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Is West Palm Beach’s new center of cool in the warehouse district?


“Wouldn’t it be fun to have a coffee shop together?”

Danielle Casey remembers floating that idea with best friend Danni Mitchell, whose bond began in high school with a shared name as well as a shared passion for a certain cute ’90s band. And it deepened to the point where they decided they might go into business together. A coffee shop sounded like a good idea - it was the ’90s, after all, but the friends understood that “it wasn’t about the coffee,” Casey says.

RELATED: A NEW SPACE FOR LOCAL ARTISANS

“No, it was about the experience,” confirms Mitchell, who can finish her best friend’s sentences, as best friends often can.

There is no coffee at Elizabeth Ave. Station, the intriguing pop-up collective of local creatives that opened in January in a sprawling warehouse minutes from CityPlace, in an often overlooked industrial area south of Okeechobee Boulevard and west of Parker Avenue.

But there is, indeed, a carefully curated experience here, as well as the first open business in a promising project that makes active and vibrant use of some of West Palm Beach’s historic structures.

“We wanted to create a community of like-minded people,” says Casey, director of communications and events for Elizabeth Ave. Station, of which Mitchell is the owner and creative director. The space features the work of about 15 vendors that offer everything from vintage jewelry to furniture to tarot cards to macrame plant holders. It’s just one business in the 85,000 square-foot space that makes up the West Palm Beach Warehouse District, several buildings along the old rail corridor at Elizabeth Avenue.

“It’s a great community,” says Gabi Viteri of The Curated Look, which offers ethical, “luxury handmade” products like jewelry and clothing by people “that otherwise wouldn’t have an (audience)” and, like her company’s name suggest, “can go together” in a cohesive look. “It’s a way to connect and interact with clients and the people I work with.”

Where there were once automotive businesses and then industrial storage, there is now produce being grown and fetching bathing suits and creative stationary being sold, with clanking beer glasses and fresh food soon to come.

“It’s been historically an industrial type of neighborhood,” says Will Earl, spokesman for Johnstone Management, which owns the six-building property. “We’re invigorating these buildings with uses more consistent with today’s world. People enjoy the authenticity and character that these buildings bring. It’s best to highlight those aspects. We believe this is a trend, not just here in West Palm but across the country. People of creative minds like being in this type of setting.”

Existing and future businesses include a private squash club, a multi-vendor food space called Grange Hall, local craft brewery Steam Horse, and more. There are also plans to convert 700 feet of adjacent former railway space into a pedestrian walkway with “exposed rails, that will keep the historical context of the area,” Earl says.

He says that Elizabeth Ave. Station is “probably in many ways a microcosm of the larger story. It’s hyper-local, because all of the people involved are from West Palm. It’s already very entrepreneurial and energetic. It has a younger bent but caters to different types of people. It embodies the spirit and the character we’re trying to build here.”

Mitchell, the director of creative design firm Gather and Seek, found the space, once the location of Acme Barricades, while looking for a unique place for her upcoming wedding. She wound up being hired to do the warehouse district’s Web site, and then moved the headquarters of Gather and Seek into the building.

“We made the decision in December, and we opened January 21, so it was like ‘Green light, go!’” Mitchell says. “We had to make it pretty, in exchange for the space. We put in a lot of sweat equity.”

Also with her? Best friend Casey. The women had met around the age of 16 on MySpace, connected by a friend who knew of their shared love of wholesome harmonizing band Hanson. Mitchell grew up in West Palm Beach, Casey in Jupiter. After graduation, Mitchell left town for New York City’s Pratt Institute to study design, while Casey went to Miami’s Florida International University to study psychology.

But after school, both were looking for fulfillment. Mitchell was an adjunct professor at Palm Beach State, while working as an hostess at a downtown West Palm Beach restaurant. “It was frightening, moving home. But I didn’t want to work for anyone. We wanted to do something that we were happy about.”

And they wanted to be happy in their hometown, Mitchell says, because “West Palm Beach, to me, is something special. It might be behind Miami in terms of the cultural arts. It’s a little more quaint. But we like that it’s different. We think people will come for the local love.”

Adds Casey, “We don’t want to lose cool people.”

It’s an interesting challenge to create retail space “in a place where there’s no foot traffic,” says Casey, the director of communication and events. So Elizabeth Ave. Station has to become a destination with “unique and refreshing brands” that speak to a fresh, young demographic used to the ease of online shopping but drawn to the Millennial values of supporting local artists.

That idea was attractive to entrepreneurs like The Curated Look’s Viteri, who fused a background in social work, retail management, blogging and social media into her business. As a marketer in high-end jewelry, she drove to Miami every day for work because “the job that I wanted wasn’t here.” Having a space like Elizabeth Ave. Station proves that the market and the artists “are here. The community is here. I think things are moving in the right direction.”

This is not to say that the space doesn’t attract a varied clientele - as Casey speaks, an attractive white-haired couple come into the space to peruse jewelry and home goods. There is also a diverse and enthusiastic crowd for Elizabeth Ave.’s monthly nighttime events - March’s was the opening party for the soon-to-open food space Grange Hall - as well as yoga classes and seminars on magic. Each of the parties have attracted more than 600 curious guests.

“It’s always exciting,” Casey says. “We always think no one’s going to come, but they do.”

Maria Tritico, a West Palm Beach resident and designer of geometric sterling silver jewelry, was selling her work online from her personal studio as well as the gallery at the Lake Worth headquarters of the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County. But setting up at Elizabeth Ave. gave her a second “brick and mortar space” to reach people who wouldn’t normally see her work. “It’s really exciting.”

As the rest of the Warehouse District takes shape - “We’re almost out of space,” Earl says, “which is a good problem to have” - the owners of Elizabeth Ave. Station are looking forward to seeing the project develop around them.

“And there will probably be somewhere to get coffee,” Casey says.

Elizabeth Ave. Station is holding its next nighttime event, Spring at the Station, on April 21 from 6-10 p.m. The evening features local artisans, food, drinks and live music. Admission is $10, cash only.



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