hawk, who opened Riley Hawk Gallery at Russell and High streets about a year after the first Hop. "I'm not sure if we would've been aware of that space without Gallery Hop."

One Saturday a month didn't create the Short North. Instead, the event and the neighborhood simply grew together - working in tandem, fueling each other and creating a natural energy envied by every big-time developer in town.

"Gallery Hop produced a kind of synergy," said John Allen, who opened the Short North Tavern in 1981 and helped rename the neighborhood about a year later. "It fit with the image, that theme we were trying to promote."

Today, you would call it branding. Back then, the campaign to transform the Short North wasn't so formal. Allen, developer Sandy Wood and a few other concerned citizens simply sat down and hashed out a neighborhood. His tavern came in handy.

They wanted something different than German Village, a local redevelopment success. They wanted something vibrant. They wanted to attract business owners who'd care about what happened outside their doorsteps.

Beyond the rotten buildings and bad reputation, they envisioned a thriving district of arts and entertainment, culture and antiques. With the help of nearby businesses, they set about creating it brick by brick, block by block.

Starting in the mid-'80s, Wood redid numerous buildings - the one on East Lincoln, where Gallery Hop was founded, and Carriage House Place, where chef Kent Rigsby set up his first restaurant in 1986. Other projects soon followed.

In 1987, Columbus was named an All-America City by the National Civic League, which pointed to revitalization efforts in the Short North.

The district was blessed with blocks of historic buildings and a section of High Street just wide enough for cars to pass but skinny enough to allow merchants to peer into each other's windows. Neighbors in Victorian Village and Italian Village cared about where they lived.

Storefronts were opened, facades rebuilt, sidewalks cleaned. Blight gradually dissipated like a morning fog.

"The more we renovated, the more other people renovated with us," Wood said. "It had to happen that way - I didn't have a million dollars to invest."

The man trained as a banker often charged lower rates for small galleries and restaurants, seeking out art brokers in other parts of town. Even more than frontage, Wood sold an idea. Businesses came because they believed.

"With the neighborhood behind us, we were selling the fact that we wanted them here," he explained. "It took a long time for people to discover that it was OK to come down there again. It's just something that has grown by itself."

The City of Columbus came through with capital funds for streetside improvements, new trees and brick pavers, while federal tax credits helped fund historic revitalization projects.

Above all, the neighborhood thrived with a regular event showcasing its strengths. During the past 25 years, both crept south over I-670, north to Fifth Avenue and into good standing with the city's residents. Together, they became the city's beating heart - in many ways what defines Columbus to the world.

"Gallery Hop is the No. 1 reason the Short North has done so well," said John Angelo, director of the Short North Business Association. "It's a 25-year calling card. It reminds people that the district is there."

Looking Ahead

John Angelo, executive director of the Short North Business Association for the last five years, will step down from his post on Dec. 31, leaving a legacy of improvements and many challenges for the neighborhood.

Angelo, who came to Columbus from Cincinnati, is starting a company that will specialize in destination marketing for the Ohio region. The SNBA, a nonprofit collective of local businesses, has formed a search committee to find his replacement.

During Angelo's tenure, the district has seen the successful relighting of its trademark arches, the birth of large events like Highball Halloween and effervescent coverage from The New York Times, National Geographic Traveler and others.

Among his accomplishments, Angelo also counts elevating the stature of the SNBA, diversifying neighborhood events and working collaboratively with other districts. Columbus High Five - a marketing venture among the Short North, German Village, Downtown, the Arena District and Campus - will be unveiled soon.

"I was lucky," he explained. "I came at a time when so much of the table was set."

Even with these recent victories, Angelo said his successor will face significant hurdles during the next five years.

"One challenge would be maintaining the quality and standard of what the district is capable of and navigating the economy for at least another year and a half," he added.

Big Time

Grassroots revitalization remains an integral part of the Short North. Yet since development of the Cap over I-670 started in 2003, large-scale investment has become more common. Here's a look at some of the most eye-catching projects.

Jackson on High

1145 N. High St.

This 46-unit condo project will include three buildings rising up to eight stories. Space for three retail tenants is available; an upscale restaurant is envisioned for one.

Ibiza

N. High Street and E. Hubbard Avenue

Billed as "a metropolitan oasis," this flashy project will include two condo buildings. One features glass-walled penthouses, the other brownstones.

Kroger

1350 N. High St.

The 27-year-old grocery will be razed for a larger version that abuts High Street. Company real-estate managers have said it will fill the gap between the Short North and South Campus Gateway.

Smith and High

1246 N. High St.

This 12-unit apartment complex near Fifth Avenue and High Street includes 7,000 square feet of retail space.

York on High

1276 N. High St.

An old Masonic Temple has been reborn as a 25-unit condo building with lofts, brownstones and penthouses.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch