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The Rise of the Design District

The downtown Naples neighborhood is starting to get a vibe of its own—and attracting crowds along with it.



Caronchi Photography

Take a turn off U.S. 41 or Goodlette-Frank Road down any street between Fifth Avenue South and Seventh Avenue North, and you’ll find yourself in the Naples Design District. The quaint area lined with locally owned boutiques, restaurants, art galleries, design studios, antique stores, offices, and trade and specialty shops has been colloquially known as “the D District” or “the Design District” for a decade, but now the unique district is making a conscious effort to elevate itself and own its official title.

The fresh reorganization, announced this fall, comes “(with the hope) that the area will become a vibrant destination of taste and style for like-minded people to live and flourish creatively,” says Laura Burns, president of the Naples Design District Board and executive director of the United Arts Council.

The directors of the district are working to improve the area over the next couple of years with enhancements such as landscape design; banners and signs that resonate with the neighborhood atmosphere; improved lighting for a pedestrian- and bike-friendly area; public art; and increased accessible parking.

“We sat down and said, ‘How do we work together with our municipality of Naples to grow this area in a way that is healthy for the businesses, but also for the community that lives here, so that we don’t become another area that’s just like every other area that we already have in Naples?’” Burns says.

Relative newcomers Timeless—an MHK Eatery and La Colmar Bakery & Bistro are neighbors with the established Garden District, Jay’s Fabrics & Upholstery, Treasure Island Naples, The Wine Store, even Naples Coastal Animal Hospital. The diversity among the dozens of businesses is unique compared to other parts of town such as Fifth Avenue, “which is mostly focused on finance and restaurants,” says Daniel Summers, principal architect of BSSW Architects and a founding director of the district.

“It [has] more services and businesses to serve the community on everyday needs. There will still be a tire store, gas station and hardware store. [All of those] things that make a city a city,” Summers says.

With those things comes a distinct support and close-knit feel among the businesses as well.

“There is a sense of neighborhood here,” says Quenby Tilley, co-owner of Audrey’s of Naples and a founding director of the district. “It’s a community.”

Burns’ United Arts Council, for one, relocated to the district for that very reason.

For a neighborhood that has been known as the home to a variety of creatively driven mom-and-pop shops for about 10 years, with some of its shops around for much longer, its businesses already have seen positive feedback regarding recent improvements. But business owners strive to maintain the district’s distinctive charm along with the change, amid competition from larger corporations.

“I don’t want it to change too much,” Tilley says. “The only way to get this unique shopping experience is to keep the small merchants.”

You can get your shopping, lunch with friends, a fresh bouquet of flowers and your daily dose of interior design, all in one area. The Design District is big enough to house numerous businesses, but compact enough to get to your next destination within a minute drive or even a quick walk, a quality of the district that owners greatly support.

“We all encourage shoppers to visit all the stores,” Tilley says. “There’s strength in our community when shoppers cross-pollinate.”

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