New and established businesses that built one of the best public squares in the country
THE VOTES OF USA Today’s Reader’s Choice Best Public Square are in, and Georgia’s Decatur ranks third in the country. According to the publication, “Around the world, cities are centered around public squares. These outdoor living rooms continue to play an important role as gathering places and event grounds in cities across the country.”
Decatur beat some famous counterparts including Jackson Square in New Orleans, Village Green in Bar Harbor, Maine, and Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square.
The ranking is no surprise to some of the long-established and new businesses that have chosen to hang their sign and financial future there.
The owners of Little Shop of Stories chose the location about 17 years ago to be in the community they lived in, according to store manager Justin Colussy-Estes. “Little Shop was on the other side of the square, on the ground floor beneath Eddie’s Attic, already a longstanding Decatur landmark, across from the courthouse and next door to city hall. The space was large, and we shared it with an ice cream shop. The hope was that folks doing business at the courthouse might discover the bookstore and pick up a book while waiting for jury duty or the like,” he said.
One of the newcomers, restaurant Boho115, joins the square’s long reputation of being a haven for notable eats. “We have lived within a mile of the square for almost twenty years, often walking there and enjoying all the great restaurants. We love the concerts, festivals and liveliness. We have wanted to open this concept on the Square for some time and when the Square Pub became available it was the perfect space for us. We acquired the space during the pandemic, which was a bit scary, but also knew the third best square in the country was a great place to be and we’re thrilled to be here!” explained restaurateur Humberto Bermudez. “The location was perfect for our beachside concept, and we wanted to honor the original building and maintain its history, while modernizing the space and making it a casual and comfortable place to eat, drink and relax.”
Much of the success of today’s square is the result of the work in the 90s of the late developer Louis Pichulik, known for a love of downtowns, including Decatur’s. The Georgia Cities Foundation awarded Pichulik its 2015 Renaissance Award. He was nominated by Lyn Menne, then Decatur Downtown Devel22 DECATUR LIVING Summer 2022 opment Authority Executive Director, who credited Pichulik’s vision and commitment saying “we couldn’t have done what we’ve done without good downtown property owners” in a video that documented his work.
Menne goes on in the video to recount one of the first projects Pichulik took is the building that now houses The Iberian Pig. During the revitalization, they discovered an original painted sign for Smith’s shoe company that had been covered up. He also envisioned the patio behind Raging Burrito, which was once an unsightly service entrance.
The current film and television industry influence is also having an effect on the businesses that populate the square. “I chose Decatur Square to open my clothing boutique because of its high concentration of great restaurants, seasonal festivals, and community gathering spaces – foot traffic is always incredible,” said Lisa Bobb, owner of Squash Blossom Boutique. “The best surprise about being located on Decatur Square has been the opportunity for my business to be featured in movies and TV shows. There’s always something filming on the square, and it’s great to see my store on the big and small screen.”
Decatur’s reputation as a collaborative and congenial residential community translates to its business community as well. Colussy-Estes cites cross-promotional partnerships Little Shop has experienced over the years, for instance giving coupons for treats from local businesses as part of its summer reading program or having storytime at the farmer’s market. “The most rewarding part of being a small business in downtown Decatur is the community of business neighbors we have.”
That community, led by city leaders, is one of the things that helped the square during the pandemic. “The businesses came together with the city to hold an outdoor market over the holidays to help us get through the hardest moments of the early to mid pandemic,” explained Colussy-Estes. “We really do feel like a small town, even though we’re right next to downtown Atlanta. I often see our city leaders in the store, or at a local restaurant, and we all work together to keep that charm and make sure everyone feels welcome, whether they’re visiting for the day or looking to move to town.”
Some of the hot spots on the square include:
Boho115 / 115 Sycamore St.
The best of Spain, Argentina and Mexico come together in this newer addition to the square. Boho115 offers a taste of the breezy, coastal flavors with a raw bar, global seafood dishes and flavorful ceviches and sashimis. Steak lovers can choose from the surf tuna or the turf Argentinian steak. Sourcing quality ingredients, including Espinaler Conservas from Barcelona and empanadas from Belene de la Cruz, is a hallmark of the menu. And the coastal cocktails, draft margaritas, and an extensive selection of tequilas, mezcals, wine and local craft beer are ready to quench the adult thirst. The space has been reimagined since its Square Pub days with a first floor dining room and bar, a second floor loft lounge and a third floor window bar overlooking the square, all in light and easy décor that may be coining a new phrase inland-seaside chic.
The Deer and the Dove / 155 Sycamore St.
Seasons come alive at The Deer and the Dove, a restaurant that offers the best of fine dining with a neighborhood vibe. Chefs Terry Koval and Chef de Cuisine Matt Crutchfield create a delicious menu that reads like a friend’s list, citing the farms and friends that contribute the hyper local, organic ingredients that contribute to dishes such as the Bramlett Farms Whole Trout or the Bear Creek Farms Ribeye to the draft beer and charcuterie program. An extensive wine list and clever cocktails ensure the drinks don’t disappoint. The wood-fired grill gets an early start with hand-rolled, bagels made fresh daily and ready for shmear offered at the B-side. Start off the day with your favorite coffee with house-made syrup flavorings or Rishi teas and one of the varying house-made pastries.
Little Shop of Stories / 133A E. Court Sq.
Now a staple on the square, this shop of “books and more for kids and the grownups they become” opened nearly 17 years ago after an email from one of its owners shared her dream with friends and asked for help. Outlasting the internet advances that have put many brick-and-mortar bookstores out of business, it’s hard to imagine Decatur without Little Shop with its twice weekly storytimes and summer camps. The shop offers several varieties of book clubs and social events including a unicorn party and author events. Little Shop of Stories is one of the partners of an upcoming ticketed event featuring Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, author of “Antiracist Baby.” The event is for all ages, and Kendi will discuss his work and share his new picture book “Goodnight Racism” on June 18.
Squash Blossom Boutique / 113 E. Court Sq.
With a vision to outfit the woman not willing to sacrifice a unique look in the pursuit of easy to wear, Squash Blossom Boutique offers beautiful apparel, accessories and shoes. From statement pieces to staples, shop a curated selection from major brands such as Free People, Johnny Was, Flax and Fly London as well as artsy finds from independent and local designers. The boutique offers a great selection of stand-out gifts at many price points, as well as modern unisex and masculine accessories. Squash Blossom is open on the square seven days a week, and recently opened another location in the Grant Park neighborhood of Atlanta. If you can’t get there in person, the shop is open online at squashblossomboutique.com.
Wild Oats & Billy Goats / 112 E. Ponce de Leon Ave.
On the square since 2010, Wild Oats & Billy Goats is a whimsical and colorful art gallery and artisan boutique. Among the fares are paintings, pottery and sculpture as well as fabric, metal, wood, and paper art created by dozens of local and regional artists. Other handcrafted treasures include bath and body products, jewelry and stationery. Whether it’s wearable art, functional décor or a statement conversation starter, the shop is a destination place for square-goers in need of a gift or something special.