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Gaye and Denny Cox, architecture, and beautiful old things. As college sweethearts, they went antiquing together, and as newlyweds bought an old house because they could afford it… and fixed it up themselves.
In 2003, Downtown Lancaster continued to struggle, so the two scaled up their creative project skills and bought an old bookstore building on a sketchy block of Prince Street in which Gaye created CityFolk, a lifestyle store that would showcase traditional American folk art, French & American antiques, and decorative accessories.
“We were physically demonstrating that it was not dangerous to walk downtown,” says Denny, who had also chaired the Lancaster Crime Commission. “And it transformed our part of the city, and offered a model for other parts of the city.”
Gaye, a lifelong retailer, had developed the Museum Store at the Heritage Center adjacent Lancaster Central Market. She understood the power of art and “the Arts” in the retail life of the city. So, CityFolk was followed by a half-dozen art galleries in other buildings they restored in the block they labeled Gallery Row. “We defined the geography of the arts in Lancaster by making the arts district a place,” Denny explains.
Other artists moved nearby. Gaye and the other gallery owners and artists were able to turn that place into an event, by promoting First Friday. And now they could push the influence of First Friday to restaurants and other venues by attracting people to the city at night. “We were physically demonstrating that it was not dangerous to walk downtown,” says Denny, who had also chaired the Lancaster Crime Commission. “And it transformed our part of the city, and offered a model for other parts of the city.”
Denny cites the importance of ordinary people as stakesholders for Lancaster’s success, not waiting for the government to lead the way. The bi-partisan Crime Commission alone recruited 350 volunteers who wanted to re-make our city. Many, many more have stepped forward since.
From Gaye and Denny’s vision, Lancaster’s arts scene exploded; Gaye is quick to point out just how unique Lancaster is now with its concentration of high-quality art, music, food, and architecture. The two are still in love with transformation. He just completed renovating a city carriage house and she is getting back to her artist roots by putting paintbrush to canvas. Together they still stroll Gallery Row and enjoy the arts renaissance they nurtured.