Merchants see growth on Hendricks corridor

Merchants see growth on Hendricks corridor

There’s a business revival going on in Jacksonville and, no, it’s neither in Riverside/Brooklyn nor Downtown.

Take a drive down Hendricks Avenue in San Marco and about one block south of the Interstate 95 underpass you will see what locals have known for a couple of years – this stretch of Hendricks is coming into its own.

With new establishments like Sidecar or V Pizza, new strip malls being built or existing ones getting facelifts, or the rumblings of a long anticipated condo development with commercial and retail space anchored by a new Publix, there is a definite positive buzz in the air.

“The corridor from Riverplace Boulevard back into San Marco gets better daily,” said Anita Vining, president of the San Marco Merchants Association. “The greenscape and beautification of all the buildings continue to get better.”

More customers

V Pizza is a prime example of the area’s growth. A short time after the restaurant opened in early 2014 on Hendricks Avenue, co-owner Paul Scott says the business saw a drop in customers after an initial post-grand opening surge.

As Scott and his partners began looking for answers (a minor tweak in the recipe ultimately reversed the negative trend) it wouldn’t have been surprising if they second-guessed their choice of location – maybe it was parking issues, poor customer visibility or just the wrong fit for the neighborhood.

But location never came up, Scott said.

That’s because the restaurant owners know San Marco residents want better quality products even if it means paying a little more. In V Pizza’s case, customers pay an average of $17 for a Napolitano pizza so authentic they import the cheese made with milk from Italian water buffaloes.

“You can’t trick people around here,” Scott said. “You have to be an authentic quality product. You look at the quality craft beer stuff. They want quality. The education and income levels are higher here than average … They understand you get what you pay for.”

Scott said he and his partners looked in Riverside and on San Marco Boulevard in the business district but the properties just didn’t work. Instead they chose a former paint store at 1406 Hendricks Ave. to completely remodel.

“We spent more money than we wanted to do the upgrade to get what we wanted,” he said.

Its recipe situation solved, V (short for “veloce,” the Italian word for fast) Pizza is seeing solid lunchtime crowds and even better dinner revenue.

“We have set revenue records for the past four weeks and we just opened a Beaches location as well,” Scott said. “We knew that San Marco was the place we were going to do this because we wanted to serve really fresh and quality ingredients and we knew the people here would appreciate it.”

And what is Scott’s advice to others considering San Marco “off-square” business areas? “If I was going to go with a high-quality food product that is the place that I would go.”

Real estate in demand

Jason Hinson of real estate firm Colliers Jacksonville is seeing that same positive trend manifested in remodeled buildings and frontage.

“I’ve seen a lot of improvement in the area, a much cleaner look than what it had in the past,” said Hinson, a senior associate at the real estate agency. “(The area) is in a positive upward swing.”

Two small strip malls – 1620-36 and 1550 Hendricks Ave. – are getting facelifts, he said, and Collier is working to create a nearby cluster of all beauty-related services at a third site.

With the San Marco business district drawing so many shoppers, it’s not surprising nearby areas along Hendricks Avenue are seeing renewed growth. Hinson said young professionals being drawn for lunch from Downtown offices and dinner are the reason.

“They like to get out of their cars and walk around to shop and eat,” he said. But Hinson noted those shoppers have discriminating tastes. “It’s not for the person that is looking for some kind of discount.”

Hendricks Avenue offers business owners access to those customers while at the same time they “get rates a little less than they would in the San Marco retail district,” he said.

There’s also excitement that the long discussed East San Marco project is closer to reality. With it would come not only condominiums for hundreds of new residents but a grocery store and other retail spots to draw still more customers to thearea.

“It’s a positive thing for everybody involved; it’s good growth for the city and for a city inside a city,” Hinson said.

Seeing transformation

Kurt Rogers of Sidecar, 1406 Hendricks Ave., has a unique perspective of the area, having grown up in San Marco.

The 35-year-old Rogers remembers a time 10 years ago when San Marco was not on the upswing, linked instead to a deteriorating Downtown offering little to higher income younger professionals and their families.

Then a positive trend began, one Rogers attributes to the reconditioned San Marco Square that is more welcoming to visitors and has an improved traffic flow. It was the positive business trend that followed which convinced him and partner Matt Carson to invest in their old neighborhood.

“There’s really been a radical transformation in the neighborhood in recent years,” said Rogers, a University Christian graduate. “The city has started to invest in the urban core … In order for the city to grow, it has to have a pulse and heartbeat and it has to happen in the urban core.”

Opened in May 2014, Sidecar is a way of being part of growth that Rogers credits to peoplein his age group who left Jacksonville, only to return a decade later to have families.

“We wanted to be that neighborhood bar, where people could just come and hang out. We wanted to make them feel comfortable and provide a place where they could celebrate the neighborhood,” he said. “We really wanted to be a catalyst for this area.”

Rogers credits his investors with “really heavy research” that found nearby employers and Downtown hotels could provide an excellent customer base. Ford said a camaraderie is also developing among San Marco area businesses – one that’s seeing them recommend each other’s establishments to those customers.

“Taverna will send people down to us and we’ll send people to them,” Rogers said. “We’re not greedy here, there’s plenty to go around and by helping each other we are helping all of us be more successful.”

Aardwolf going strongHendricks Aardwolf 2

You don’t have to tell Aardwolf Brewing Co. co-owner Preben Olsen about Hendricks Avenue business growth. Initially, it was more about the two-story brick building, with its 9,000 square feet of factory space and large parking area for delivery trucks, than it was its San Marco location, Olsen said.

“San Marco seemed a bit for odd for a choice but at the end of the day we kept coming back to that building,” Olsen said.

Looking back, Olsen said, he and co-owner Michael Payne are “definitely really lucky” to have purchased their building – originally an icehouse – when they did two years ago.

“Now we are starting to see more foot traffic and more community outings here and each month our brand gets stronger,” he said. “Everything is developing around us very quickly. The more restaurants and other businesses around us the better for us and everybody.”

The brewery recently sold out of its first bottled beer. “We sold a little over 400 bottles in about 20 minutes, limit two per person,” he said. “It’s exciting to see people as excited about our product as we are.”

What all this means is San Marco’s “off-square” businesses – as the San Marco Merchants Association calls them – are contributing more and more to the area. And that makes the Association’s Vining very happy.

“I feel that all the residents in the newer condo buildings and the businesses along the Southbank will find it easier to navigate all the way back into San Marco once the construction gets wrapped up at I-95 and Hendricks,” she said.

By Greg Walsh
Resident Community News

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