Submitted By: Skip Barnes
Canal Street is a great street in the great downtown area in New Smyrna Beach. In 1980, as the area was experiencing a lot of change, population was about 12,000 and growing. They were making four lanes out of State Road 44 and the Burger Chef at U.S. 1 and West Canal Street had just burned down. This once bustling railroad town was slowing down because the railroad strike had shut down passenger rail travel on the Florida East Coast and the once active railroad center all but shut down.
Canal Street was still a viable business area, though. There was a great mix of businesses and professionals on the street. The street, however, was showing its age and needed remodeling. There were many businesses including a large furniture chain, two barber shops, a theatre, a Western Auto and a Firestone Store, Little Drug Co., Normans Jewelers, Brinkoetter Jewelry Store, Total Vision, Sunshine TV, Frank’s Mens, St. Barlows Photo Studio, a printer, Thomas Pharmacy, Dollar Store, Gary’s Meat Market, a post office, Pennysaver, a pool hall, Southeast Bank, the Chamber of Commerce (pictured below), NSB Parks & Recreation offices and AT&T.
A couple of beauty salons, Cole’s Appliance Store and Sheet Metal Works, Jones Service & Appliance, Coronado Carpet, Coronado Antique, Bob’s Exxon Service Station, Dwights Office Supply, Westhrin Hearing Aid Center, Public Gas Company and Ace Hardware were also there. There were many professional offices along the street such as attorneys, insurance, title company, financial, real estate and CPAs. There also were a few places to eat – Mike & Lib’s, Little’s and Thomas Pharmacy. Please forgive me if I missed anyone, but that was 37 years ago.
The reason I came to New Smyrna Beach was to accept a position as general manager of Little Drug Co. I finally retired in 2007 after 28 years. The winds of change were coming through as the area was growing. Canal Street was showing its age and needed some help in this changing time. First came Kmart, then the Regional Plaza with WalMart and Publix. Eckerd Drugs also came on the scene.
Canal Street was built on a canal which ran on the north side of the street. The canal was covered by a sidewalk as the town grew, but now the sidewalks were threatening to collapse into the canal from lack of maintenance. I was fortunate to have served a term on the Chamber Board and was active in forming the Downtown Business and Professional Association. We worked to promote Canal Street and seek ways to do something to save the street. We had sidewalk sales and other events to stimulate traffic downtown.
In the late 80s, a group of businesses on Canal Street met with the city to get support and funding to pursue becoming a Main Street City. The city put up funding as did many of the businesses pledging moneys as well. After much work, the application was sent and was approved in February 1990. A director was hired and a board appointed to work on plans for the economic development of the downtown.
The area was dedicated as a Historic District and we worked with the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) to develop a plan for the streetscape. The plan was developed and the CRA opened an office in the Syler House on Canal Street. After some delays, the streetscape began in fall of 1992 and was completely torn up for this time and created a real challenge for the businesses. With the help of Main Street in planning and promotion in the area, they survived. Because Canal Street had to be closed to traffic for the construction, Main Street helped develop a back door program with the businesses and professionals to maintain traffic control. Streetscape was a huge success for Canal and the CRA.
In May 1994, the State of Florida held a five-day National Redevelopment Conference in Tampa where the CRA was given an award for the outstanding redevelopment project of the year. Little Drug also received an award for the outstanding individual redevelopment project. Pam Mathis, the CRA director along with Margie Dean, president of Main Street, and myself attended the conference and accepted the awards.
The finished street was awesome. Many changes have taken place since the completion of the Streetscape. Many businesses have closed and been replaced with new thriving ones with the help of the CRA grants. Many structures were redeveloped with a few major ones such as the old post office and the old Badcock Furniture Store. Canal Street began to take on a new look and began to draw new businesses and professionals to replace the ones leaving. Many new projects were begun to help bring traffic to the new downtown. The Farmers Market begun as a revenue source for Main Street. In 1996, the Canal Street Cruise Night began on the second Saturday of every month and drew a lot of foot traffic to the street. It celebrated its 23rd anniversary on August 12, 2019. Once Main Street concluded, it converted to the Downtown Association which is now the Canal Street Historic District (CSHD) with approximately 120 members. It has, along with the city, developed all the promotional activities for each year. The downtown has blossomed with 15 eating establishments and a wide variety of retail shops and professionals. The side streets are also developing with additional businesses and professionals.
One of the exciting developments that needs a special acclamation is how many artists have been drawn to the area. The Hub on Canal opened a whole new destination on the street and from there the excitement just increases with the many new artist retail locations and workshops.
The newest development downtown is The Tabby House made up of homes. It is located in the heart of the city right across from City Hall, Old Fort Park and other businesses.
Downtown and Canal Street have become a destination area with some of the best restaurants, a brewery, a wide variety of independent retail outlets and professionals to satisfy your needs. If you haven’t checked it out lately, you don’t know what you are missing. Canal Street is where it’s happening.
Thanks to all the people who helped develop this downtown area into what it has become and are still working toward making it the best place on the map.