East Atlanta resident Henry Bryant said things started changing in his neighborhood when the Olympics came to Atlanta in 1996.
“One of the big turning points was when the Olympic torch came to East Atlanta,” Bryant said.
Bryant said the torch was scheduled to arrive in East Atlanta Village, the business district of the neighborhood, at 10 p.m. He said Grant Central Pizza, a coffee shop and another restaurant had just opened.
“They had started to struggle after only being open for a few weeks,” Bryant said. “There had never been anybody in the village after six o’ clock. The torch was running behind and they didn’t get there until 5 in the morning but people stayed out all night long—those businesses stayed open all night too. That sort of marked a time that would be the closest to overnight change we’ve ever had here.”
Bryant, who has been living in the East Atlanta neighborhood for 32 years, said most of the change has been slow and arduous. He first moved to the neighborhood from a condominium in south DeKalb when he and his wife saw property values begin to drop in the area. When his family first moved to East Atlanta, Bryant said there wasn’t even a shopping area in the neighborhood.
“Obviously, it was real different back then than it is today. What we felt when we first moved here was a sort of small town atmosphere—it was an injured small town but it had those elements,” he said.
Bryant, who is a member of the East Atlanta Community Association, said when he and his family first moved to East Atlanta it was very easy to get to know their neighbors and everybody was willing to help each other.
“It’s funny that people who have moved here in the past three to five years get very impatient with the neighborhood and think that it should be fixed up overnight,” he said. “I think it really takes constant work and vigilance—you take three steps forward and two steps back.”
Over the years, Bryant said, the city has undergone multiple streetscape projects to beautify the neighborhood. Additionally, he said residents have consistently battled zoning, sanitation and housing issues.
For example, the majority of businesses zoned in East Atlanta village are required to share parking. However, Bryant said some business owners are not being cooperative. East Atlanta village has become a business/entertainment district with a vibrant night life, but Bryant said that wasn’t always residents’ vision for the small neighborhood.
“As a person who was involved in the very first East Atlanta study and sat around and said what we wanted it to be, it is not what we wanted it to be,” Bryant said. “Our original vision for the village was to have it as a new urban concept—a place where you would be able to walk to buy goods and services. It would include bars but not to the extent it does now.”
Bryant said as Buckhead became less of an entertainment district over the past several decades, people began looking for other places to go and many began coming to East Atlanta. More bars and restaurants began to open, not all of them family friendly.
“I think we’re still struggling with that up in the village,” Bryant said. “Every time I get in my car and turn the key I ask myself, ‘Where am I going and why am I going there; why can’t I get it in the village?’ What it comes down to is landowners can make more money selling alcohol.”
Although Bryant said he still sees a lot of work to be done, he is happy in East Atlanta and with the positive changes and growth the neighborhood has seen over the years.
“We discovered after we moved here that we needed to work on the community and we worked on that as a family a lot. Our sons were born here and they’re all grown and have moved back into the area. That’s a good thing,” Bryant said.