On June 19th, we headed into Downtown Jacksonville for only the second time in a good 10 months. We hopped on our new (old) bikes and rode to Jaxson’s Night Market, a relatively new venture stationed at the corner of Laura and Adams on the third Thursday of the month.
We missed the night market on its opening night in April (vacation in NJ) and May (rained out), so I was excited to finally make it over to check it out on a lovely 90+ degree day. To heighten the excitement, we finally got ourselves some bikes the day before, so we decided to take our first bike adventure into downtown.
Now, when we moved to Jacksonville in October 2007, it was during probably one of the least opportune times in recent history. The economy was about to landslide straight into the Great Recession and we were just lucky to secure employment in the same place after moving from the job mecca of New Smyrna Beach, where the newspaper we both worked for basically went under. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know that Jacksonville existed six months earlier, when I packed my Jeep and made the move from New Jersey. All I knew when we moved there was that I was finally living in a respectable place again (skyline, mall within 15 minutes, plenty of restaurants and bars) although I wasn’t particularly impressed. We settled in Riverside after discovering it accidentally on the way to Joel’s interview, and I insisted that was the only place I’d live in Jacksonville.
Fast forward six years later, I feel like we live in a whole different world. The economy is on the upswing, and Jacksonville, a city I was always just OK with, is definitely a rising star in real life and in my heart. I’ve always loved Riverside, which has definitely been on the front end of economic growth and has only gotten better with age (Hello, 220 Riverside, Unity Plaza, the neighboring development, more restaurants and bars than I can name. Welcome to the neighborhood.).
I had my reservations about downtown though. We rarely made it over there, because we rarely had a reason to, outside of heading to Jags games or the occasional trip to the Jacksonville Landing. The problems were many: the empty, overgrown lots; the streets devoid of people after 5pm and on the weekends; the lack of a draw.
We missed One Spark last year (I don’t remember why) but made it a point to go this year, even though it began right before our annual trip to Jersey. It was a blast and so great to see LIFE downtown. So much life! I started to get even more excited about the prospects, after reading about the revitalization of the Laura Street Trio, the Barnett Building, potentially the Shipyards and more.
Back to June 19th. We hopped on our bikes and rode to the Riverwalk (only a few actual blocks on real roads, because apparently I forgot how to ride a bike), which we took into downtown. It was a hot day, but by the time we made our way over after 7 pm, it was GORGEOUS on the river. The St. Johns is a real jewel, which is probably one of the reasons Downtown has so much potential.
The Night Market itself was a blast. We met up with a few friends, got a few beers, ate some tacos (the Bangin Shrimp Taco from TacoLu was mind-blowing!) and just chilled. In fact, we didn’t want to leave. It was probably 10pm before we finally left, mostly because everyone else was gone, the vendors were all clearing out their stuff and it was quite dark.