Downtown Revitalized One Business at a Time

by Erin Thursby
Downtown is home to too many empty storefronts, but there are success stories- places that opened a couple of years ago and have weathered the bad economy, existing restaurants that have expanded and new businesses that opened their doors just last year. It’s these small undertakings that make a difference and open the door for larger scale Downtown improvement.
Says Pamela Elms, Director of Marketing for Downtown Vision, “It?s not [always] the big projects that revitalize Downtown. It’s the small entrepreneurs.”
Chamblin’s Uptown (215 N. Laura St., 674-0868) opened its doors in 2008, celebrating its second birthday this year. This two story bookstore and cafe is unique to the area. In some ways it’s similar to his Lakeshore/Ortega area store off of Roosevelt, which also does a bustling trade in used books, but unlike that store, they serve coffee (Green Mountain), soups, sandwiches, salads and ice cream snacks at the Downtown locale.
Owner Ron Chamblin says that the Downtown storefront has “shown a steady increase” since opening. He hopes as other shops move into the area, the synergy created will continue to boost his sales.
Businesses such as Chamblin’s that already have roots, both financially and in the community, can be a bedrock for Downtown. They already have a customer base, a reputation and time to make their business grow.
Another business with roots in the community opened Downtown late in 2009, an office furnishing and d’cor shop called Perdue (5 West Forsyth St, 737-5858). The firm itself has an established rep in Jacksonville. They’ve been around since 1916 and have past clients such as St. Vincent’s Hospital, UNF, Vystar, Wachovia and several local law offices.
Expansion of existing businesses can be just as important to the health of Downtown as new storefronts. Zodiac Grill, which has had success in the Downtown area, is moving its digs from 128 W. Adams Street to 118 W. Adams Street.
“When a business moves from one place to another within Downtown, it’s good for us because they’ve improved and renovated the old space, making it more attractive to new renters,” says Pamela Elms of Downtown Vision.
Expansions aren’t always physical. Longer hours (particularly on Art Walk nights) and expanded services are all part of that improvement. See article Faster Food to the right for new food delivery options of existing restaurants. The Skyline Cafe (50 N Laura St., Bank of America building, 42 floor, 791-9533 x241) is now open Wednesday and Friday from 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm for cocktails, beer, wine and snacks. Chew (117 West Adams St., 355-3793) has also recently added a Happy Hour.
Downtown workers need to eat, so there are plenty of places to lunch in the Downtown area (though most tend to be closed on weekends and in the evenings). Despite, or maybe because of, the down economy, well-located delis have done decent business. Several delis that opened in ’08 that are still part of the Downtown landscape: Adams St. Deli (126 West Adams St., 475-1400), Akel’s Deli and the Brick Coffee House (214 North Hogan St., 354-9945). This Brick, by the way, is not affiliated with the Avondale eatery of the same name.
The Landing has seen various openings in the restaurant department in the past year; Cinco de Mayo, Village Bread and Chicago Pizza all opened in 2009. Restaurants have come and gone in these spaces, so it’s hard to tell what what will remain.
On the Southbank there’s more than one restaurant that’s kept things cooking since ’08, Basil Thai & Sushi (1004 Hendricks Ave., 674-0190) and Sake House (1478 Riverplace Blvd., 306-2188) at Riverplace South.
Downtown also has particular services that can be difficult to find elsewhere, some of which have opened in the past two years.
Ortho Shoe Service (223 Hogan St. N. 301-1424) is a classic shoe repair shop. Rows of well-loved shoes given a second life with repairs line the shelves of the store, waiting for their owners to welcome them home again. Despite their old-school look, they also handle foot care, via computer generated insoles. They make plaster molds of your feet that are then scanned to create your custom insole. Customers with back problems and foot problems are often prescribed these specialty insoles by their doctors.
Tonsor (31 W. Adams St., 619-7608) opened up last June. It?s a true, old-fashioned men’s barber shop. Owner and barber Joseph Berardino says that they aim to “bring back what service used to be…and make people feel comfortable.” Lots of folks who come in get nostalgic, remembering when their fathers used to bring them to the barber shop.
Shop owners like Joseph Berardino and Ron Chamblin and businesses such as Ortho and Perdue are the backbone of Downtown. Their restaurants, services and small business that are a vital part of Downtown’s improvement.


april, 2022