Editor’s Note: This is part two of a three-part series exploring the past, present and future of the Jewelry District in Providence.
At its northern end, Eddy Street in Providence starts with parking lots. Move south and there’s the old motor shop that’s been turned into residential condominiums. Then there’s the new Brown University medical school.
Across the street is land slated to become a park. Down the road, there is a police substation, an appraiser, a real estate office, more parking lots and a crumbling, defunct power plant.
It’s a street with a hodgepodge of businesses, indicative of the wider neighborhood known for years as the Jewelry District, in a nod to its once-vibrant jewelry-manufacturing history.
But starting about three decades ago, the neighborhood shifted from jewelry to offices. Now, as state and city leaders try to rebrand and reinvent the area as the Knowledge District, business leaders there say the roots are already firmly planted.
“That would be great because that’s often what I think it is,” said Malcolm Grear, founder and CEO of Malcolm Grear Designers on Eddy Street. The design firm has leveraged its creativity, expertise and skills to develop marketing campaigns for clients around the world, including the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
And there are other firms with a creative bent and plenty of “knowledge,” argues Jewelry District Association President Arthur Salisbury. So he cringes when leaders try and brand the area the Knowledge District, saying it already has plenty of intelligence and diversity.
“We’re a little bit of everything and that’s what we want to be,” Salisbury said. Just look at Eddy Street. Approximately 25 businesses abut the road and employ more than 225 people in positions as diverse as gas station attendant, insurance agent and medical-school professor. The Jewelry District, however, is much larger than one street. Generally regarded to resemble a pie wedge, the district is pie-shaped, with interstates 95 and 195 forming the crust and the Providence River and Pine Street the edges. Neither the city, state nor the neighborhood association has ever completed an official inventory of businesses or jobs in the area that has grown organically since the jewelry industry largely left two decades ago.