Downtown Melbourne Thrives Pandemic, Or No
January 22, 2021
Brevard’s Local News
Small businesses across the country are still reeling from 2020, and for some, the economic reality of the pandemic was more than they could bear, but in downtown, Melbourne, things are fortunately different.
Small businesses across the country are still reeling from 2020, and for some, the economic reality of the pandemic was more than they could bear, but in downtown, Melbourne, things are fortunately different. “We really didn’t lose any businesses and gained quite a few,” said Kim Agee, executive director for Melbourne Main Street. Agee admits that, yes, 2020 was challenging for many downtown Melbourne merchants and sales were significantly down last year, but she credits the loyalty of downtown shoppers, and the quick pivoting of retailers for helping bring sales back up in 2021. “People understand that everything here is family-owned, and they’re shopping local more,” said Agee. “A lot of our merchants also pivoted and went online and in social media and done very well.” Agee, who took over the helm of Melbourne Main Street in Feb. 2020 in what she says was “the weekend before the world shut down,” was born and raised in Melbourne and enjoys deep family roots in the community. Although the pandemic nixed last year’s plans for large events such as the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, which draws 10,000 foodies downtown in the fall, Agee is ramping up the events calendar, with plans for the Botanical Fest March 6 outside the 1900 Building. “We’re having a great response from vendors,” she said. A sidewalk sale in April should draw even more visitors downtown. Agee also has high hopes for the return of the Food and Wine Festival later in the year. A large portion of proceeds from the Festival is donated to the Daily Bread. Even with the specter of COVID-19 looming, several entrepreneurs moved ahead with plans to open downtown. The Railroad Emporium saw the opening of the Downtown BierGarten Restaurant and Pub Americana, the second location for the popular Cocoa Village gathering spot. The appearance of Lumber Jack Axe House at the Emporium is fortuitous, given the need for a stress-reducing outlet, plus an adrenaline rush, during the pandemic. With more than 25 restaurants downtown, Melbourne has plenty of eating options, and more are coming. Coastal Bites, which specialize in ceviche and other Peruvian delicacies, opened after owner Frank Harana decided to add a bricks-and-mortar location to the food truck that was a regular at Intracoastal Brewery in the Eau Gallie Arts District. Fiesta Bar & Grill, specializing in Caribbean cuisine, and Katina, a Mediterranean restaurant near the Henegar Center, will soon join the lineup. Meg O’Malley’s, the restaurant that launched the downtown renaissance, is currently experiencing a major makeover. “They’re shooting for re-opening St. Patrick’s Day,” said Agee. Also new on the scene is Mr. Nice Guys Smoke Emporium, Board & Brush DIY wood sign workshop and Revive Salon & Spa. Nomad Eatery has reinvented itself to add grab-and-go-options in addition to a dine-in menu. Two new multi-story buildings now dominate the sea of vintage shops and restaurants in the area. Hotel Melby, part of the Hilton Tapestry Collection, is anticipated to open by the second quarter of this year with 156 rooms, including 24 corner suites, plus a rooftop lounge and 4,900-square-feet of event space.
Already in action is Highline, the apartment and retail complex situated on the site of the old Melbourne High School. “It’s gorgeous,” said Agee. More than 60 percent of the 171 upscale new studios and one and two-bedroom apartments have already been leased to a diverse group of tenants that range from Florida Tech students and young families to retirees and physicians seeking housing convenient to Health First Holmes Regional Medical Center. The Highline’s petfriendly attitude is already changing the demographics of visitors downtown. “We’re seeing an uptick in dogs downtown,” said Agee. The Highline also includes street-level space for a 6,000-square-foot restaurant and two smaller retail spaces. Despite all the new growth, parking should not be an issue, says Agee. “The parking garage is underutilized,” she said. An additional 174 parking spaces off Melbourne Avenue behind the Highline have been updated and enhanced with vintage lighting fixtures to help reinforce Melbourne’s small town atmosphere. Agee sees the increase in residential space as a major boost for the future of downtown. “The more residential, the more you will see the revitalization and renovation of the old homes around downtown,” she said.