Nearly two years ago, I started Jaxsons Night Market, an urban food festival featuring local farmers, artisan food producers, food trucks, a craft-beer garden and fashion designers held every third Thursday of the month in Downtown’s Hemming Park.
As a result of creating an incubation space that embraces the power of creative entrepreneurial talent, almost a dozen vendors have opened permanent brick-and-mortar storefronts either in or near the urban core.
For years, Downtown lacked a lively environment where businesses were clustered together in a walkable environment. Our city’s center had been defined by vacant lots and empty streets, the result of decades of stalled developments. Instead of being a vibrant neighborhood, it was a docile, vertical suburb.
Throughout my career, I have been fortunate enough to travel and learn from many cities that have turned around struggling urban centers. I found that capital-intensive projects are not the only way to turn around downtowns. Many communities are changing neighborhoods through a bottom-up approach that embraces the concept of using low-cost, high-impact temporary urban interventions.
According to a study by consulting firm Sasaki entitled ‘The State Of The City Experience,’ which examined consumer behavior in dynamic urban environments across the United States, 46 percent of consumers will leave their neighborhoods to try a new restaurant downtown while 45 percent are attracted to urban centers due to programmed events.
Consumer habits are clearly changing. People are showing a preference towards purchasing locally sourced products and are spending time in places that offer unique experiences.
With a high level of storefront vacancies and an ample supply of empty spaces, Jaxsons Night Market was started to seize upon this opportunity to provide a spark to the streets of Downtown. We provide an intimate, urban dining experience under the lights and in front of a large targeted audience. At Jaxsons, local businesses with distinctive products and the capacity to grow can test the viability of future business expansion.
Instead of swinging for the proverbial fences, we have focused on a scaled down, temporary approach by supporting a curated network of business owners interested in gradually transitioning to permanence. By participating in the market, these entrepreneurs form personal relationships with future customers and earn their loyalty.
If these entrepreneurs need help ranging from pro forma analysis to the nuances of negotiating commercial leases, we help. In short, we try to provide a nurturing support network where we genuinely want entrepreneurs to grow and succeed.
Our focus on staying small has given us the flexibility to reallocate resources at a moment’s notice. Mistakes have not been financially disastrous, as costs have been purposely kept low in order to maximize value in every opportunity we explore. When we find something that works, we quickly bring these innovations to scale.
The market has proven to be a financially self-sustaining model that has led to incremental and organic small-business growth in our urban core. When business leaders discuss ways to create permanent value in struggling areas, I humbly encourage those leaders to embrace the types of temporary approaches that allow for experimentation.
Pain is a temporary inconvenience that leads to recovery, but scars last for a lifetime.
Mike Field is an advocate for small businesses and urban neighborhoods in Jacksonville. He has helped form local organizations such as Jaxsons Night Market, TransForm Jax, Food Fun(d), Jax Cash Mob and Jax Truckies, and currently writes about the growth of cities on his website ModernCities.com. In 2015, Field was named the State of Florida’s Small Business Advocate of the Year by the US Small Business Administration. Jaxsons Night Market is currently managed by the nonprofit, Friends of Hemming Park.