"We funk-tified it," says Lyjha Wilton. He's referring to Boulder Coffee Co. on the South Clinton-Alexander Street intersection. Granted Wilton's a little biased. He is, after all, the coffee shop's owner. But the interior is undeniably funky. The walls meet at odd angles; the décor is a mix of antique mirrors, orange-beaded lamps, and overstuffed coaches, and the paint job makes you wonder why somebody looked at that particular shade of green and decided to throw it on their walls.
"I like more of a casual scene," says Wilton, 29. He's dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt. His hair's buzzed. A silver earring studs one ear. "It looks nothing like it really did when I purchased the building," he says. "This was actually an Avon retail center. The ceiling came down to the top of the windows. It was just very commercial-feeling." Now, almost exactly one year later, Wilton says Boulder's "become a living entity."
"I'll come in, and the furniture will be rearranged. Even when we don't have bookings, I'll come in and people will be here playing their instruments," he says.
Wilton's become something of a cheerleader, not just for his cafe, but for the entire neighborhood: the South Wedge. Few areas in Rochester, he says, have experienced as much growth as the Wedge in recent years. But unlike other Rochester hubs, such as Park Avenue and Corn Hill, the Wedge hasn't had a festival to call its own. Until now.
On August 19 and 20, Wilton will host BoulderFest, an outdoor festival with stalls, food, and music. "BoulderFest's going to be a huge extension of the coffee company," says Wilton, whose original goal with the coffee shop was to promote local artists and musicians. Because BoulderFest is so new compared to the area's more established festivals, Wilton's hoping to attract rising artists and musicians, particularly those living in or near the South Wedge. "The point of the festival is to showcase the neighborhood and show off how far we've come," he says.
This festival, however, has one marked difference from other area festivals: none of it will take place on public streets. "We won't need to close off any city streets, because I own all the property," he says.
Welcome to Wilton-land. Aside from the coffee shop, Wilton also owns 30 or so houses --- about 80 rental units --- on Alexander Street between Mt.Hope and South Clinton. Instead of holding his festival on the street, Wilton got permission from his tenants to hold it in their backyards. Admission will be $3 each day. The festival will run from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. If it rains, activities will move indoors to the nearby German House.
While the small courtyard outside Boulder will feature acoustic musicians, on the large stretch of land immediately westof the shop there'll be a bandstand, a tent, artists, and vendors. People can park in a city-owned lot on South Clinton, says Wilton, who is still working through the paperwork with city officials.
Wilton got his start in development about five years ago, convincing a friend to buy one property, learning how to fix it up, buying out his partner, and using the equity to buy another. And then another. And another.
"You have to have a real tolerance for risk," he says. But he's still keen on growing his development company, now known as Boulder Realty, and his café, which falls under the Boulder Enterprises umbrella.
Now he's finishing up a house behind Boulder, which he says he'd love for somebody to turn it into a restaurant. And there's the property he recently bought on South and Alexander, a notoriously difficult corner. "My long-term goals are to renovate the mini-mart storefront, exterior and interior, and either attract a new tenant that's going to operate an upscale convenience store or do it myself," he says.
With two sons under age 3 and a daughter due in November, Wilton says his biggest challenge is leaving work behind when he goes home. "Sometimes it's hard to stop thinking about BoulderFest and help him build his little block house," Wilton says referring to his oldest son. "I want to try to slow down a little bit. It's been a crazy couple years of growth. When I really sit down to think about it, my head spins."
At the fest
South Wedge developer Lyjha Wilton is planning a two-day BoulderFest, with music and artists' exhibits, for August 19 and 20 in the South Wedge.
By early this week, the performance lineup included Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, The Isotopes, 40oz to Freedom, The Niche, St. Phillip's Escalator, and Gregory Paul.