If you’re ever at loose ends on a Saturday, I have a suggestion: head to Kendall Whittier and just … wander around. There’s something very Tulsa about the way things happen in this century-old neighborhood, lately revived through a robust Main Street initiative. (The district just snagged five Oklahoma Main Street awards.) A snapshot of a recent two hours I spent there will give you a sense of what it’s like.
10:45: slide in towards the end of the Tulsa Farmers Market, just in time to grab some essential veggies and say hi to some vendors. Lock eyes with a handwoven basket as it's being loaded into a pickup truck; vow to come back for it next week.
11:00: tumble into Whitty Books and squat directly in front of the 50% off rack. (Walt Whitman’s diaries? Yes, thank you—they’re better than Kerouac, a hundred years before the Beats.) The proprietor, Victoria, calls out “Reading anything good lately?” and it’s one of those conversation starters that actually works on socially awkward people, so we get to talking. Pretty soon I’m deep in the stacks, opening this and that, listening to local creators come in with recipe zines and flyers for art shows, peeking around the open shelves in the back to see what Mary Make & Do is up to in her spunky new shared space. As Victoria rings me up, we compare Dustin Cleveland tattoos. She shares how great it felt to have Heirloom Rustic Ales up the street let Whitty use their patio for a blackout poetry event recently—no fee, just come on over and do it. We toss around ideas for a poetry / dance collaboration, since she knows from previous talks that I’m into that sort of thing.
11:30: down the sidewalk to Jo & June. This place is adorable and has been from the start, when it was wedged into the much less airy space next to Ziegler’s. I grab some juniper incense and a striped seersucker jacket. I leave behind (for you, dear readers) the crazy face earrings, the incredible quartz points and about a hundred of the sharpest vintage pieces in the city. Quick chat with the shopkeepers; we reminisce about the old location and compare Dustin Cleveland tattoos.
12:00: hungry. I’ve mentioned the Pollos Asados al Carbon tacos al pastor with green sauce before in my Under the Radar newsletter and I can absolutely promise this won’t be the last time you hear about them. No tattoo talk here but I do spy some possible Ritual Electric material on another diner.
12:30: pop in to the pop-up Makers Market set up at The Makerage on the last Saturday of each month. A true grab bag of quality crafts. Like, “some of the most interesting work in the city” kind of quality. Henry Bennett, ceramicist, has also, not coincidentally, recently designed a black-glazed mug for Ritual Electric (visible down the street).
1:00: grab milk, eggs and avocados at Las Americas for Sunday brunch. Then, library. I know, I bought books already, but I’ve got some to return. I glance at the Circle Cinema marquee on the way back to my car; might come back later for a movie. (If I didn’t have those groceries yet, I’d have ducked in right then.) As I head for home, I’m happier after two hours in four blocks of Kendall Whittier than I feel after a spa day. What’s that about?
If you’re noticing a thread, and you think it’s the tattoo shop, you’re only partly right. The real thread is the kind of casual interaction it’s pretty tough to get when you’re going somewhere for something specific and then driving away immediately once you’ve got it. These are known as weak-tie connective relationships—the kind proven to increase people’s sense of well-being and belonging, according to this article from the New York Times (and, like, just common sense):
“In her work examining social interactions, Gillian Sandstrom, a senior lecturer of psychology at the University of Essex, found that maintaining a network of low-stakes connections further enmeshes us in our community, especially after a major move away from family and close friends or the loss of a loved one.
“‘A lot of us think it’s not worth our time to have those kinds of interactions, that they can’t possibly provide any meaning,’ Dr. Sandstrom said. ‘We’re focused on whatever is next and we don’t stop and take that second to enjoy the moment.’"
Everybody knows that bars or coffee shops can be great places to interact. (KW has those, too, and the Whittier Bar is about to bust out some amazing concerts in the next few weeks.) But small neighborhoods like Kendall Whittier give you a wider web of belonging and a lot of diverse and potentially long-lasting connections that don’t have to cost a dime, though it sure feels good to support these local shops. It's good to remember that KW is a real neighborhood, where connections are a real part of life and livelihood. The spirit of the district is the spirit of the neighborhood itself, not the other way around.
So whether you’re new to Tulsa or a lifer, a loner or the life of the party, my suggestion is this: head down to Lewis and Admiral and wander around on a Saturday. When somebody calls out to you (or asks about your tattoo), just answer. A few Saturdays like that and you’ll basically be a regular. You’ll almost certainly be happier.
Stay up to date on the Kendall Whittier Main Street Facebook page, and check out these upcoming K-Dub events:
2212 E. Admiral Blvd.
September 25, 4pm
Heirloom Rustic Ales
2213 E. Admiral Blvd.
September 26, 12pm
2405 E. Admiral Blvd.
September 27, 9pm
Shop 66 Saturdays
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