Sunday, February 10, 2013

Apparently You Can Go Local At The Town Center

A friend of mine celebrated a birthday over the weekend.  The destination:  St Johns Town Center.  Even within this sea of big box stores and chain restaurants, local options do exist.  Witness Ovinte (

Former GM of San Marco Square's ( The Grotto, Chad Munsey recently opened Ovinte in the former International House of Pancakes location.  The restaurant features a tapas menu and extensive wine list.  

Not much the wine fan, I was able to procure a few draft selections from local brewer Intuition Ale Works ( along with a very good Pappardelle Bolognese featuring hand made papardelle pasta along with fresh herbs they grow in the outside seating area.  

Even when you are invited to a location that is primarily stocked with non-local retailers and restaurants, it's nice to know that you still have local small business owners you can choose to support. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Trials and Tribulations of Getting Around Town

During this month-long experiment, I have had to travel longer distances in order to find merchants who are locally owned small businesses.  I used to nonchalantly fill up the truck only when the gas light was either on or about to come on (please insert parental lecture here).  

This practice has to cease if I am to make it out of this month unharmed.  I have already ran out of gas within the first week of this month.  Locally owned, independent gas stations are very hard to find.

(This is what running out of gas looks like as cars pass within inches of you with speeds exceeding 50mph on US-17)

Even though I ran out of gas less than 1 mile from my destination, I was pleasantly surprised when I finally limped into Treasure Food Store off 103rd.  Treasure has been by far the most well kept and clean, independent, locally owned gas station I have patronized this month.  Additionally, the gas here was only one penny more a gallon than the five gas station chains I normally patronize along my morning commute.  

I came to find out that the station's owner, Laheeb has owned this business for about 10 years.  About two years ago, he lost his sister to a fatal wreck on the Buckman Bridge.  He now helps support her family since her passing.  

You can tell that Laheeb has great pride in his business just by how well kept the store is.  Many times, independently owned convenience stores are dirty and 90% of their inventory is geared toward loose cigarettes, tall cans of single serve beers and occasionally 'smoke pipes'.  Not only was Treasure Food Store clean inside, the store actually carried bread that was not expired and a decent selection of perishable and non-perishable food items considering the sellable space limitations of the store's footprint.

Laheeb scored bonus points when I spotted the Bold City Brewery (
sign prominently displayed along the back wall encouraging shoppers to 'support your local brewer'.  Susan Miller and her son Brian Miller started Bold City Brewery in 2009.  Susan and Brian both quit their day jobs at a large corporation and convinced Susan's husband Kevin to mortgage the home in order to leverage enough money to open this new business.  Three years later, Bold City Brewery has become a genuine success store.  The entire Miller family can be seen working at the brewery's tap room in Riverside on various nights.  Locals should always help locals, and this symbiotic relationship b/w supplier and retailer keeps more money flowing within our local economy.  This is exactly the reason you can have should a big impact on our community's future by choosing to be loyal to your locals.

Now that my gas tank is full, I need to find more local small business owners! 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What Is A Cash Mob?

If you haven't been to a cash mob yet, this is what they are all about!  There will be a cash mob held by our friends at Beaches Cash Mob ( this Saturday, Feb 9th.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Super Bowl Sunday The Local Way

It's Super Bowl Sunday and I am making the annual trek to my friend's house for pot luck, football and trash talking.  What better way to chip in for my portion of the food than making my way towards one of the oldest small business incubators in the city, the Jacksonville Farmer's Market (

Originally a wood and sheet metal structure called the Jacksonville Produce Market, the Jacksonville Farmer's Market opened in 1938 (and perhaps before that) and today boasts to be Florida's oldest public farmers market.  At one point, the market was home to the southeastern produce operations of the A & P grocery chain ( and even featured a barber shop and a steakhouse (Sandy's Steer Room).  

Today over 25,000 people from every walk of life pass through the market every week.  The market features nearly three dozen locally owned businesses that sell everything from local seafood, almost any kind of produce you can imagine, rice, beans, artisan breads, kettle corn, flowers, pastries to some of the best boiled peanuts south of Georgia.

Caron and I bought quite a bit of produce from the market today and we saved over half of what we would normally spend at the grocery store.  That's not an exaggeration.  

I started off my portion of the Super Bowl feast with a mozzarella focaccia that was purchased for $4.  This was better than any cheese bread ordered from the closest pizza delivery chain.  

Rounding out the experience, I brought some organic corn chips from Grassroots Market in Five Points ( and an assortment of homemade dips.  The dips were made from items procured earlier in the day from the farmers market and included guacamole, a moderately spicy salsa and a black bean and corn salsa.  The chips were about 35% more expensive than a bag of Tostitos found at Publix, but the produce was so cheap that I still came out ahead.  Even surrounded in a sea of chicken wings, ribs and hot dogs bought from non-locally owned businesses, you can still sit down with the boys for a football game and not lose any street cred.

Stay loyal to your locals.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The weekend is just getting started.

On day two of Local February, I needed to replace a lightbulb in the house.  I live within walking distance from Publix, so under normal circumstances I would have either added ‘light bulbs’ to my grocery-shopping list or walked the few blocks to Publix while enjoying this sunny and crisp February morning.   Instead, I made the short drive to Murray Hill and visited Curry Thomas Hardware.

While the Home Depots and Lowes of the world have dominated the hardware store category over the last two decades, I’ve noticed that product knowledge and professional advice are not these store’s greatest strengths.  This was amplified a few months ago when I was trying to fix a leaky sink faucet and was told three different things by three different associates at the big box.  It took me three days and the help of YouTube to correctly identify and replace the necessary part. 

Family owned since the mid 1940’s Curry Thomas is a throwback to the time when the person behind the counter could not only sell you a product, but could also give you rock solid advice on how the product works and should be installed.  On this morning, I was able to procure an energy efficient CFL bulb for the exact price of the same bulb offered up the street at Lowes (yes, I checked).  Once I checked out, the man behind the counter smiled and said ‘thanks for your business and please come again.’  Don’t worry, I will.

I then headed down(town) for Community First Saturday (  Several local businesses converge on the Northbank Riverwalk on the first Saturday of every month for this event sponsored by the Jax Chamber ( and Community First Credit Union (  

One can choose lunch from one of six food trucks ( lined up along Coastline Drive.  I chose a rice bowl from Gourmet  Aviator ( and a slice of spinach and mushroom pizza from Brucci’s (  Yes, I can eat pizza seven days a week if ‘forced’ to. 

Another great locally owned small business present was E2Ride ( owned by Leigh Burdett.  E2Ride offers guided bike tours of Riverside/Avondale, San Marco, Old Mandarin, Springfield and the Beaches.  This is a great way to see the city for those that live here or for tourists coming in from out of town.  Leigh has extensive knowledge of the area’s history and her tours will open your eyes to the hidden secrets we pass by each day.   

Yet another cool locally owned business at Community First Saturday was Rethreaded (  Rethreaded was started by Kristin Keen and sells goods like blankets, pillow cases, scarves, jewelry, tote bags and the like.  What sets apart these items are who they are made by.  Rethreaded employs women who have found freedom from the sex trade internationally and are looking to turn their lives around for the better.  By the way if you have some old tshirts, Rethreaded will gladly accept them for use in some of the products they make. 

With the Davis Cup in town this weekend, I saw several domestic and international tourists strolling along the Riverwalk and taking in this unique event.  Embracing our most beautiful natural asset, the St Johns River, can really set our downtown apart from peer cities.  With all the talk about the importance of downtown revitalization, it’s important to get the most basic things right first.  Utilizing our existing assets is the first step in making our downtown unique and vibrant once again.

Finally, it was time to get my monthly hair cut. I used to get a haircut at Super Clips because, well I didn’t know any better.  I found though that oftentimes I would come home complaining about the quality of the cut and the general unfriendliness of the experience.  The notion of ‘you get what you pay for’ rang true when I walked into Hawthorn Salon ( in the Five Points neighborhood. 

First off, I have to say that I just felt cool walking in this place.  It felt like I was on my way to a chess club meeting and suddenly discovered how to get into the ‘in crowd’.  Owners Jim Stracke and Lea Laskowitz built this space using quite a bit of reclaimed cypress wood with an open floor plan that is accentuated by an exposed ceiling which gives the salon a big, open feel even though the space isn’t that large.  My stylist of the day, Bryce cut my hair using scissors and shaved my neck using a straight razor.  I mistakenly thought that the entire profession of hair stylists had ditched these old relics years ago in favor of the harsh and unforgiving electric razor.  The quality of my cut was outstanding. 

During my visit Bryce and I talked about motorcycles, the Super Bowl and beer.  Even better, I was treated to a cold can of locally brewed Intuition beer upon arriving.  Apparently complimentary Bold Bean coffee, wine or beer is offered with every hair cut.  Yes, this place is for me.  Although I spent $12 more than my usual hair cut, this price difference was more than made up with the quality of service, people, shampoo (I never get my hair washed elsewhere) and the ice cold beer.  This price difference was easily justifiable.  Let’s see if I still feel that way when I get my first local-only grocery bill. 

I’d be remiss to point out that if you see the Keep Jacksonville Beautiful bait tank in Five Points that people use to property dispose of their cigarette butts, please know that Hawthorn paid for those.  It’s nice to see a local business strive to keep their neighborhood clean and our river free from toxic chemicals that harm marine life.

At least for today, the decision to shop locally has really been a positive experience for me.  It will be interesting to see if this euphoria lasts all month.  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Adventure Begins

On the first day of Local February, I was quickly reminded why cash is king.  I do not drink coffee, opting instead to get my caffeine fix out of a 32oz container of diet soda in the mornings.  Generally, I would satisfy this craving by stopping at one of the 5 chain gas stations I drive by on the way to work.  I also use a debit card for this $1.06 transaction card because frankly, I never carry cash. 

What I didn’t realize is that not one of the locally owned convenience stores in my neighborhood will let you use a debit or credit card for transactions under $5.  Three locally owned convenience stores and one $2.50 ATM fee later, I realized that I will need to either carry cash or give up diet soda for the next month.  This was a difficult decision, but diet soda won out and my glove box is now equipped with a $20 bill and several dollars worth of coins. 

I do budget myself $20 of mad money every week and with the warm weather accelerating the start of my kayak and surfing season I thought this would be a great week to obtain a mount to attach my GoPro video camera to the kayak and surfboard.  A trip to Black Creek Outfitters ( was in order.  

Black Creek has been owned by the Butler Family since 1983.  Originally, the business was started as a windsurfing sales and instruction outfit in Orange Park.  What many people may not realize about Jacksonville is that we have one of the premier locations along the East Coast for windsurfing and kite surfing at Hugenot Park along the Ft George Inlet.   Today, the store boasts an impressive selection of camping, hiking and backpacking gear along with clothing, outdoor shoes, kayaks and stand up paddle boards.  Black Creek would later open a location across from what is now the Markets at Town Center in 1997.  This location (today’s destination) also boasts a private ‘test lake’ out back so you can conduct a ‘test paddle’ before your purchase. 

What I really like about Black Creek is that its staff is extremely knowledgable.  I once had a clerk at an outdoor big box store in town try to sell me ‘snow chains’ for my shoes before a winter trip to New York City.  All I was looking for was some inexpensive water resistant shoes (I surmise accessory add-ons must net decent commissions at that particular chain).   Today a friendly employee named Spencer, who was later revealed to be an accomplished rock climber, offered some helpful advice as to the best position to install my mounts.  $19.99 later a local purchase was made.  Spencer was the kind of guy you wanted to have a beer with while talking outdoor sports, however lunch break was almost over and I don’t think my boss takes kindly to liquid lunches.

Later that evening, I enjoyed dinner at Moon River Pizza in Murray Hill (  

Moon River, owned by Dan Bottorff, has quite simply become the social mecca of the Murray Hill neighborhood.  The restaurant has become the place to celebrate neighborhood Little League wins, a meeting point for neighborhood activists interested in making their community better and a gathering place to share a slice and a beer with your neighbors on a relaxing Friday night.  Apparently, this Friday night there were quite a few neighbors looking to unwind from the week’s stresses as indicated by this line (which stretched out the door and along the sidewalk).  

This is the kind of third place I mentioned before that every good neighborhood needs, and it’s great to see the commercial center of Murray Hill benefitting from the spark created by so many young families moving in and socializing at a place like Moon River.  Oh, the pizza is pretty good too. 

And so ends day one. What’s your favorite neighborhood gathering spot? 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Challenge Begins

We started the Jax Cash Mob ( in April of 2012 as a way to promote the benefits of shopping locally.  Locally owned small businesses generate a premium in enhanced economic impact to our community and tax base over national chains.  A ‘cash mob’ is a type of shop local flash mob where a group of people will show up at a local business en masse and each spend between $10-20 at that business.  Generally, the group will then reconvene at a local restaurant within walking distance for lunch, drinks and socializing.  Cash mobs are really just fun ways to show your support for local business owners while meeting some fantastic, like minded people.  I read about the cash mob concept in Inc Magazine started by Andrew Samtoy and thought Jacksonville small business owners needed an infusion of the kind of enthusiasm generated by cash mobs. 

Local small businesses greatly contribute to the sense of place in our unique In Town and Downtown neighborhoods.  The type of places where we shop, eat and entertain ourselves make up what we consider our ‘home’.  There is a behavorial theory in urban planning circles, coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg, around the notion of ‘third places’.  A ‘third place’ is somewhere where people can regularly go oustide of their home or work to relax, commune with friends, neighbors and just whoever shows up.  These informal meeting places define how we interact and connect with our community.  The locally owned coffee shop, barber shop, general store or restaurant/pub acts as the epicenter of our community’s third place.  I firmly believe that Jacksonville is ‘our’ business in that it’s up to all of us to make it a place worth calling home. 

I wanted to explore ways to better understand the challenges and opportunities locally owned small businesses face in attracting customers.  Even though I support locally owned businesses and promote the benefits of doing so, I began to realize what a significant portion of monthly purchases I make that are not sourced from locally owned businesses.  I was inspired by a few unique experiments from people that I have connected with in Jacksonville.  My friends Julie Watkins and Keith Marks challenge people to give up eating meat for the month of March ( and another friend Carmen Godwin gave up her car for an entire year and traversed the city in alternative forms of transportation like walking, biking, public transportation, etc (  So, with this in mind I have created my own experiment called Local February.  For the entire month of February I will only purchase items from locally owned businesses.  Thank you for following along.