Have you taken a look around downtown Gainesville lately? New eateries and other small businesses are opening on an almost-weekly basis. Fascinating exhibits are on display at museums and galleries. Memorable performances are taking place at local theaters.
There is also excitement in the air with the opening of Depot Park and the reopening of Bo Diddley Plaza this year. People are gathering downtown like never before.
Simply put, downtown Gainesville is a better place today than it was a year ago not because of large corporations and big money, but because of individuals who are passionate about what they do.
Today we recognize some of the individuals who have made and continue to make downtown Gainesville worth visiting and enjoying. (We have listed them alphabetically so as not to show favoritism, but we love them all!)
If we have left someone out, our apologies. Please let us know who also deserves our thanks!
Sunny Andrei: She took over earlier this year for Linda Piper as the events coordinator of both the Gainesville Downtown Festival & Art Show as well as the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire. If the unqualified success of the art show earlier this month is any indication, the City of Gainesville’s two premier events are in very capable hands.
Alan Bushnell: In the 1990s, he owned the old Hardback Cafe, which was the epicenter of the downtown alternative music scene, where up-and-coming bands such as Less Than Jake cut their teeth. Then Bushnell got out of the bar and entertainment business to pursue a law degree. Today, he has reopened the Hardback on West University and given local bands yet another great little place to jam.
Romain and Sita Marlier Challandes (Alpin): A year ago, who could have imagined a bistro in downtown Gainesville serving French-style Le Croquet-Monsieur and Le Ramequin Suisse? But that’s what the hard-working couple has brought to Southwest 2nd Street. Step inside the cozy eatery and be transported to Paris with a classy selection of French wines, imported beers and a menu found nowhere else in town.
Anne Gilroy: When the City of Gainesville needs a curator for its exhibitions at the Historic Thomas Center, Gilroy answers the call and creates remarkable displays for the public to enjoy. Her double exhibition “Confluence: Lennie and Jesse” showcased the works of two of Gainesville’s most renowned artists, the late Lennie Kesl and Jesse Aaron. Gilroy’s current exhibit, titled “EVE :: Woman From Archetype to Abstraction,” reflects her skills at choosing just the right artwork for a show.
Yael Goldstein and Riley Sullivan (Sababa): The young married couple opened Sababa Israeli Cuisine in the Sun Center to see if the downtown area was ready to support a menu that includes such savory Mediterranean dishes as shawarma, falafel and bourekas. The answer has been a resounding yes! Although Sullivan has no formal culinary training, he learned how to cook traditional Israeli dishes from his mother-in-law, Liora Volkovich. No one’s complaining!
Emma Grim: She had never acted in Gainesville before, but Grim’s heartfelt performance in These Shining Lives at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre was memorable. Hopefully, she will stick around Gainesville a little longer before bigger stages beckon.
Rachel and Nicholas Iannelli (Tamal): The couple has worked for years around town at a number of establishments. Now they finally have a place of their own on South Main Street that specializes in authentic handmade tamales. The traditional Mesoamerican dish is made from a starchy dough (masa) delicately steamed in a corn husk. The Iannellis offer customers a choice of beef, chicken and vegeterian tamales as well as several side dishes. Mmm!
Marty Liquori: Every Monday and Thursday night, Liquori performs jazz at Leonardo’s 706. He’s often surrounded by some of the best musical talent the town has to offer. What many people don’t realize is that the unassuming Liquori is a former Olympian who was one of the fastest runners on earth in the 1970s. (Go ahead, Google it!) Oh, and he plays a mean guitar.
Kennan Liston: Earlier this year, Liston played tormented short-story writer Katurian, the protagonist in Martin McDonagh’s brutally dark comedy The Pillowman at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre. Whether Liston’s character was being interrogated by detectives or being tortured with battery cables, the actor gave a haunting performance that left audiences breathless.
Peggy Macdonald: The Matheson History Museum has become a more interesting place to visit since Macdonald took over as executive director. This past year alone has seen well-researched exhibits on the Florida Black Heritage Trail, the state’s once-thriving citrus industry and, currently, the history of healthcare in Alachua County. Also, crowds have packed the museum for special programs such as Marty Jourard’s fascinating presentation about Gainesville’s rock music roots. Macdonald and her assistants help make local history relevant.
Carrie Wachter Martinez and Jesus Martinez: The couple owns Visionary CrossFit on North Main Street and are also two of the most talented artists in the area. Their seasonal exhibitions help art enthusiasts see artwork in a whole new light.
Jason McNeal: When Video Rodeo closed down last year on East University Avenue, McNeal stepped up to the plate and took over the place. He even added a 25-seat screening room, complete with actual theater seats, for showing independent films that would not typically be seen in Gainesville. Now that’s showing a passion for film — and the community!
Bryan Mercer: When the actor is onstage at the Hippodrome, whether as a deformed John Merrick in Elephant Man or as washed-up former child star in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? audiences know they are getting a riveting performance. Although he is based in Atlanta, Mercer’s second home is Gainesville. (Just please don’t ask him to sing “I’ve Written A Letter To Daddy” in that screeching, Bette Davis voice!)
Tom Miller: In a time of divisiveness, Miller’s performance art reminds us that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. This past year, Miller stared into the gaping mouth of Ted Cruz for two hours, he erected a piece of artwork about nothing in the middle of Bo Diddley Community Plaza and, earlier this week, spent six hours on the patio at Maude’s Classic Cafe listening to every song ever recorded by The Eagles to determine once and for all whether the band sucks. (Apparently, according to Miller, they don’t.) Go, Tom!
Kelly Atkins Morgan: During The Toxic Avenger at the Hippodrome this summer, Atkins played the roles of Ma Ferd and Mayor Babs Belgoody. That didn’t seem like too much of a stretch until the final scene of the opening act when she played both roles simultaneously while singing. It was a tour de force and showed the acting and vocal range of the talented Hippodrome Acting Company member.
Sara Morsey: The Hippodrome Acting Company member is always amazing on the theater’s mainstage, but her performance as Ruth Steiner in Collected Stories, alongside Juliana Davis, was particularly poignant and powerful. Morsey can be seen in A Christmas Carol starting this weekend. Her artwork is also on display in the Hipp Gallery. And when she’s not onstage somewhere, Morsey stays busy in her home studio recording audiobooks.
Trish Riley: The founder of the Cinema Verde International Environmental Film Festival works tirelessly to bring Gainesville (and now St. Augustine) audiences the finest films available. It’s an undertaking that is admired but never fully appreciated.
Tony Weinbender: How does one coordinate more than 340 bands at more than a dozen venues across three days without going nuts? As the founder of Fest, the punk-rock festival in downtown Gainesville held the last weekend of October, Weinbender somehow pulls it all together and manages to make it look easy. Downtown businesses should be grateful to Weinbender for the bump in revenue they receive on an otherwise quiet weekend.
Maude Wilson (Downtown Wine & Cheese): When the venerable Wine & Cheese Gallery closed in 2015 after 42 years in business on North Main Street, Wilson didn’t want to say goodbye to the downtown institution where she had worked. Instead, she bought the place and reopened it in April as Downtown Wine & Cheese. Today, because of Wilson’s vision and determination, business is booming.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the Gainesville community!
— Noel Leroux
Perhaps you are thankful for someone or some thing in downtown Gainesville. Let us know in the “Leave a Reply” section below.