By World War II, a vibrant network of businesses, specializing in fresh produce, baked goods and dry goods sprouted up along Beaver Street and Myrtle Avenue. These businesses included the Flowers Baking Company, Winn & Lovett Grocery Company, and Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) Southeastern Headquarters. A&P’s facility included a bakery and an 8 O’clock coffee roasting plant. Immediately following the end of World War II, industrial development rapidly consumed the district’s southern section along Dennis Street, between the rail yards and McCoy’s Creek. These businesses included Southern Dairies, Inc. (ice cream), Fram Florida, Inc. (canning), Vita Foods (Jelly), Linde Air Products (Liquid Oxygen and Acetylene Acid Gas) and National Biscuit Company (now known as Nabisco).
The increase in automobile popularity and air travel had an adverse effect on the health of Jacksonville’s wholesale district. The decline culminated with the loss of the main economic engines that led to the district’s late 19th century development. In 1974, the Jacksonville Terminal ceased its downtown operations and a year later, the REA closed all of its facilities after filing for bankruptcy. Despite the loss, four decades later and largely ignored by most downtown and urban core advocates, the district and much of its early 20th century structures remain.
While other large wholesale districts have become obsolete and largely abandoned, Jacksonville’s lives on with many major operations such as BSF, CSX, Winn-Dixie, Load King, Main Metal Recycling, Preferred Freezer Services, White Wave Foods and others that significantly contribute to the city’s tax base and economic might. In addition, after 78 years of business, the Jacksonville Farmers Market continues to remain a popular destination, serving as a forum in which customers can buy directly from farmers and year-round vendors retailing and wholesaling the widest and freshest selection of produce in North Florida.
Due to the district being largely spared of Jacksonville’s failed urban renewal and revitalization attempts, it has an amenity that downtown lacks; an abundance of cheap, available space. With the national trend of people flocking back into central cities, it’s a potential location for a new crop of emerging and innovative businesses that bridge history and adaptive reuse with 21st century trends. This can be seen in new businesses such as Engine 15 Brewing Company, Eco Relics, and Rethreaded.
From the Strip District (Pittsburgh) to the Arts District (Los Angeles), districts similar to Jacksonville’s are promoted to the outside world as economic assets, directly leading to more economic opportunity for their respective communities. As Jaxsons continue to navigate the puzzle of downtown, urban core revitalization, diversity and connectivity between walkable neighborhoods, Jacksonville’s historic wholesale district should play a critical and prominent role in that process.
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Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at firstname.lastname@example.org