by Erin Thursby
Following up on our commitment to the Go LO initiative, we’re encouraging folks to buy local, shop local and eat local. This month, our Go LO spotlight is on San Marco.
Spending a day, or even a weekend in the San Marco neighborhood isn’t difficult. Some of Jacksonville’s finest dining, best independently-owned shops and entertainment from live music to staged theater can all be found there. Even the movie theatre isn’t a chain, but is the locally-owned historic San Marco Theatre.
San Marco began as the grounds of the lavish Hendricks estate on the Southbank in the late 1800s, but wasn’t actively developed until the Acosta Bridge (then called the St. Johns River Bridge) was built in 1921. Telfair Stockton, who owned the land, decided to model the business district after Venice’s Piazza di San Marco in Italy. The fountain lions, which have become an icon of the area, were added relatively recently, in 1997. They’re a nod to Venice’s mascot, found in the Piazza and all over the city, the winged lion of St. Mark. While our fountain lions don’t have wings, you will find winged lions adorning the manhole covers throughout the business district.
The San Marco shopping strip is cornucopia of non-chain retailers. As a bonus, it’s pretty, with its bricked walkways, fountain and bronze statuary. Bibliophiles can pop into San Marco Books, the fashionable can check out clothing store Olive’s new, trend-cutting home section and there are plenty of other places for the fashion addicts to shop (Rosie True, Reve and Lelia’s, to name a few). Gift seekers should always hit up Edward’s, the Ward Room and the Write Touch.
One of the newer shops on in the San Marco Business District is My Best Friend’s Closet, a consignment shop for ladies sized 14 and above. It was opened in April 2010 by Sandy Myers, who has been a resident and business owner in the neighborhood for over 20 years (she’s the former owner of Edwards, which is still in operation). Myers loves living and working in San Marco. Says Myers, “ I actually walk to work most days, and shop (except for groceries) in San Marco. I am a proponent for buying local, supporting small business. I love the feel of a neighborhood, where you go to a restaurant, a shop, a bank and you know someone there– like a small town in a big city.”
Beth Handline of Dance Trance finds San Marco to be “a very energetic and active place… It is great to have so many unique shops right in your own neighborhood.”
Krista Nilsson of Therapie says of those that shop local: “They get the one-on-one attention they deserve,” and that she enjoys getting to know her customers, something that big-box retailers don’t often do.
You won’t lack for locally-owned culinary options in the San Marco area. On the more casual end there’s High Tide Burrito, Take Away Gourmet, the Q Barbecue and the locally based chain, the Loop. But you’ll also find some of the finest dining in the city at Matthew’s, Bistro AIX and Taverna.
In the San Marco area there are three locally-owned restaurants that have made a commitment to buying locally produced farm products. If you eat at Bistro AIX, Taverna or Matthew’s, not only will you be eating a fab meal, but you’ll be doubly supporting the local economy and shrinking your carbon footprint.
Matthew Medure says that his restaurant has grown with the community, and as the years have gone by, more and more local farms have began supplying local restaurants. “We like to shop here first,” says Medure.
Executive Chef Tom Gray of Bistro AIX tells us that “The difference it can make not only in the flavors but also the nutritive value of the foods is considerable, not to mention the benefits to the planet by choosing to support local and sustainable producers.”
Local Entertainment and Drinks
Most of San Marco seems too swanky to have a hole-in-wall entertainment venue. And yet, that’s exactly what the marvelous locally-owned Jack Rabbits is. They’ve been bringing excellent local, regional and even national musical talent to their small stage and intimate locale. It’s worthwhile to check their schedule to go see bands you know you like and it’s also worth it to randomly pop in for a show.
Theatre Jacksonville is our fair city’s most popular and longest lived community theatre. When you see a production there, you’ll be watching members of the community as actors and singers. For a little cinema, go to the San Marco Theatre, built in 1938. They serve food and beer.
For some upscale drinkage, the party starts at Square One. This night life hot spot celebrated its 10th Anniversary in November. The Grotto is a popular destination for San Marco wine aficionados.
On the 3rd Thursday of each month, San Marco holds its Affair in the Square. Entertainment, nibbles at late-opened local shops, wine tastings and art showings are all part of the scene.
Construction on San Marco
Right now, there’s considerable construction on San Marco Boulevard near I-95. Watch for the detour signs, but be assured that most businesses are still open. Bistro AIX, which is in the thick of it, has directions posted on their website bistrox.com and there are many blue signs that will show you the way!
When you spend money in a locally-owned store, bar, eatery or entertainment venue, you support the local economy (a larger percentage of the money you spent stays local, rather than national) and you also keep the character of a neighborhood vital. So Go LO and go to San Marco!