I think I’ve been in Jacksonville for seven years now. And I’d say for many of those seven years, I’ve endured countless people spouting non-credulous things about how they need to “… get the f*** out this city.” I’ve also heard the antithesis argument of how much of a paradise this place is, and sometimes that argument is just as silly as the former.
Here’s the thing. Jacksonville isn’t New York City. That’s okay. It doesn’t need to be. We have trees and marshes and a rich history rooted in Southern traditions and it’s all sweet. I can walk around naked in my backyard with total privacy and comfort. Nothing is ever perfect, which is about as cliche as anything I can ever write.
I’ve had the privilege to travel pretty frequently for work for the past few years — sometimes to bigger cities, sometimes smaller. Traveling helps with perspective of how different cities function culturally and economically. And for the most part, when I get home and my head touches my pillow, I feel total relief, but every once in awhile, I fixate on dreamier aspects of other cities I just spent time in, or how unfair of a city Jacksonville can be at times — which is true.
This all isn’t about how much I love this city, which I do, or how much I get frustrated with it, which I also do. It’s about taking a few steps back and saying, “Dang, it would be awesome if we had this [insert cool thing we don’t have].”
When I travel, I’m always analyzing cities on how they function Monday through Thursday. Are there people in restaurants and bars on a random Tuesday night? Is the allure of the city strong enough to keep people out and about past midnight, despite a probable early work morning and possible hangover? A lot of cities flounder during the week. No one is there, the cities are ghostly until the weekend and it sucks. But in some places, there are five good shows happening within a one-mile radius on a random Wednesday, and the energy is bouncing in-between buildings and off streetlights and you feel it with every step of being within proximity of it all.
I think Jacksonville falls pretty middle-of-the-road here where, yeah, there are people out every once in awhile during the week, but for the most part, unless there’s some event, which are somewhat infrequent, people don’t come out and engage their city. I think a lot of this has to do with a lack of music venues, especially in our more popular areas.
The beach doesn’t even have a proper music venue anymore now that Freebird closed, and while the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall does a solid job of booking good, contemporary shows, it’s a hike to get to for most people. Aside from a few places like 1904 Music Hall, any venue that opens downtown seems to close within a year of inception because we still haven’t figured out how to get people downtown. Five Points, as happening as it is, has one venue in the back of a bar, Rain Dogs, that can maybe fit 80 people or so. Even Riverside as a whole has maybe three small venues that could support mid-sized, full-band performances. Because of our lack in venues, we often get skipped by a lot of touring acts who end up going to surrounding cities like Atlanta, Orlando and Tampa.
Despite possibly coming off too harshly, I’m so insanely appreciative and stoked that all of the venues we do already have exist, like Rain Dogs, Nighthawks, St. Augustine Amphitheatre, Jack Rabbits, Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, Mockshop Music Exchange, Grape and Grain, and any other one I missed, thank you all for being there. If you’re reading this, go out one night and support these places.
Jacksonville has talent musically, and talent needs places to flourish. If there were more venues and more opportunities, more musicians would come — either on a touring level, bringing new fans, new people, new potential residents, or more musicians would move here creating a similar effect. In this instance, more competition (in the business sense of the word) breeds more opportunity and industry. Really, the music venue idea is just an example that can be translated to so many other different aspects of a city seeking to prove itself.
Aside from music venues (and ignoring some of the more obvious needs of our city like public transportation and more affordable living downtown) our city needs more specialty based boutiques. This phrasing is kind of general, but basically what I mean are stores that don’t appeal to a general audience. These stores probably aren’t going to be found in Town Center. They appeal to a niche clientele and are run by experts in that specific field. They strengthen a city by their presence and will create a desire of residents in neighboring cities to visit and check these stores out. Some possible examples are a contemporary photography store, a contemporary art store, a record store where people can hang out and converse, and a men’s clothing boutique with more than five articles of clothing available, just to name a few.
I think a lot of potential small business owners might feel the same way as I do and step out on a ledge and start a venture like one of these, but are afraid they won’t be supported. What people don’t realize, is that there are a lot of people here and there are a lot of people doing things here, and there’s an inherent want to support one’s community. This is the place to start that venture you’ve always dreamed of, and I can’t wait to see it.
A really good example of a currently unfolding success story in terms of opening up a specialty shop is Mockshop Music Exchange in Murray Hill. Owner, Jack Mock, opened the store last July, and has already established the store as a must-visit in the Murray Hill Area. Mockshop isn’t just a music store, it carries gear and merchandise that can’t be found anywhere else in the entire southeast region until getting into larger music epicenters like Nashville.
“I opened the shop because I was tired of shopping at a big box store and wanted to offer a more quality product to people,” Mock said. “People are used cheaper, less quality products, basically made in China stuff … so if you have the dream to offer something more, go for it. Have your ducks in a row. Don’t be afraid of not making sales. Create the market for your product. People just wanna rock, they just don’t know it yet, and it’s your job to show them.”
The point being to all of this is that if we keep thinking these riskier ventures won’t work before they even get started, then no positive change will ever come. It takes a little risk and a little faith in this community to get these ideas off the ground, and these are just a few smaller examples of improvements that are more feasible than the rest of the sci-fi ideas I have in my head. I haven’t even gotten into the hovercraft trains yet, but Northeast Florida is a region brimming with potential, we just have to be willing to take some risk.
By Carl Rosen | Staff Writer