by erin thursby and jon bosworth
When Cinemark purchased an enormous plot of land on Southside Boulevard, it had been nothing more than forest and fields. In 1998 Cinemark Theaters opened the doors of Jacksonville’s largest megaplex: Tinseltown. Immediately following that much celebrated event, Tony Romas, Don Pablos and Seven Bridges started building restaurants to serve their thousands of patrons. Tinseltown recovered the entire expense of building their multi-million dollar entertainment complex by increasing the value of the land surrounding it and selling it to businesses that profit from the theatre’s success. By 2000 the area was littered with restaurants and bars and developers and started plowing into the further forests of Gate Parkway. By 2003 there were upscale apartments, condominiums and new neighborhoods springing up every month.
There is no question that the dawn of Tinseltown bolstered the viability of the commercial and residential area of the Southside, but when growth started to dwindle, developers building on the outer reaches of 9A started to get nervous. Then came the Town Center. Everything that the Landing promised in the early 90s (and the Avenues promised shortly after that) the Town Center is delivering on and succeeding. Go out there any night of the week and the high-end shops are packed, people are waiting in line for the area’s most expensive dinners, and the concept community of a place where people can live, work and play is becoming a faster reality than downtown ever dreamed was possible. As of now, the Town Center has plenty of leg room, but that might not be true for long.
When the Town Center first opened, it had an impact on retailers all over the First Coast area. The San Marco area experienced a dip in sales, as did other upscale boutique-type stores in the Jacksonville area. But that isn’t to say that the commercialism of the Town Center has destroyed small business. Actually, the Town Center is happy to welcome area boutiques run by locals. Some merchants simply packed their bags and moved to the Town Center because the same demographic of customers would be at the Town Center. And, because the Town Center is a destination shopping area, attracting shoppers from Central Florida to Central Georgia, it will mean more business for other areas in the long run.
If you’ve only been as far as the DSW or the PetsMart in the Town Center, then you’re missing a whole other section: St. Johns Town Center North, which is made up of mostly local retailers. Anchors in this lot include Publix and Total Wine & More.
When I stepped into Total Wine, I realized that I had never seen that much alcohol gathered in one place before, and I’ve been to frat parties. They carry more than just wine; beer, liquor and associated fine foods to accompany your cocktails are also available for purchase. Total Wine holds wine tastings 3 times a week, on Friday from 4-7 pm, Saturday noon-4 pm and Sunday from 1-5 pm. There are approximately 50 such stores operating in the U.S.
Most of the places in this section of the Town Center aren’t part of a franchise or a chain, despite the presence of a Publix and yet another Starbucks. Most of the stores are like Villa Vita, a longtime retailer in the San Marco area, that relocated to the Town Center. The store sells home décor items, among other things, most of which come from Italy. From beautiful Salvati handblown Venetian glass, to Vietri pottery, the store has plenty of items to give your home a rich Italian flair. They sell high-end espresso machines, as well as small gift items, such as whimsical wine cork stoppers. They also sell Vatican jewelry. Each year artists are allowed to take a limited peak into the Vatican’s treasures. The artists copy the precious jewelry and bric-a-brac in costume jewelry form. It’s a great gift for the kids to get Grandma or Mom, because they’re so reasonably priced.
Villa Vita’s owner, Stephanie Edwards, couldn’t be happier about the change in location.
“We opened in October at the boutiques in St. John’s North. It was a great opportunity for us to expand and co-locate with other independent retailers from Jacksonville. In the current location we are able to offer a personalized shopping experience to complement the national chains, within the convenience of the St. John’s Town Center.” says Edwards.
Villa Vita is just one of 10 local boutique style stores in the Town Center that are run/ owned by Jacksonville women.
Serendipity, another local retailer, sells all sorts of gift-worthy items such as Crabtree & Evelyn products, small prints by local artists and paper goods. If you’re looking for unique packaging for your next gift, this is the place to go. They also sell “Hurricane Crosses,” which is a ceramic cross that has a palm tree painted in the center. According to Southern lore, the cross is supposed to protect trees from a hurricane or bad storm when you attach it to the tree. The unique gift comes with an explanatory poem.
The Town Center North fits the needs of moms and moms-to-be with a maternity clothing store called Incognito, a kid/baby furniture store named Baby Emma and Kyds. The high-end local boutique, Baby Emma, sells all sorts of custom furniture and lighting for a child’s room. Owner Ann Sag, who named the boutique after her own child, Emma, decided that she wanted a store “filled with the kind of kid’s furniture and products that I just love.” Baby Emma carries New Arrivals linen and bedding, supporting the locally based company. Kyds, which had a location at the beach, closed down that locale in favor of the Town Center. The retailer sells children’s clothing and accessories.
The last of the boutiques opened this weekend, so St. Johns North is now fully operational. As Villa Vita owner, Stephanie Edwards says “It’s just been a wonderful location we’re thrilled to be there.”
St. Johns Town Center North is the 4th light down on the Town Center Road.
They aren’t finished building St. Johns Town Center, and there’s been much discussion about putting in Phase II. Reports have slowly trickled in, but the folks at the Town Center are a bit taciturn as to what will be going in. Back in March, Town Center developer Ben Carter announced the inclusion of Macy’s, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. These names have been batted about since the Town Center was still in the nascent stages of Phase I, so it’s tough to say how solid this news is. As of today, these major retailers haven’t been confirmed, although they are reported to be in negotiations with the Town Center brass.
According to Tina Musico, Director of Marketing at St. Johns Town Center: “The second phase is really going to be an extension of what you already see here at the Town Center. There are going to be more upscale retailers…and a lot of them will be unique to Jacksonville…and there will be, of course, upscale restaurants as well.”
BCBG striking evening wear
Brooks Brothers mostly men’s suits
Coach upscale purses and leather accessories
Crate & Barrel everything you need to decorate, as well as cookware
Cole Haan upscale boots
Lacoste the preppie/sporty look
Louis Vuitton high-end leather goods
Talbots classically conservative business wear
Tommy Bahama high quality resort and island wear
Urban Outfitters fun, retro house wares, clothing and unique accessories
Pottery Barn wicker and ceramics
Puma shoes and clothes for the trend-setting athlete
Cantina Laredo Mexican style restaurant
J. Alexander steakhouse
Mitchell’s Fish Market an ever shifting menu with over 80 selections
Capital Grille where to get your lobster and caviar
With everything from a Coach store to the Capital Grille within walking distance, living on the Southside has its perks, but living in the Town Center sets a new standard for luxury living. There are a number of places planning to provide this luxury lifestyle, but among the newer, more sophisticated offerings is Toscana. Featuring a resort-style pool and cabana, wrap-around balconies, stainless steel GE appliances and granite countertops, these new addresses are turning heads. Their residences average 1400 square feet and the prices start in the $380s.
What better way to be in the middle of it all then to live just a few steps away from Jacksonville’s nicest retail locations, restaurants, and nightlife while only a quick drive from downtown or the Beaches?
The newly opened Toscana sales center is located next to the Ethan Allen store off of the Gate Parkway entrance. They are happy to receive you Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm and Sunday noon to 6 pm to show you some of these fabulous homes. For more information about Toscana contact the sales center at (904) 641-6200 or visit the website at toscanatowncenter.com.