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In an effort to revitalize N.W. 39th Street, Beans and Leaves proves to be more than just a coffee shop.

Louis Fowler May 15th, 2013

Once-beleaguered historic areas such as the Paseo and the Plaza District have evolved from mere Oklahoma City neighborhoods into centers of art, culture and community.

By: Mark Hancock

Much of that revitalization can be credited to the voices of determined residents.

Jennifer Hudgens and Dr. Eric Mix, managers of Beans & Leaves Community Coffee at 4015 N. Pennsylvania, have made it their personal mission to see the area around N.W. 39th and Pennsylvania transformed as well. They hope to help make it the next big cultural center in OKC.

According to Hudgens, the first step is to make Beans & Leaves a safe, welcoming atmosphere for everyone, regardless of whether they are part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“It’s an environment that’s comfortable,” she said. “We’re starting to call Beans & Leaves ‘Community Coffee,’ because we believe it’s a hub for our community — not just the LGBT side of it, but anybody who comes in.”

A local poet, Hudgens spent time crafting and performing her poems there before she became a manager. That same aura of creativity inspired Mix to come aboard.

“We didn’t want this to close, because of the space that it’s come to represent,” Mix said. “It’s a haven for poets, artists, musicians, intellectuals  all sorts of creative people. It’s kind of a light in the darkness, and there are lots of lights in Oklahoma City. But this one is very bright, and we didn’t want it to go out.”

As Beans & Leaves filled its social calendar with everything from music and poetry to songwriters’ circles and open-mic nights, the managers began to hear from some people who wouldn’t frequent the area due to fears of crime or simply being harassed. Such conversations with customers prompted Mix and Hudgens to become more proactive and lead efforts to renew the 39th Street area.

“This neighborhood needs a new life,” Hudgens said. “The 39th Street revamp committee — that’s not their official name — meet here monthly. They want this to be a district, kind of like the Plaza District or the Paseo. We want sidewalks. We want foot traffic during the day. We want more businesses to want to come in here and get the negative elements out and cut the crime down and make the streets more walkable for pedestrians. I want this to be a safe space for everyone.”

As part of that effort, Beans & Leaves has started offering on-duty police free coffee and tea refills for their refillable mugs.

“We want to support them, and usually that helps support us as well,” Hudgens said.

When asked whether the area’s role in the LGBT community has contributed to any neglect from the city, she and Mix were guarded.

“I’d hate to say that that’s the reason, but it’s a large possibility,” Hudgens said. “I wouldn’t presume to know for sure. We are in Oklahoma. It is a red state, and unfortunately, we do run into a lot of political issues when it comes to that.”

But both said they are optimistic about the neighborhood’s future.

“My hope and dream is that the area be cleaned up, because it’s kind of an urban blight at the moment,” Mix said. “Same thing happened with the Paseo. Apparently, the Paseo was a horrible den of inequity with crime and drugs, and now, it’s ‘the thing.’ I think the 39th Street District could become the next thing.”

 
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