Retailing Florida’s Paradise Coast

As we returned to frigid northeast Ohio from the relative tropics of southwest Florida I would like provide a brief overview of our trip. We made time to visit stores and galleries over the course of our time in Naples. If you’re interested in visiting ‘Florida’s Paradise Coast’ for yourself, check out the visitor’s bureau website here.

The 5th avenue shopping district is the hub for quaint boutiques, galleries and restaurants. Park your car and take a stroll.

The 5th avenue shopping district is the hub for quaint boutiques, galleries and restaurants. Park your car and take a stroll.

I’ve been visiting southwest Florida my entire life. For the last two decades we found a “hometown” away from home in Naples. It has been interesting to see the region, centered on route 41, grow over the years. There are definitely a proliferation of strip malls and residential developments. Before the economy receded traffic and buildup was out of control. In my opinion the recession tempered things a bit, which means you can get around a little easier (still it can be a pain most of the time). For the retail market as far as I can tell you still have an overabundance of stores, many of which are in new locations. Which unfortunately means there are whole shopping centers just sitting empty. While this isn’t the case everywhere, you can still see it here and there; a symptom that is evident back here at home as well. Seemingly fine strip malls, and quaint shopping villages sit vacant.

But that’s not to say it is all doom and gloom, the area has a vibrant active lifestyle that definitely caters to the better off, but even us average folk have plenty of places to shop or at least window shop. After all these years of visiting, I could finally see myself living in the area, at least for a few months a year; if I had the means (which I don’t). For anyone who likes to explore, discover and go shopping, Naples is a great place to go. Here are some places to consider visiting.

5th Avenue

At the intersection where Route 41 turns into 5th Avenue you’ll find what is probably the number one shopping destination in town. There is a mix of art galleries, boutique shops and fine dinning establishments. During peak season (think December to April), especially when the weather is nice, go down to 5th Avenue in the evening for drinks, dinner and then a stroll amongst the shops and galleries. There is a nice mix of touristy shops as well. Each merchant uniquely displays their products and the overall feel is in line with the local feel.

Tin City

Within walking distance from 5th Avenue, over on 12th Street on the water you’ll see a cluster of ramshackle brightly colored buildings set amongst a makeshift marina: that’s Tin City. It’s an old fishing complex that was converted into a rambling indoor mall of sorts. While it’s at the opposite end of the spectrum from 5th Avenue, every visitor to Naples should stop. From t-shirts, to candy to seashells and wine, there is a little bit of everything and the kids will love exploring as much as you will. To say the style is eclectic is an understatement but it is a delightful change of pace compared to sterile malls and mass retail.  The authenticity is great, and while there are some design disasters from a retail standpoint, everything seems to work and add to the charm. It’s also the perfect place to grab a beer and eat seafood while watching boats go by from one of the two restaurants. There are a few real gems in the place, including Naples Soap Company.

A trip to Naples isn't complete until you visit Tin City. Here you can see shells and other accessories simply displayed on block and board shelves at Shells Etc.

A trip to Naples isn’t complete until you visit Tin City. Here you can see shells and other accessories simply displayed on block and board shelves at Shells Etc.

Old Naples (3rd Street South)

Hopping back in the car, zig zag south to Broad and 3rd Street to find a touch of “Old Naples”. Park in front of gallery row and set out on foot to discover shops, fine art galleries and streets lined with old, brightly painted, Floridian buildings. With eagerness I stumbled upon the Plaza on Third Street. It was a wonderful, quaint outdoor mall with tons of shop and restaurant spaces. Only problem was it was virtually abandoned. Cupping my hands I peered into empty windows, imagining what it must have been like in its hey day. Blue tile looking back at me from under a layer of dust in a sushi bar. Now lifeless windows holding only the fashion ghosts of days past.  Music still played from courtyard speakers, adding an eerie touch to my stroll.  I counted maybe two stores still in business. It was really weird and really a shame because the space is incredible from a retail standpoint.  I’d gladly trade any number of strip malls or mass retail outlets to see this place flourishing again. I suppose guests have moved on to other locations – but it’s such a clean canvas – it would be interesting to work with, crafting something amazing again.

There are still plenty of shops and other points of interest in the sleepy old neighborhood. It’s definitely worth a stop and a nice rest from the hustle and bustle to the north. Take the area in on foot.

The Plaza on Third is one of the nicest retail spots in Naples. The problem is it's vacant right now.

The Plaza on Third is one of the nicest retail spots in Naples. The problem is it is vacant right now.

What I call "Old Naples" features a gallery row - opposing galleries divided by Broad Avenue. Park in front and take a you can take in the entire neighborhood on foot.

“Old Naples” features a gallery row – opposing galleries divided by Broad Avenue. Park in front and take a you can take in the entire neighborhood on foot.

Expensive cars are ubiquitous in southeast Florida. Though a Ferrari, like this one parked on gallery row, is still fairly rare. Usually you're just stuck in traffic with Bentleys and Aston Martins.

Expensive cars are ubiquitous in southeast Florida. Though a Ferrari, like this one parked on gallery row, is still fairly rare. Usually you’re just stuck in traffic with Bentleys and Aston Martins.

Route 41 (Tamiami Trail)

Bisecting the area north of downtown – beach areas on one side, inland property on the other – is Route 41, the Tamiami Trail. It’s a legendary road that will take you all the way to Miami, with a stop off at Everglades National Park along the way if you backtrack south and east.

Driving north you’ll see that through the years they’ve built store upon store, plaza upon plaza all along the route. If you need the more pedestrian things in life, you’ll likely find yourself waiting at a light on Route 41 to get to Walgreens or Publix (and about 10,000 other stores). It’s a real mix of classes; it’s not uncommon to see a Bentley or Aston Martin parked next your Toyota in the Walmart parking lot. One example of the build up: we spotted three Publix within about 5 miles of each other on Route 41. Apparently there are plenty of people in the area to warrant that much retail.

Here are a few photos from local stores, including some examples of letting the product do the work. As you know, I don’t think you always need displays to sell product.

I love these simple frosted acrylic signs in Publix, along with the freestanding letters.

I love these simple frosted acrylic signs in Publix, along with the freestanding letters.

Publix does a nice job letting product be the hero on their end cap. Also their visual merchandising is interesting while still packing in the product.

Publix does a nice job letting product be the hero on their end cap. Also their visual merchandising is interesting while still packing in the product.

The Essentia water end cap at Publix plays up the product packaging to great effect.

The Essentia water end cap at Publix plays up the product packaging to great effect.

From the PGA Superstore, a good example of letting the packaging do the work. You don't need a display and graphics to tell each product is different but all of them in the block are Calloway golf balls.

From the PGA Superstore, a good example of letting the packaging do the work. You don’t need a display and graphics to tell each product is different but all of them in the block are Calloway golf balls.

Waterside Shops

Tucked away off of Seagate Drive and Route 41 is a real, albeit small, outdoor fashion mall. Back here in Ohio, indoor malls have given way to outdoor malls over the last two decades; which totally befuddles me. Why would you want to shop outdoors in an area where it snows eight months of the year?  Now in Florida, I can see the allure of shopping outdoors, and the Waterside Shops do not disappoint. The list of stores is canted towards the high of high end: Tiffany & Co., Brooks Brothers, Coach. Everything is merchandised in a classy manner without much needless embellishment. This is definitely the best place to go window shopping, as the windows rival any that you’ll see in the “big city” or cosmopolitan coasts.

Just try remember which blue Bentley in the parking garage is yours.

Waterside shops feature high end retailers and plenty of window eye candy for shopper and designer alike.

Waterside shops feature high end retailers and plenty of window eye candy for shopper and designer alike.

The Nordstrom at Waterside has an e-bar which I'd never seen before in our Nordstrom back home. It's a nice little coffee shop at the store entrance.

The Nordstrom at Waterside has an e-bar which I’d never seen before in our Nordstrom back home. It’s a nice little coffee shop at the store entrance.

The Ralph Lauren window at Waterside provides an exploration vibe, perfect for southeast Florida.

The Ralph Lauren window at Waterside provides an exploration vibe, perfect for southeast Florida.

There are plenty more places to explore and satisfy your entertainment, dining and shopping fix beyond what I’ve written about here. We did not go this time, but there is a great indoor mall right off of Route 41 in case that’s your thing as well. The best part is that the weather is almost always perfect so getting out isn’t always a chore like it is back home. The retailers have a large population to serve and it appears that they are doing a good job giving the people what they want. Beyond retail there is plenty to see and do including fishing, parks, art shows….whatever you could want really. Combine all of that with pristine beaches and you’ve got the fixings for a fantastic visit.

If you have any questions, would like to learn more or if you’re a retailer is interested in working with our consultancy, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  Email chris@chrisweiganddesign.com

Check us out on the web at www.chrisweiganddesign.com

-Chris

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