Murray Hill rising, thanks to young homeowners, new businesses

An electric energy has edged out the lull that long defined Murray Hill, and residents and merchants alike are enthusiastic about the changes that have emerged. Young families and professionals have moved into the area, multiple new businesses have opened, and property values are on the rise, making the neighborhood a desirable alternative to its Riverside and Avondale counterparts. 

Bold murals accentuate streets that are filled with moms pushing strollers to the park. Couples pedal their bikes down Edgewood Avenue, perusing the restaurants to decide where to sate their palates. Businesses – the new ones along with the well-established ones – are thriving. It seemingly happened overnight, but in reality, it was a slow evolution that turned into an explosion.   

Len Burroughs and his wife, Vicki, bought their home in Murray Hill 43 years ago and have seen the ups and downs of the neighborhood. 

“We were looking in places like Ortega and Avondale, but this happened to be the place we found,” he said. “If you’d have told me when I bought this house that I would retire in Murray Hill, I would have said you were crazy.”

The house was a fixer-upper and the Burroughs spent more than two years working on it – starting with installing new ceilings and ending with putting in new floors. In the 1980s, they did a 500-square-foot home addition. They have always been happy in Murray Hill and have never wanted to move.

“The neighborhood went downhill a little bit back in the ‘90s, but now it is very secure and going uphill,” Burroughs said. 

One of the biggest changes he has noticed is the demographics. Their neighbors on either side were a renter and an 87-year-old homeowner, but now, a young couple owns one of those homes and a police officer owns the other. 

“We have gone from a neighborhood of mostly senior citizens and people who have lived in their home for 30 years to a neighborhood full of young people buying starter homes,” he said “It’s the same case with the neighborhood association. I used to be the youngest guy, now I am the oldest and one of the only long-term members.”

Vicki said her absolute favorite place in the neighborhood is Community Loaves. The way people came together to help the restaurant was a testament to the cohesiveness that has developed in Murray Hill. 

“It’s been there a while and it’s very much community supported,” she said. “When they needed a new oven, people in the neighborhood pitched in to make sure they got it.” 

When Meghan Kopitke and her husband moved to Murray Hill in 2006, there wasn’t a whole lot to do. They were in their mid-20s and most of their neighbors were in their 90s. The strip on Edgewood Avenue was lifeless.

“We would find ourselves biking to Riverside and Avondale because there wasn’t a lot to offer here,” she said. “But things have changed drastically. Now we don’t leave Murray Hill very often because we have everything we need at our fingertips. It’s an exciting time to be here. It’s a lot of fun and you see a lot of community involvement where you didn’t see that before.”

Kopitke, vice president of programs for the Murray Hill Preservation Association (MHPA), said that an attempt a couple of years ago to start an association for area merchants was unsuccessful, but last year, they decided to try again.  

“We as a board and even homeowners were trying to find a way to get the merchants more involved in the community and more involved with each other,” she said. “We started about eight months ago with only a couple of merchants, now many of them are participating.”  

The MHPA came up with the concept of Murray Hill-O-Ween in 2017 – the event has been very successful. Known as the largest Halloween party in Jacksonville, Murray Hill-O-Ween brings the community together and invites people citywide to participate in the festivities. Last year Murray Hill-O-Ween had 28 floats in the Halloween parade. Not only is it a fun event for the community and people from all over the city, it has become the primary fundraiser for MHPA, according to Burroughs. 

After renting a home in Avondale, Katherine Hardwick and her husband, Bryant, moved to Murray Hill in 2012.

“When we went to purchase, the value dollar for dollar in Murray Hill was so great for us. We got the size house we wanted on a double lot, but it still had the urban flair that you get in Riverside and Avondale,” she said. 

The Hardwicks were excited to be in their new home and wanted to celebrate by having a wine party, but the week after they moved in, the area wine shop closed. Businesses were sparse and there wasn’t a whole lot to choose from when it came to dining out. But now, the couple doesn’t have to go far to find what they are looking for – it’s right outside their door. Hardwick enjoys shopping at Momni, a small boutique owned by a mother and daughter. She also loves the tacos at El Jefe.

“I think it’s a great area for families and for young professionals because of its affordability,” said Hardwick. “It’s a great place where you can walk to dinner or to some shops. A lot of the places we go to, we run into people we know. There is a great community vibe.”

Will and Samantha Morgan simultaneously opened a business and moved into Murray Hill in 2016. They were looking to transition Vagabond Coffee from a coffee caravan to a brick and mortar location when they found out the space that served as the café for the Murray Hill Theater was available. 

“We heard about the space and went to look at it. It was very much a diamond in the rough. I was able to walk into it and see what it could be, not what it was, and we decided to put our shop there,” said Will Morgan. “From a business standpoint, as the neighborhood grows, so do we. New people are coming in and we are their neighborhood coffee shop now. We are excited about the development on Edgewood. It’s redeveloping – great growth is happening.”

The Morgans are also happy on the home front. They were able to find a nice, affordable four bedroom two bathroom house to accommodate their growing family. They have two children, an infant and a toddler. 

“There are a lot of young families and we watch out for each other. Everybody sits on their front porches – you get to know your neighbors. To me, Murray Hill is solidifying itself as that friendly, throwback front porch neighborhood of Jacksonville,” Morgan said. “Murray Hill has a great spirit in and of itself and it’s being brought back to its glory days. I’m excited to have a hand and be a voice in that.”  

Larry Raikes recently opened Fired Up Pizza and Larry’s Giant Subs on Edgewood Avenue. He was attracted to the area because he could see Murray Hill is on the rise and thought it would be a great location for his business.

“It seems like this area is going to be the next 5 Points. Things are going very well and we are so excited,” he said. “We are getting busier and busier every day – a lot of the foodies are coming here. During happy hour, people are waiting in line.”

For Joshua Garrett, a recent move back to Murray Hill was a return to his roots. He grew up in the area and remembers when Murray Hill Theater was still a theater, and he could see the “Hot Now” sign at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts from his home. He and his girlfriend purchased a home in Murray Hill last October after living in Avondale for a while. 

“It’s quiet, the neighbors are awesome and there is a real sense of community. We are not far from Four Corners Park so we can walk over there,” he said. “We pretty much know everybody – people go out of their way to meet and greet and talk.”

Although there have been a lot of changes since Garrett lived in Murray Hill as a child, some things have remained the same. 

“In terms of daily life, it’s not too different – it’s still the same family-friendly community that I remember it being,” he said. “But there is a lot more to do now, especially in terms of restaurants. We’ve really enjoyed Murray’s Taco Bodega – they do the food for Fishweir Brewing Company and it’s really great. Murray Hillbilly is really nice too. There are a lot of vegetarian and vegan options.”

The Murray Hill Theater has long been an icon in the community and it was the catalyst that began to turn things around for the neighborhood when Tony Nasrallah purchased it in 1995 after the space was used as an industrial goth nightclub for a year. 

“When I bought the property, Murray Hill was a neighborhood riddled with crime and illicit activity. There were prostitutes actively working Post and Edgewood and there was a lot of drug trade,” he said.

In an attempt to deter crime, Nasrallah put up a fence and lighting in the parking lot and had security officers out there to ensure the safety of his patrons. After those measures were taken, the element that brought down the neighborhood dispersed fairly quickly. It was the first step in the long climb up that helped the neighborhood become what it is today. 

“There is such a vibrancy here now – it is more active and more alive. You can see a significant difference in foot traffic. People are walking around going to restaurants and visiting all the shops,” he said. “I’m excited that there are so many new tenants. I’m excited that Dreamette and Edgewood Coin Shop and the diner on the corner, though it has changed hands, have been consistent. There are plans to add a bike lane and more parking to the first block. I’m excited for what’s to come.”

By Kandace Lankford
Resident Community News

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