This Good News Story written by Jamey Hitchcock is a Realize Bradenton production funded by the Knight Donor Advised Fund at the Manatee Community Foundation.
It’s all bricks-and-mortar store fronts as one takes a stroll through downtown Bradenton. People gravitate toward Old Main Street, which is lined with bars and restaurants, new and old alike. Lights are strung tree-to-tree as if for the holidays, adding to the homier vibe that emanates in the area. Sidewalks are lined in blue and tan glittered sequences, adding an aquatic aesthetic to this waterfront locale. As the sun drops, music can be heard from bar to bar and laughter echoes from the establishments.
“Have you been to 13th Street West in downtown Bradenton?” Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton, asked me a few months ago.
It’s fair to say, with such attention on Old Main Street many locals might overlook some of the hidden gems just a stone’s throw away.
Isham was eager to shine a spotlight on the various businesses a few streets down from historic Old Main Street. It’s only a short walk to chance upon a demographic of civic-minded small business owners wanting to make a difference.
“What the community wants is a healthy, engaging, connecting area for all people,” Isham said.
Take one of the newer, and fast growing- business, Kava Social Club, a Kava bar and social hangout.
Owner’s Ryan Bodie and his wife Sara McKenzie began their journey on 13th Street West four months ago and both are confident in its promise.
“Bradenton has been up and coming for so long,” he said. “There are so many great offerings happening here, so many great people and businesses. We found ourselves going to St. Pete and Tampa all of the time to hang out, but then we saw there was a need here in Bradenton. We want to meet the need with bringing Kava to downtown Bradenton.”
That was a challenge in itself.
“We had to educate the community about Kava, after learning many people didn’t know what it was,” Bodie said about Kava, a plant extract that makes one feel calm and relaxed.
Six months after their journey began, they traveled to the East Coast of Florida where the first Kava bar originated in the United States.
“I met a guy whose family has a village in Tonga and we carry his Kava now,” Bodie said. “We asked him to teach us how to make Kava the way they do in the village — authentically. We are always trying to be students and to serve the best products we can. We want to source it from the cleanest and purest places we can.”
Which brings us to why Bodie and Sara, wanted to begin their new business here.
“We feel 13th Street West is very health conscious, even being a block away from the bars on Main Street,” he said. “We are a sober bar and we want the look and feel of a bar, but without the alcohol. We want to have a place where people can safely go when they don’t want to drink anymore or are recovering.”
“This area seems like a good place to be with a lot of momentum and a lot of good changes on 13th Street with Happy Soul, Sugar Cubed and Daily Dose,” he added, naming some other nearby businesses. (Note that the Daily Dose on 13th Street West was recently replaced by High Tide Nutrition- a health foods and supplements business).
The Kava Social Club took on the challenge of opening up during COVID-19 and saw it was worth it despite the challenges.
“It was very nerve-wracking, but also a blessing in disguise. It made us be very intentional with everything that we did,” he said.
Even before the onset of COVID-19, these small business owners on 13th Street West have been a support system for each other which means more now than ever. It’s been a period of reflection, renovations and recharging.
With Bodie’s business being newer, he has felt the support of 13th Street West. He has connected with the other small business owners to grow here and share good ideas through a committee they’re forming.
“The committee will be good for marketing and advertising to let people know, hey, there’s another big street in downtown Bradenton!” he said.
Bri Dine, the 19-year-old entrepreneur who originally established the Daily Dose Juice Garden on 13th Street West, was one of the original voices to express the idea of this committee.
Dine began more of an online presence and revamped her menu and focus on what her clients wanted most. It was a time for her to reflect on how all of 13th Street West’s businesses can stick together to stay open.
“Forming a Bradenton Development Committee, where both community and small business owners can meet and strategize, could change the game in development upkeep and also provide more ways for the community to stay in touch with small businesses,” she said. “It could be a separate organization, outside of Realize Bradenton, which already does so much to help the businesses downtown.”
More business owners began to express interest in the committee, including Samantha Keenan, Director of Operations and CFO of Brand Story Experts (BSE) — a culture development marketing firm that’s been on 13th Street West since October 2016.
“We actually began 11 years ago with a passion for telling brand stories and a dream to build an agency full of energy, passion, and to be the best when it comes to brand storytelling,” she said.
Since then, she and her husband, Kelly Keenan, President of BSE, have seen the development of their business and all of 13th Street West’s small businesses that have come together as a family in the last few years.
In fact, Keenan regularly orders from those neighboring businesses to support them during this difficult time. Her business also gives back to community in many ways including raising money and matching donations for their neighboring businesses when in need.
“We are so thankful and excited about the life that our block now has living on it,” she said. “Being one of the first to renovate and open on 13th Street West, we have enjoyed watching the block come back to life after being closed for safety reasons during COVID-19.”
Keenan, who has expressed interest in the formation of the new committee of 13th Street West’s small businesses, had an idea: Include the Village of the Arts.
“A committee with actionable items to bridge Village of the Arts and downtown Bradenton together could bring synergy amongst the area,” she said.
Bri Dine’s new business location could be part of that bridge.
Still active with the 13th Street West community, Dine has a new business in the Village of the Arts: Good Fortune Juicery & Vegan Kitchen, joining forces with Adobe Graffiti Lounge Kava Bar to cultivate that relationship between the Village of the Arts and 13th Street West.
“Through these challenging times, I’ve had a lot of time to think about creating the best future for myself and the Daily Dose and ultimately a change of location was deemed necessary for the survival of my business,” Dine said. “Working collaboratively with Adobe will allow us to achieve more together. I’m so stoked about this change even though it’s bittersweet.”
At Château 13, Jenn Sayko has been general manager for a little more than two years and wanting to also see synergy between downtown and the Village of the Arts, and she has expressed some ideas.
“Safe pathways for foot traffic on well-lit sidewalks and roads, as well as safe, well-marked parking areas or spaces,” she said. “Everyone parks at the new garage on Third Avenue. So, start with a drink and appetizer on Old Main Street, stop by Château 13 for a glass of wine and visit the other businesses while strolling to the Village of the Arts and back.”
“I believe whole-heartedly in word of mouth,” Sayko continued. “The more we talk about businesses we like and the people behind them, the more we advertise their business. One of the main ways I’ve done this is by recommending to guests as they’re leaving that they take a stroll up and down 13th to see what local businesses are on our street before getting back in the car to drive home.”
Another proponent of building that synergy is Wade Hamilton, manager at Connect Bradenton, which provides meeting and office space for entrepreneur and business needs. He’s optimistic 13th Street West is changing the identity of downtown Bradenton.
“You can enjoy a vegan burger and grab sweets at the local pastry lab, Sugar Cubed, or have an affordable date night at Chateau 13,” he said. “This is becoming an area people have longed for — one that’s livable, walkable, engaging and now has a connection to the Village of the Arts area.”
Ryan Bodie agreed.
“For those that are earth minded, body and soul minded, that’s important to people, and we are here, building this place people can come to,” he said.
COVID-19 may have forced some changes in the downtown area, but there is still a lot of heart and growth on 13th Street West.
Among those businesses that have felt the effects of COVID-19 are Sugar Cubed and Happy Soul, and the owners have shifted gears to create safe, accessible environments for their patrons.
Valencia Mitchell, owner of Sugar Cubed, is keeping the faith. The support of local patrons and local businesspeople have been a boost.
“I hope the flow and momentum keeps going like it is now,” Mitchell said. “Not just for black owned businesses, but for all small businesses. Everyone is looking to support the smaller businesses instead of just large corporations.”
Mitchell, shares a café space on 13th Street West with Paula Tromp, the owner of Happy Soul, and her business has benefited from community support.
“We’ve got to keep working together. We have to,” Tromp said. “It’s the only way we are going to make it.”
“Paula’s customers come in and even though they are looking for Vegan items, people get the chance to see both products in the café,” Mitchell said. “We have had more of an online presence as well to stay connected to the community during this time.”
COVID-19 has forced new and innovative ways to conduct business.
“The pandemic has not only impacted the way we live but could change the future of area businesses as well,” Wade Hamilton said.
He cited the example of Pier 22, which began providing loaves of bread for those not wanting to enter a grocery store during the pandemic. Such innovations are now becoming a staple and people can enjoy dinner and leave with groceries at the same time.
Connect Bradenton will also continue to utilize its alternate workspace ideas created during the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.
“We have phone rooms that are now used as zoom rooms. A lot of attorneys can now do virtual hearings that don’t have to be conducted at home,” Hamilton said.
These innovations created during this difficult time of COVID-19 can now be utilized for the continued success of their businesses.
While this can work for Connect Bradenton, there are still attributes of 13th Street West that steer people away from venturing through the small businesses. Empty storefronts have been a major deterrent.
Hamilton has some ideas to improve the foot traffic in the area.
“It’s going to take collaborative spaces, collaborative attitudes, and collaborative investments for 13th Street West to reach its full potential,” he said. “We go back to the property owners, collaborating with the small business, to create opportunities to fill those empty storefronts.”
“Success from the small area can come from pop-up events in the empty businesses, where local small businesses and entrepreneurs can utilize the space to sell their product and gain traction and prove the concept of their product,” Hamilton continued. “This could be the future of 13th Street West and its survival.”
Collaboration with the City of Bradenton is also part of the equation and was demonstrated recently by the investment in tables and chairs for 13th Street West to increase outdoor dining.
That survival and collaboration is dependent on the connectivity of these small businesses in the area and working together with neighboring areas during this difficult time.
Ryan Bodie described how he has worked together with the Adobe Graffiti Lounge in the Village of the Arts just a few blocks over.
“We were packed one night, and Sara and I took a few of our customers, piled them into our cars, and drove over to Adobe where an event was going on,” he said. “Some of them didn’t know Adobe existed, and we are big proponents on sharing and being a family here. At the end of the night, the owner of Adobe brought a few of his people over to the Kava Social Club.”
Collaboration has been easier with restrictions being lifted and businesses opening up again, but even with that downtown Bradenton has to be prepared for what else might impact small businesses.
“We don’t have the time to play around anymore. It’s now or never,” Bri Dine said. “If downtown Bradenton shuts down again, we have to all be ready to take action. We can all be a part of the change instead of just following it.”
Ryan Bodie agreed.
“We are all in 100%, because we believe in it,” he said.
-Bri Dine-Stisser, Owner
Good Fortune Juicery & Vegan Kitchen
Village of the Arts
-Wade Hamilton, Manager
1201 6th Ave W #100, Bradenton, FL 34205
-Johnette Isham, Executive Director and Founder
1015 Manatee Ave W, Bradenton, FL 34205
-Paula Tromp, Owner
Happy Soul, LLC
531 13th St W, Bradenton, FL 34205
-Valencia Mitchell, Owner
531 13th St W, Bradenton, FL 34205
-Ryan Bodie, Owner
Kava Social Club
540 13th St W, Bradenton, FL 34205
-Samantha Keenan, Director of Operations, CFO at Brand Story Experts
Brand Story Experts
519 13th St W, Bradenton, FL 34205
-Andrew Charles, Owner
Adobe Graffiti Lounge
1302 13th Ave W, Bradenton, FL 34205
-Jenn Sayko, General Manager
Château 13 Restaurant & Wine Bar
535 13th Street West, Bradenton, FL 34205