by Danielle Anderson
Encompassing 1,432 square miles, Volusia County is home to 16 different and very distinct municipalities.
Over the years, each has developed their own flair, style and community. Some, like New Smyrna Beach, have history that dates as far back as 1769 when Dr. Andrew Turnbull started the colony with 1,500 settlers along the coast, and DeLand, once known as Persimmon Hollow, was settled by Ruben Marsh in 1846 and developed by Henry A. DeLand, for whom the town was named in 1876.
As local business owners share their stories, it’s easy to see why early settlers fell in love with these communities and why today they’re among the must-see places to visit in Volusia County.
DeLand: Preserving the Past, Investing in the Future
In 2019 the City of DeLand held workshops to update its 2050 Vision Plan, but this wasn’t the first time the municipality had looked to the future.
A decade ago, leaders committed to preserving the area’s ample natural resources, while focusing on redevelopment and expansion in their historic downtown area. Enjoying the benefits of being a university town – Stetson University is located on Woodland Boulevard, along the same stretch of roadway leading directly into the core of the city’s historic downtown area––you can’t visit Stetson and not make a trip downtown.
Visitors find the locally-owned shops and boutiques charming in an “era of days gone” by kind of way. In the days of e-commerce, it’s refreshing to find an actual brick and mortar florist and a bookshop within the historic corridor.
Dining options are built around the historic courthouse in the district and the fresh-from-scratch menus are a point of pride for local restaurateurs like Florida native Melisa Reed, owner of the southern-inspired restaurant, The Table, which is located at one of the busiest intersections downtown.
Melisa and her husband Dan fell in love with the historic district and the possibilities in 2011. They first purchased the entertainment venue Café DaVinci and have continued to invest in the community since.
“My husband, the year we got married said to me, he wanted to open a bar in DeLand,” recalls Melisa, who had no idea where DeLand was. “He said let me take you there. We came over and I fell in love. That was our first business.”
The couple own and operate several locations – including Café DaVinci, The Boulevard, and The Table, and co-own Neighbors Booze Bites food stand with friends and fellow business neighbors Robbie Carelli and Andy Sistrunk, co-owners of the local brewery Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co.
“The idea there is we’re neighbors and we came together to create one business,” explained Melisa. “It started as a taco shop and it’s now smash burgers, chicken wings, more bite sized things, and you can take your food into Persimmon Hollow.”
The local brewers have realized their own success, branching out to include a location in Lake Eola, and they are slated for inclusion in Walt Disney World’s Flamingo Crossings Town Center development in the future.
Helping to support the efforts of the 89 small businesses downtown, the award-winning MainStreet DeLand Association’s executive director Wayne Carter, and West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority’s executive director Georgia Turner do their part to bring exposure to the downtown area by promoting unique merchant events like the weekly Artisan Alley Farmer’s Market.
Carter, an unabashed cheerleader for the area, says it’s the authenticity of the community that encourages organic growth in the business district, and storefronts don’t sit vacant for long in the hot real estate market.
“You have the (Main Street) organization which helps to build partnerships in the community and brings people together for the common goal of having a revitalized downtown, and you do all of that for economic vitality,” said Carter, noting that with more than 100 businesses in the downtown area, over $8 million of economic impact was generated in 2019 from events and promotions.
Turner, who works to maximize the visitor experience by showcasing the region’s assets and events to out of county visitors to help generate overnight stays, says she often hears how DeLand conjures up fond memories.
“The Main Street program has continued to grow. So, when you think of the momentum, and the cool factor that happened somewhere along the way in the last ten years, when people walk into our visitor’s center, they always say ‘This reminds me of my hometown, where I grew up’, and it’s just got that feel that’s hard to describe other than being a traditional downtown,” said Turner.
In a growing community like DeLand, Nick Conte, Director of Economic Development for the municipality knows the importance of retaining the area’s signature qualities, while managing expected development, as a team.
“It really takes everybody to do economic development,” notes Conte. “It helps to know the area, and to know the resources you have to help a business.”
New Smyrna Beach: Two for One Good Vibes Only
With over 100 shops lining the funky beach town’s Flagler Avenue Historic Business District, it’s an eclectic mix of genuinely local offerings. Popping in to browse or buy, after a brief chat with shop owners, you’ll soon find out why they love their location so much.
Robin Rowland, owner of Robin’s Nest art gallery found New Smyrna Beach while on vacation, thinking it would be a great place to purchase a condominium and live one day. After a massive snowstorm, she decided to take the leap, buy a house and set up shop. For her, Flagler Avenue is more than merchants on the block – they’re neighbors.
“You have people that come to New Smyrna all the time, so it’s like friends and family,” she said. “On this street, everybody tries to have something different, and a lot of it is handcrafted so that every store isn’t the same. It is a community, people are nice to each other, they look out for each other.”
The same can be said for Solcat owners Sharon and Mark Klosky. Setting up their boutique with home décor and imports from Bali in the Shoppes of Sea Side Station 21 years ago, it’s a steady stream of locals and an influx of tourists in the spring and summer that have kept them in a prime location just two blocks west of the beach.
“We like it here, it’s the main intersection beachside,” said Klosky. “It has this little shopping district that people like to come to.”
True to its local vibe, families, sometimes with a cute canine in tow, can be seen zipping around town in their street legal golf carts. They mix in with cars cruising the strip as they head to the Flagler Avenue beach access, where beach driving is permitted, for a fee.
Along the way, blink and you’ll miss it – the town is vibrant with big, bold hand-painted murals, colorful storefronts and commemorative brick pavers, lovingly purchased and personalized. The day’s surf report is chalked on the door of the Rip Curl surf shop, and there’s a pretty good chance the porch of the Flagler Tavern will be filled well before 5 o’clock. If sandy toes aren’t your thing, you can find a spot at The Breakers Restaurant where 13 miles of unobstructed white sandy beaches and turquoise Atlantic Ocean welcome you.
But the adventure doesn’t stop there when you’re in New Smyrna Beach.
Heading back to the mainland just across the State Road 44/N. Causeway is the Canal Street Historic District and what the area is most famous for – is it elevated arts and culture scene.
Starting at The Hub, which is quite literally a hub of artists’ studios and gallery space, and is the pulse from which the arts district radiates.
The area earned a reputation for world class arts and culture from the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and the arts community in the Canal Street Historic District has been the beneficiary, according to Betty Turco, director of gallery operations at The Hub.
“Canal Street is special because it’s got something for everybody,” said Turco. “It has a lot of art, great restaurants, the river, parks, it’s a destination.”
Visitors can stop into The Hub and pick up a free arts district map and tour the artists’ studios and gallery before setting out to explore. With five arts locations within a three block radius, free parking throughout the historic district offers a chance to relax and immerse yourself in the walkable community.
There’s no shortage of locally owned eateries to tempt your taste buds either. Dotting the downtown, you can indulge your senses at trendy places like the Corkscrew Bar & Grille, Yellow Dog Eats or Jason’s Corner Deli, one of the district’s anchor restaurants. For a quick drink, a stop at the New Smyrna Beach Brewery, will do the trick.
Chris Edwards, Director of Economic Development for the City of New Smyrna Beach says it’s the uniqueness of each community’s downtown that makes them a destination for visitors and residents.
“In New Smyrna Beach, really the foundation of its economic development core is the small business community here,” said Edwards, noting that visitors contribute $415 million to the New Smyrna Beach area each year. “It’s a pivotal part for both the Historic Canal Street area as well as Flagler Avenue.”
Danielle Anderson has worked in the public relations and media industry for a decade. She started her career as a reporter for Flagler Broadcasting where she discovered her passion for telling the stories of communities in Florida.