Downtown institutions are becoming a thing of the past.
The Better Jacksonville Plan’s new downtown library displaced the Young Men’s Shop and the Luggage Shop. And if forced to point out a true downtown landmark still in business, it probably wouldn’t take more than the fingers on one hand.
Thanks to a financial respite provided by the Downtown Development Authority Wednesday, Bill’s Shoes & Luggage Repair Salon owners Denise and James Mandeville stand a good chance of surviving after being displaced late last fall and having to close for 30 days.
Crafted by senior project manager Felice Franklin, the DDA approved a project that would provide the Mandevilles with a $7,879 grant from the Northwest Tax Increment Fund to reimburse the business for costs related to moving one block west.
The Mandevilles had to move the shop to make way for the redevelopment of the W. A. Knight Building into loft apartments by Mike Langton of Langton Associates. Unfortunately for the Mandevilles — who bought Bill’s in September 2000 after providing accounting services to the shop for several years — because the renovation was a private development, they weren’t eligible for any relocation assistance under the Florida Relocation Assistance Program. The inability to secure relocation funding was only one factor that has contributed to their economic woes.
“We’d like for this to be a one-time thing,” said Franklin, adding that she hopes in the future there will be additional discussions between private developers and tenants. “We want to be sensitive to those small businesses and try not to use this project to establish a precedence.”
Denise Mandeville said she was under the impression the shop would be able to remain open well into the renovation process. She also expected that once working around Bill’s became impossible, she would be served reasonable notice to vacate the premises, allowing her ample time find another location. She said neither happened.
“We understood at first that he [Langton] would be helpful, we would not have to move and he could work around us,” said Mandeville. “Then, we got a 30-day notice. We hoped we would get more than a 30-day notice so we could plan ahead and do something different.”
On Nov. 15, Bill’s, which was established in 1958, closed its doors. Thirty days later, on Dec. 15, it reopened in its current location. In between, bills piled up and the Mandevilles lost customers. They found a new location, spent $50,000 of their own money, borrowed another $80,000 and incurred $14,000 in moving expenses. The almost $8,000 from the DDA will certainly help the Mandevilles recover financially, but the trick now will be to recover lost business and customers.
“Just before we closed, business was really picking up. We were doing what we projected we’d do. Business was starting to turn around, then we had to move,” said Mandeville. “Now, it’s slow. A lot of our customers didn’t know we moved or that we were still open. We will do a lot more radio [advertising] and other media. We need more visibility.”
While Mandeville is thankful for Franklin’s work and the DDA’s approval, she also understands the process isn’t over and the financial aid isn’t a lock. The project must also receive the go ahead from the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission and City Council. History shows that both entities will likely approve the project.
The project also appealed to Franklin personally. As a customer of Bill’s, she understands that small, service-oriented, urban businesses are one the keys to filling downtown housing developments like 11 E. Forsyth, Berkman Plaza and Langton’s lofts.
“Bill’s is an institution,” said Franklin. “I’ve been going to them for 12 years. It’s definitely the kind of business we want to facilitate downtown whether we work, live or visit. We do not want to run the small businesses out as a result of revitalization or redevelopment.”