Merchant groups re-form to help foster business

OldStoryImageTwo local business groups that had declined in recent years have re-organized to help restaurants and other area merchants prosper.

The Gainesville Downtown Owners and Tenants group (GDOT) has returned with Shawn Shepherd, the managing partner and part owner of Urban Flats, as the head. Also, the local chapter of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association has re-formed with Peter White, the owner of Chef Brothers Catering, as president.

Formerly the general manager of Harry’s restaurant downtown, Shepherd moved to Tallahassee several years ago to run the Harry’s there. When he recently returned to Gainesville, he says he was surprised by how lively downtown had become.

“You come down here on a Friday night and the vibrancy, the cuisine, the diversity of the crowd will surprise you,’ he says. “Our downtown is ripe to become a tourist destination.”

But to attract visitors, merchants need to do more to promote the area. That’s where GDOT comes in.

The group has already worked with about a dozen merchants to stage downtown Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day parties. Now it would like to do larger-scale events.

Shepherd says GDOT is discussing a possible songwriters festival, as well as Friday night pre-football street parties that would take place before every Gator home football game. Part of the proceeds from the street parties would go to local charities, Shepherd says.

“It could be a win-win. The downtown would be showcased, the merchants would get exposure to hundreds of fans and the charities would be helped too,” Shepherd says. “In these tough economic times, I think this could really help.”

In his role as president of the Restaurant and Lodging Association, White is returning to a group with which he was involved for nearly 20 years before taking a hiatus in 2006. He says he agreed to help revive the group after he was approached by some of the association’s state directors. “I think the group is going to stay very active now,” he says.

The association’s focus is more on statewide issues, White says. For example, it is lobbying the legislature to deal with online travel discounters such as Orbitz, which the association says are underpaying hotel room taxes. “It’s a very tough situation,” White says.

Locally, the association would like to support the Alachua County School District’s culinary and lodging programs, White says, because they help train the next generation of workers for one of Florida’s important industries. It is planning a golf tournament in May to benefit the programs, he said.

Leadership Gainesville Seeks Members of Next Class

Leadership Gainesville is currently accepting applications for its 38th class of local leaders.

LG is a year-long community leadership program designed to identify, educate and develop leadership skills. Those who participate will have the opportunity to network with individuals in the community who represent business, law, religion, civic groups, the arts, minority organizations, education, health care, government, human services and volunteer organizations.

You can nominate yourself or anyone you feel best exemplifies the LG program philosophy and goals. To apply, visit

Miami Flights Switching to Jets

American Eagle will be transitioning its Gainesville to Miami flights to jet planes starting this summer, making for smoother and faster travel.

The new Embraer 145 jets, which seat 50 passengers, can fly at higher altitudes than the turbo-prop planes they’re replacing, making the trip smoother, particularly during summer thunderstorms.

The first Embraer 145 will start service on June 9, when American will temporarily reduce its schedule to one flight a day to accommodate lower expected demand during the summer. The airline will resume twice-daily flights on August 23.

“My hope is that the community will respond positively to American Eagle’s increased investment in our region and firmly establish this important service,” says Allan Penksa, airport CEO.

Marketing Mud Offers Free Services to Four Organizations

Marketing Mud, a Gainesville branding and marketing company, has awarded a total of $10,000 in services to four deserving nonprofit groups.

The winning groups are Girls on the Run, the Junior League of Gainesville, Arbor House and the PACE center for Girls.

The grants will cover advertising and design services that will help the groups better
promote their messages.

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