Alexa Mills and Christina Ruhfel wrote this article after a day-long tour of Gainesville. What would you include in a tour of your home city or neighborhood?
It’s hard to know what to expect from Gainesville. It’s in Florida, but closer to Georgia than Orlando, and about as far from a beach as it’s possible to be within the Sunshine State. It does have two large universities in town: the University of Florida and Santa Fe College, but so do a lot of other cities around the United States. Its landscape is mostly suburban. Though it boasts excellent bike lanes, sidewalks, and public buses, the car reigns supreme for most people in Gainesville, especially on a sultry afternoon. So on the surface, it doesn’t seem that special — until you start to get to know it and the people who live here.
In this one-day exploration of Gainesville, my visiting colleague (Alexa) and I discovered incredible businesses, parks, events, and organizations in the city I’ve called home for four months now. The places described below are only a few of Gainesville’s gems. There is much more to see. Gainesville is a reminder that innovation is happening everywhere, and often far outside of major cities.
9:00 a.m. Breakfast at The Jones Eastside
Anyone who’s ever ragged on strip malls will readily eat humble pie after an already filling and delicious meal at The Jones. An out-of-town visitor might enter with mild trepidation: it shares the strip with a pawn shop and a laundromat. But never fear. The Jones’ context makes it a strip mall gourmet.
The menu is hearty American, with southwestern (Jones Rancheros) and southern (Biscuits and Gravy) choices. All dishes come with swap-out options, including fake meat for real meat. The eggs are from nearby Cognito Farm, where The Jones keeps its own pastured flock of hens. The clientele is multi-generational, and the ambiance is love (you’ll pick up the ambiance tip from their main chalkboard, which reads, “The Jones ♥’s you.”)
Be sure to pick up a copy of The Fine Print from the newspaper box outside the restaurant for fascinating and original breakfast reading.
10:00 a.m. Ward’s Supermarket
Ward’s Supermarket puts local organic milk and and a full selection of Little Debbie’s snack cakes on the same sales floor. “We want to meet the needs of more than one culture, more than one group of people,” said a Ward’s employee.
Florida’s warm climate and fertile soil make selling local food year-round a more realistic proposition than it would be in a northern city. In addition, Ward’s owns its building. These factors probably contribute to the grocer’s ability to maintain reasonable prices and compete with the nearby big-box stores.
The Ward’s facebook page enjoys a never-ending string of customer comments like, “Your store is my 2nd home. Thank you for serving our community!” (Teresa Callen)
At Ward’s, it feels like you can get to the truth of where your food is coming from. Have you ever wondered at the rows of perfectly-sized, perfectly yellow bananas at chain supermarkets? Those stores don’t advertise that their model bananas are just out of a gas chamber that speed-ripened them for better sales. The ‘No Gas Bananas’ sign (photo, above) means that the bananas skipped the gas chamber. The sign may prompt questions from customers, but a Ward’s grocer will be there, happy to answer.
2:00 p.m. Church of Holy Color(s)
At exhibition time, the four walls and floor inside the Church of Holy Color(s) are covered in color. Local musicians put on a small concert in the middle of it, making their interior mural a doubly immersive thing. In between exhibitions, Evan Galbicka and Joey Fillastre — ‘artists-in-residence’ — spend most afternoons working on the space, imagining their next project and creating it, all the while welcoming visitors like us.
In 2010 they painted their Church in response to the BP Gulf Oil Spill. “It was close to all of us,” said Joey. Joey, Evan, and their constant collaborator, Felici Asteinza, all hail from Florida. Felici’s hometown of Grayton Beach suffered direct damage. The three artists spent time between the Gulf and the Church as they worked on that project.
Their site would be impossible in Boston or New York, where rents are high, regulations are tight, and any amount of lawn is hard to come by. The City of Gainesville doesn’t offer them a grant or free space, but is generally, as a community, on their side. They usually have part-time work at local establishments. The staff at the Alachua County Hazardous Waste Collection Facility saves good paint for them and offers tips on mixing it. Their landlord, to whom they pay $636 a month, attends their openings. Evan recently graduated from University of Florida’s College of Fine Arts in Gainesville, and Joey earned his BFA from Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Maintaining the space is not easy. They fund their own openings, and rent comes out-of-pocket. Yet, as artists, they value freedom from bureaucracy. “I need all my free time from work just to make art,” said Evan. They’ve made something wholly beautiful.
The Church of Holy Color(s) has shows coming up on October 21st and November 5th. Get details on Facebook or Tumblr, and watch this video featuring music by their collaborator Tristan Whitehill to get a feel for the event.
3:00 p.m. The Civic Media Center
Leave your car in the Church of Holy Color(s)’s parking lot and walk one block over to The Civic Media Center. In an age when social movements seem to incubate themselves on Twitter, Facebook, and the Web-at-large, an actual, physical meeting space and reading room feels nostalgic. You only have to enter the Civic Media Center to remember the importance of physical spaces dedicated to thought, social movements, education, and activism. The Civic Media Center is supported by modest membership dues from individuals.
Their mission is “to provide community access to information and points of view not carried, or incompletely carried, in the for-profit and corporate media.” The Center hosts weekly film showings, lectures, and organizing meetings. They also have an enviable book collection, including 2,000 books from folklorist and activist Stetson Kennedy‘s personal collection.
6:00 p.m. Dinner at Satchel’s Pizza
From top to bottom, and inside out, all is right at Satchel’s. Located in a non-descript business district on the east side of Gainesville, Satchel’s disproves the notion that location is everything and shines a bright spot on creativity, community, generosity, fun, and pizza. These are the main highlights:
• All of Satchel’s is comprised of or decorated with reused materials
• Nearly every corner of the place bears the mark of the artist/owner, Satchel
• Children are integrated into the space with two outdoor playgrounds and a small play area in the dining room
• Local musicians perform for free Wednesday through Saturday evenings
• Tips are split among all employees who are paid a living wage and given health benefits and paid vacation time, which is mostly unheard of in the restaurant business
• You can eat your pizza in the dining room, in a van converted into a dining booth, at the bocce ball court, in the tree house, or the Lightning Salvage Lounge (part of their “pretend-real [junk] company”)
• They give away up to three $500 grants per quarter to local charitable or educational organizations through their Satch Grant program
• They don’t accept credit cards but they do have an ATM. The $1.50 charge goes to local charities.
Satchel’s is the perfect end to a day in Gainesville. When a person thinks of a pizza place, he likely never imagines the creativity that this spot proves possible. The same is true for Gainesville overall: one might never imagine the great models of innovation that its people are pushing forward.
Read more at Happy Gainesville.