HOLMES BEACH -- Inspired by the collective success of its Anna Maria Island neighbors to the north and its Bradenton Beach neighbors to the south, merchants in Holmes Beach are bonding together to create their own association.
Led by salon owner Amy Welch, the fledgling group held its first meeting Monday and plans to focus on two key goals for Holmes Beach’s tiny downtown: making it prettier and pedestrian friendly.
“I realized we are missing the boat here,” says Welch, owner of Acqua Aveda Spa and Salon. “Here we have this beautiful downtown area that’s just filled with people and merchants not communicating with each other. It’s time to come together as a group, do some greening, some refurbishing and some unifying.”
Monday’s debut meeting drew more than 60 people representing more than 50 of the 81 businesses Welch invited. Response has been so positive, she says, that she is expanding the target membership beyond downtown to include any business with a storefront anywhere in Holmes Beach.
“I don’t want Holmes Beach to be just a place you drive through to get to Pine Avenue or Bradenton Beach,” she says. “Don’t just stop here to get gas. Stop and look around.”
Welch says her greatest inspiration has been watching how merchants along Pine Avenue in Anna Maria Island and Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach have made their communities “destinations” by uniting their marketing efforts with coop advertising and regular events.
“They have done a fantastic job,” Welch says. “No one could have guessed it would have happened like it did. They’ve really created a great feel for their communities.”
The new Holmes Beach group, which will hold its second meeting at noon Nov. 7 at Eat Here, has already earned the support of both new and longtime Holmes Beach businesses.
“It’s time that we promoted our little downtown,” says Signa Bouziane, who has owned the Mr. Roberts resortwear store for more than 46 years. “I think it’s a wonderful idea.”
Jessica Holmes, who grew up in Holmes Beach but only returned to start her own business last year, is excited about “the community feel” the new merchants association aims to generate.
“I think the island as a whole will benefit from this becoming a destination shopping area,” says Holmes, owner of 12th and East clothing store. “We’re in the early stages, and it’s still a melting pot of ideas, but I love hearing about all of these people wanting the same things.”
Increasing Holmes Beach’s “street appeal” will be the group’s top priority. Bouziane would like to see Holmes Beach’s downtown adopt a consistent theme and feature more foliage. Holmes suggested that even hanging plants would go a long way toward softening up the appearance of Gulf Drive.
The group’s other main goal is to make Holmes Beach a more walkable area, which is a goal successfully pursued by the merchants along Pine Avenue in Anna Maria Island and Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach.
“I’d love to be able to cross the road without fear of getting run over,” says Bouziane, who describes traffic on Gulf Drive as so congested that she often chooses to drive rather than walk even across the street.
That’s a concern echoed by Mary Ann Brockman, executive director of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, whose headquarters are in Holmes Beach right next door to Welch’s salon. She, too, chooses to drive short distances rather than walk because of Holmes Beach’s congestion.
But, she said making the town more pedestrian-friendly faces two major challenges: finding the space, and negotiating around Holmes Beach’s odd configuration of streets, which include a major state highway and several turns.
“Whatever we do has to be state-driven,” Brockman says. “We can’t just go to the city of Holmes Beach and say, ‘put in a crosswalk over there.’”
Brockman also said that while she supports the formation of a Holmes Beach merchants association, she is also constantly encouraging Anna Maria Island’s three cities (Anna Maria Island, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach) to collaborate and act as one as much as possible.
“Each city is trying to cultivate its own little personality, which is great,” Brockman said. “And I can understand why they all want to branch out on their own. We’re trying to pull the whole island to work together toward a common goal.”
Welch said she has already connected with leaders of the merchants groups in Anna Maria Island and Bradenton Beach to ensure the three entities are planning events to complement each other and avoid overlapping.
“If we don’t want to cannibalize each other’s events, we have to work together,” says Kelly Kary, one of the founders of the new Pine Avenue Merchants Association. “Everybody can spread everything out.”
Christine Hawes, Herald business writer, can be reached at (941) 745-7081.