By Amiracle Grant
Railroad Square, a quiet yet quirky art district, is located just minutes away from both Florida A&M University and Florida State University’s campuses. This art and culture hub spanning across 10 acres of prime real estate is home to more than 70 studios, art galleries and small privately-owned shops.
Although it houses an abundance of small businesses and sits at a central location between two major universities, some may wonder when exactly is there any business flowing in and out of the art district and how exactly do they manage to stay in business?
Lillian Fitch, property manager at Railroad Square, explained that there is a common misconception when it comes to the district.
“Some people are under the impression that we are a retail business when in fact, we are a real estate operation,” said Fitch. “The 9 acres known as Railroad Square Art District is a privately-owned management company that leases units to businesses.”
Fitch further explained how the company maintains its operation by leasing these units to local tenants.
“We lease units to businesses for retail, art studios, galleries and more. All of our tenants are local,” said Fitch. “We market through social media when we have to, but we hardly ever have spaces available to rent. This is because Railroad Square has been around for over 40 years and is well known in the Tallahassee area.”
According to Railroad Square’s official website, this prime real estate operation sits on what was once a major historic site in Tallahassee, the McDonnell Lumber Company.
The lumber yard later became what was known as the Downtown Industrial Park under the ownership of William J. Boynton Jr. Later, in the mid 1970s, the land was then acquired by Boynton’s daughter, Nan Boynton, as she envisioned the land as a unique space for artists to come together and create.
Today, three generations later, the park is now owned by [Nan] Boynton’s children, Lily and Adam, as the district continues to thrive.
“Railroad Square as a property is privately owned by the brother and sister team of Adam Kaye and Lily Kaye. They inherited the property from their mother [Nan], who took over ownership from her father [William], so there have been three generations of the same family that owned and operated Railroad Square,” said Fitch.
Opportunities for Growth
As the real estate operation continues to expand, there are more opportunities for growth and financial gain, and even more reason to keep the art and culture district alive.
Local tenants such as Carla Reid, owner of the Black Dog Café, which specializes in artisan blend coffee and espresso, recently opened a location at Railroad Square as she also saw the district as a prime real estate location.
“I chose Railroad Square because I wanted to be a part of an arts community that also happened to be in the vicinity of the two major universities here,” said Reid.
At a glance, there seems to be hardly any foot traffic coming in and out Railroad Square, and the district typically appears to be operating at a leisurely pace.
Part of the reason is because most of the business happening at Railroad Square tends to occur during nights and weekends, according to some of the local tenants.
“Most of our business and profit is on the weekends and during events, but we see a rise in business on Tuesdays and Wednesdays that are helpful due to the new hotels moving in the area,” said Zan Walker, owner of The Other Side Vintage Shop.
Last April, the All Saints District and Gaines Street Corridor welcomed a new hotel, Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton, just within walking distance of Railroad Square. This new hotel introduction seemingly appeared to have a mutually beneficial impact on sales throughout Railroad Square.
Plans for a new 5-story hotel and an adjacent 6,000-square-foot retail building right at the entrance of Railroad Square could also have the potential to bring in another economic boost to the art district, but there are still some concerns.
“I personally believe that Railroad Square gets some business, but could get even more if it would remain focused on the arts for which it is known,” said Reid.
The new hotel is said to be inspired by the district’s unique and industrial style.
Some of the tenants feel otherwise, believing that it is the local community that keeps Railroad Square alive.
“We are grateful to be in business, locally owned and doing what we love. The biggest help to achieve that includes having a great family of neighbors at Railroad Square Art District, dedicated crew and consignors and customers that inspire us to do better daily,” said Walker.
First Fridays Are Hopping
What many people may not know about Railroad Square is that there are many live entertainment events, art and theatre classes offered, literary nights, small restaurants, vintage furniture and clothing shops, and more for people to explore.
There are also game nights, martial arts and other offerings that take place weekly throughout the district.
Railroad Square is also the location for the popular “First Friday Gallery Hop” held each month.
“First Friday is a large block party that Railroad Square puts on first Friday of every month,” said Fitch.
She said that the event was once funded through the City of Tallahassee as a way for local community members to get out and see what art galleries Tallahassee has to offer, but Railroad Square took over after the city decided that it no longer could afford to do the event.
“Since the greatest number of galleries were located in Railroad Square, we took over and have continued the event uninterrupted — except for when Hurricane Irma hit Tallahassee — for 19 years.”
The event is free and open to the public each first Friday of the month.
According to the property manager, this event attracts thousands of guests from the surrounding area and also brings in a huge influx in business sales.
“During First Friday, visitors can hear live music played at several of our venues, eat from food trucks or one of our four eateries, join the drummers at the Drum Circle, and visit nearly all of the shops, artist studios and galleries. The event attracts approximately 4,000 people and officially starts at 6 p.m. and ends around 9 p.m., although folks tend to come earlier and leave later,” said Fitch.
Although it may not appear as though the arts and culture district gets much foot traffic on a daily basis, it is in fact gaining more attention and continues to thrive more than 40 years later.
As the property continues to expand, the district continues to draw in more customers from all around.
“Railroad Square has become a destination culture district within the past few years, and we often see international visitors and people from other states,” said Walker. “Our customers include out of town visitors, college students, local community members and more.”