- July 22, 2022
At the beginning of March, Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District Executive Director Bruce Barone Jr. says he was talking about it being the greatest season for the tony shopping area in the last decade. But by mid-March things had changed. Barone shifted to helping tenants — Fifth Avenue South in Naples has over 200 businesses, including shops, restaurants, offices and The Inn on Fifth hotel — navigate the pandemic.
While 10 Fifth Avenue South businesses have closed during the pandemic, new businesses are already taking their place. “Demand for Fifth Avenue real estate still remains extremely high,” says Barone. “When property becomes available, I don’t need to go hunting unless it’s something we want to specifically target.”
During the pandemic, Fifth Avenue South developed a mantra that spoke to the challenges of the time — United on Fifth — and created marketing campaigns around the theme. “In terms of marketing, PR and social media, those things have never had a blip of hesitation,” says Barone. “We have been going 100% full-blast throughout, and we will continue to do that.”
Early on, the focus was on encouraging the local community to take advantage of restaurants’ takeout options. “Local residents are always our priority,” says Barone. Messaging from Fifth Avenue South also reassured customers that businesses were following COVID-19 guidelines. “Once they do come out and dine and shop, they see we’re committed to that,” he says.
There were efforts from restaurants and shops to give back to the community, too. Restaurants provided meals to health care workers, and shops such as Naples Soap Co. donated comfort care kits to front line workers.
Arts organizations have transitioned as well, with theater company The Naples Players offering online shows. “Each organization, each business has looked at this as an opportunity, and many have been very successful,” he says. “We’re proud of our merchants. We’re proud of the people on the Avenue.”
Now, about five months in, he says customer traffic is trending upward. Looking out of his office window recently, Barone saw Fifth Avenue South was full of people. And that’s during August, when it’s still so hot, he points out. At night, restaurants are busy, too, with people standing in lines outside waiting to go in.
“We’re seeing positive results,” says Barone. “We feel very confident in emerging from this successfully. Even in August, there are shows to be seen, art to be bought and food to be eaten. There’s a lot of traffic, and I only see that increasing.”