It once was thought of as the neglected side of Bakersfield's downtown revival.
But these days, the area east of Chester Avenue appears to be rumbling with economic activity and entrepreneurship. Places like Narducci’s Burgers & Italian Ice, The Kitchen, Killer Poke, Cafe Smitten, 17th Place apartments, Fashionista, Qwik Cafe, the relaunch of the Silver Fox and others are bringing new energy and visibility to this section of downtown.
It's a section that some are referring to as "Eastchester," a playful nod to the long-established "Westchester" place name.
Jacqui Kitchen, community development director for the City of Bakersfield, said the revival is no figment of the imagination.
"Yes, there has absolutely been a resurgence of activity and life in downtown — including the area east of Chester, Kitchen said.
In addition to the places named above, Kitchen pointed out several others, including Nuestro, near Central Park in the former location of La Costa; renovations and new ownership at Goose Loonies; and the tiki bar named Tiki-Ko on K Street.
Kitchen cited increased attendance at 3rd Thursday events at Central Park, the emergence of a unified "antiques" district — and she noted there are several new art murals appearing throughout the area, signals that business owners are willing to spend to improve the appearance of their properties.
Theresa Gerber, co-owner of Killer Poke (pronounced Poe-Kay) at 19th and O streets, said she and her business partner Joy Howard looked at locations in Rosedale and in the southwest before choosing Eastchester.
"We love it here. We're excited about being here," Gerber said.
It's hard to put into words, she added.
Some say there's a feeling downtown, a cultural something that sets itself apart from cookie-cutter developments in Rosedale, many of which could be transplanted to shopping centers and strip malls throughout the American West without anyone noticing.
Another plus, Gerber said, is she can walk to work. She lives in the 17th Place Townhomes, a recently built, $6.7 million complex of 44 three-story apartments located in Eastchester. The upscale complex is fully leased, proof that there is a demand for a walkable, urban lifestyle in Bakersfield's downtown.
Part of the success of downtown's east side is due to new residential developments like 17th Place, which not only create places to live, they literally attract new customers into downtown, customers who live and often work there and patronize area restaurants, retail and night spots.
Marc Thurston, a senior vice president at Newmark Grubb Commercial Real Estate, said downtown has a burgeoning potential.
"Back when we were growing up, people were all going out to the suburbs," Thurston said.
Indeed, the exodus of Americans to the 'burbs is a well-documented phenomenon that for decades had a negative impact on downtown business districts across the country.
But people's attitudes are changing, Thurston said.
"Now you have a lot of new people in Bakersfield and they don't have an allegiance" to any area of town.
Of course, the new entrepreneurs are joining well-established businesses that have been successful for years on the east side of Chester, places like Bill Lee's, Rice Bowl, American Business Machines, Sinaloa Restaurant and many others.
"From the city perspective, we are doing everything we can to encourage the growth," Kitchen said. "We strive to have one of the most business-friendly permitting processes in the state, and also have flexible zoning downtown that allows a variety of entertainment and residential mixed uses by-right.
The city also offers discounted traffic and sewer connection fees for downtown developers, and have flexible parking requirements in the downtown core.
Last month, the Bakersfield City Council passed an ordinance that allows micro-breweries and distilleries — a growing trend — to operate in the downtown business district.
"Of course, the city spent over 10 years creating the Mill Creek Linear Park, with more than 400 units of affordable housing on the east side of downtown," Kitchen said, "plus the total renovation of Q Street with new lights, medians" and landscaping.
Kelli and Amy Davis recently reopened their women's clothing boutique, Fashionista, on 18th Street in Eastchester.
They say they love the energy of the area, the diversity and the urban feel. And they hope more people who live in the southwest and Rosedale visit downtown, and become better acquainted with what the central district has to offer.
"We love it here," said Kelli Davis. "We wouldn't want to be anywhere else."