At Subculture Coffee, the short story dispenser had more than 1,600 hits in its first month. Instead of coffee or sweets, push a button and a 1-, 3- or 5-minute story prints out.
The cafe’s Tacos & Hip Hop event, “an old school community party we do,” has been drawing more than 1,000 people, co-owner Sean Scott said. “It’s a simple concept, a time to meet and eat at 7, and people show up and it’s just a slow progression into a very electric evening.”
The next great thing: a regular event called the Alley Sessions, “a curated music experiment,” where Scott invites a dozen musicians from all over the county who’ve never played together, to jam, giving people a more raw musical experience.
“Everything I do, I try to do something different than the same old open mic or game night,” he said.
If Subculture has become ground zero for millennials in the city, it’s not the only venue to recognize and encourage downtown’s demographic evolution, as Boomers and Xers on the West Palm Beach scene give way to those born near the turn of the millennium, from roughly 1980 to 1995, as the generation is loosely defined.
Traditional stores are giving way to dining and entertainment spots, recognizing a growing preference for doing things rather than having things. Shops that are emerging are those with goods you can’t get at Target or online, said Teneka James, associate director of the Downtown Development Authority, the business group that sponsored the short story machines at Subculture and E.R. Bradley’s Saloon.
On the rise: Bookmobiles, bicycles and trolleys
City programs and the business community alike are gearing up.
A 2016 survey by Pew Research Center found that 53 percent of millennials used a library or bookmobile in the previous 12 months, more than any other generation, a fact not lost on Mandel Public Library’s executive director, Christopher Murray. The library’s public computers, “increMental-U” classes and a system called Hoopla, which gives members access to 450,000 downloadable movies, audio books, music albums and ebooks, cater to the kinds of interests the Pew study said attract millennials, and the library is one of the most popular spots downtown.
At street level, meanwhile, bicycle-sharing company SkyBike is adding rental locations. Trolley service is ramping up, too, in an effort by the city, Community Redevelopment Agengy and Downtown Development Authority to make downtown more pleasantly navigable without a car.
Nonprofit Palm Beach Tech is providing shared workspaces, networking events and mentoring to help young tech entrepreneurs get off the ground.
On Banyan Boulevard, a block off downtown’s main drag, developer Jeff Greene is planning a micro-apartment building with rents lower than young professionals can find elsewhere downtown.
The apartments will be only 450 square feet and have limited parking but the building will include common areas to hang out and commune, and an inviting alleyway that connects residents to Clematis Street’s bistros — right at Subculture’s doorstep, in fact. As part of the project’s zoning approval, the developer was required to contribute to the city’s trolley costs.
Catering to millennials is all about connection, whether through social media or other means, Subculture’s Scott said. “It’s been a part of their fabric, the American social construct, since they’ve been of age,” he said.
“They don’t want the same answers in the same context. They want new answers, in a creative context. Even though we’re just a coffee shop, I feel like where we’re going and what we’re trying to achieve here in West Palm Beach and in Delray is creating that greater texture to what it means to be connected, whether creatively or socially or philosophically.”
West Palm an ‘interesting place to be’ for younger adults
There’s a reason for the attention being lavished on millennials. Their numbers are growing in West Palm Beach, where the median age is 39.
The U.S. Census estimates the number of adults aged 25-35 in Palm Beach County is up 17 percent over six years, a greater climb than in the previous 10 years. Millennials in their 20s and 30s make up 17 percent of the county population, or about 240,000 people.
“We find a lot of the people coming into our space are younger demographics,” said Joe Russo Jr., the 27-year-old executive director of Palm Beach Tech. Russo’s organization this year won $150,000 in grants, from the Knight Foundation, Community Redevelopment Agency and private companies, to open a collaborative workspace for emerging entrepreneurs and start-ups at 313 Datura St.
“What we’re seeing downtown is, there is a sincere desire by the City of West Palm Beach to become a vibrant area, vibrant in jobs, in companies, in culture, in people.”
Aaron Wormus, chief technology officer of HedgeCoVest, which creates software for the financial industry, says that at 38 years old, he’s about the oldest of the company’s 25 employees. “Just the fact that there are things going on” makes the city attractive to millennials, he said.
“A lot of millennials are younger and not so much into the whole drinking scene and do want to have something that’s more like, ‘let’s actually do something,’” Wormus said. “If I go to Subculture, for example, there’s a lot of kids just hanging around or grouping up in their little tribes, based on whatever.”
“They don’t even have to have actual events” to be drawn to the city,” he added. “It’s the fact it’s an interesting place to be.”
Have a West Palm Beach news tip? Contact Staff Writer Tony Doris at email@example.com or 561-820-4703.