Turning the Tide

Just up from the St. Andrews Yacht Basin is a small treasure trove of shops and restaurants, locally owned businesses that exude charm and the feel of a long ago, more relaxed time. It is an escape of sorts from the mainstream bustle of ordinary life, a small breath of salty-aired simplicity.


Turning the Tide St. Andrews businesses are revitalizing historic area, By Liesel Schmidt

Just up from the St. Andrews Yacht Basin is a small treasure trove of shops and restaurants, locally owned businesses that exude charm and the feel of a long ago, more relaxed time. It is an escape of sorts from the mainstream bustle of ordinary life, a small breath of salty-aired simplicity.

This historical area, known as St. Andrews, has long been part of the Panama City landscape. Local businesses were hit hard by the Great Recession. But recent changes have drawn in new life, like a net freshly cast into the sea. The opening of new businesses is a sign of renewed hope for better economic times. And those businesses are attracting new customers to the area, enhancing the local economy in ways that have long been needed.

Equal parts cozy and chic, the Purple Grape is the perfect addition to the new reawakening scene at St. Andrews. After being open for three years at their original location on Thomas Drive, owners Tom and Yvette Seldenright decided to take advantage of the new scene emerging just off the waterfront.

“We were looking for a location that had a lot of walking traffic and rent that we could afford,” Yvette Seldenright says. “We are already showing great improvement over our sales at the Thomas Drive location.”

As the area’s first wine bar, the Purple Grape holds the distinction of offering both products and ambience that one might not expect to find so far away from the rarefied air of a larger city. The menu boasts more than 50 wines available by the glass, rounded out by a selection of more than 150 available by the bottle. While the atmosphere and the wine list alone are enough to attract a crowd and cultivate a regular following, the surrounding shops and businesses undoubtedly do their share of contributing to the Purple Grape’s success.

“The shops seem to be a nice draw. We get a lot of foot traffic that comes in through here because of them,” acknowledges Jaclyn Gallagher, who has tended bar at the Purple Grape for three months. She calls St. Andrews “an up and coming area” with a clientele that is “a little bit of everybody.”

No one here goes it alone, as the shops seem to provide a great support system for one another.  “I truly believe the businesses in St. Andrews are committed to helping each other and making it work,” says Seldenright.

If recent trends are anything to go by, St. Andrews will continue to bustle and grow, just like the St. Andrews Waterfront Farmers’ Market that attracts thousands of visitors to the area. Opened in 2003, it has become an anchor for the area and this summer announced plans to double the number of vendors that bring in goods to sell on the weekends.

“It’s a concerted area revitalization project,” says Scott Barnes, president of St. Andrews Waterfront Markets, Inc., the non-profit that now runs the market and garden. While the market has been a seasonal occurrence since 2004, it hit its stride in September of 2010, when it became a year-round market under the watchful, nurturing eye of local area volunteers determined to make it a success. Sprawling between Smith’s Yacht Basin and St. Andrews Marina, the market offers a wide variety of merchants and activities, enough to keep the entire family happy and entertained. “There’s always some kind of activity,” Barnes says. “There’s fun for everybody, and it’s a really family-friendly environment. It has it’s own flavor.”

Recently voted the fourth best mid-sized farmers’ market in the country by those participating in a survey conducted by American Farmland Trust, St. Andrews also holds the distinction of being the sole market to offer its visitors ferry service (from St. Andrews Marina to Smith’s Yacht Basin). Dozens of vendors attract up to 4,000 visitors in a day and, in April, the market welcomed the addition of a community garden, furthering its Make It or Grow It focus.

The changes in the market have undeniably impacted the local economy. “[Shop owners] are always talking about how their businesses have increased so much since we built this thing,” Barnes claims.

Bot Boutique owner Celene Cunningham wholeheartedly agrees: “We’ve seen a lot of traffic come through the store with the St. Andrews Farmers’ Market … going on.” A sparkling space full of accessories to please women of all ages and tastes, the Bot Boutique had a location in Lynn Haven for three-and-a-half years before the store in Historic St. Andrews opened in July. “There are three of us [owners], and we … want to spread the joy,” Cunningham says when asked about the reasoning behind the newly opened venue. “We love it down here. We love the area, and we love the sunset.” Pizzaz Salon operates a small station in the back of the store, with two stylists available to offer their services to the store’s customers.

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Cunningham said the store tries to feature a lot of local designers and the unique fare seems to be a successful draw to attract even unlikely customers. “We get anywhere from teenagers to sweet little old ladies,” she says.

The wide and varied crowd is certainly something that Time Out! Sports Saloon and Oyster Bar owner Nick West hopes to attract. The restaurant, which opened at the end of July, offers a full menu and is specifically targeted to families. “We’re not a bar … we’re a family-oriented restaurant, so we’ve received a good crowd. We’re trying to target families to come and hang out and enjoy the view,” says West. They’ve certainly filled a void in the newly-revitalized area, which was exactly what West aimed to do when he chose St. Andrews as the second location for Time Out!

Older shops have also seen an uptick in their numbers since the beginning of the area revitalization. “When we opened five years ago, there were a lot of shops, and the area was beginning to perk,” says Charlotte Smith of Two Sisters Custom Designs. “But then when the economy went south, we lost quite a few little businesses. The Farmer’s Market has increased traffic a lot. I feel like we’re slowly beginning to grow again.”

The salty air has called out to first-time business owners, as well.

“We haven’t been open anywhere else,” says Melissa Kayvonfar of The Honey Hole, an eclectic collection of antiques, rare consignment pieces and small treasures of all kinds. “Traffic’s been good.  We love the location, and it’s absolutely beautiful,” says Kayvonfar, who owns the shop with her husband, James.

As the year draws to a close and a new year approaches, the new life imbued in the St. Andrews area continues to give locals a sense of hope and freshness. Tides shift and change, bringing new opportunities, just as this historic location is given new opportunities to reassert itself, to become a presence once again, to become found treasure at the water’s edge.

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