Changes coming to help businesses thrive in Railroad Square
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer
Change is coming to Railroad Square – gradually.
The property owners’ goal is to see their tenants run profitable businesses. Ultimately they want to make Railroad Square art park an area where people “work, live and play,” said Tangela Lofton, Chief of Staff for Art District Real Estate Company.
Business owners were recently notified at a town hall meeting that they have to operate for specific hours. Some business will be required to have a minimum of 20 hours of operation. Others will have to be opened for 40 hours.
Lofton said the company hopes to have the changes in place by early next year.
“We are trying to create a more robust retail space, increasing the economic value,” Lofton said. “This will be a daily destination spot versus a once-a-month first Friday spot.”
Railroad Square Art District is nestled off Railroad Avenue and FAMU Way. The location sits between the campuses of FAMU and Florida State University, surrounded by an area with other small businesses and residential units.
A Hyatt hotel sits at the east entrance of the art park. Plans are also in the works for a Homewood Suites hotel to be built nearby.
Railroad Square has been a family owned operation for at least three generations. For the past two decades it’s been under the auspices of owner Adam Kaye and his sister Lilly Kaye, who is co-owner.
Kaye also owns Railroad Village between Mill Street and FAMU Way, the art district Collective on Pershing Street, and Railroad Crossing at FAMU Way and Adams Street. There isn’t any specific hours of operation for those locations, Lofton said.
Over the years Railroad Square has seen several transformations, although it has remained primarily an art park. It now features restaurants, art galleries, a furniture store, a skateboard shop, a gym, a yoga studio and a performing art theatre.
There are also several more traditional businesses like the Juice Bar Miami and It’z Smackin’, a taste of Miami restaurant. Both are adjacent to each other in an area known as the Food Hall.
It’z Smackin’, a taste of Miami recently took over the spot that was once Craft House, which closed this past June.
Another group of shops are located in the Breezeway building, where Roy Blake and his wife run Blake’s Body Bars soap store.
All of the businesses seemingly do well when the once-a-month First Friday Festival takes place. The property owners want to see a carryover.
Opening the new restaurant is a dream come true for owner German Zelaya, a Miami native who moved to Tallahassee eight years ago.
“When I saw the spot, it stood out to me because there is a very prominent spot in Miami called Winward and this building is designed after it,” said Zelaya, who owns the restaurant with a former co-worker and his fiancé. “It’s a twin. The building was designed exactly the same. When I saw it, it resonated with me.”
Business is beyond his expectations, Zelaya said. The restaurant is opened from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturdays.
Owners of Railroad Square hope to help solve the problem of not enough daily foot traffics for some of the businesses to stay afloat. They figure that with more stores opened for longer hours they will help each other attract customers.
Not everyone has bought in, as a handful of tenants have moved out. Lofton suspects that having to pay a staff is one of the challenges for some owners.
“I think for the most part people are happy about the changes,” she said. “You will have some that feel that they’re not going to be able to meet those 40-hour requirements because they have a job.”
That is a problem that Blake doesn’t have. His days are spent making his scented soap from essential oils, he said.
“I like to make money so I’m here whenever I can be here,” said Blake, who was a regular vendor at the Tallahassee Flea Market. “We are supposed to be out here making money. We are not playing around.”
Lofton said the company is working with data to determine how to launch a marketing campaign to promote the art park. Whatever they do will maintain the art district’s image but at the same time make it a place where businesses thrive, she said.
“We are trying to be very transparent for those who are here and those who are interested in coming to the art district,” Lofton said. “But we want to showcase what we have. We are trying to provide that historic art district, trying to keep true to that history but also moving forward so that it would be profitable for the tenants, their employees and the community.”