By Dan Harkins
DELAND - Two years ago, Teri and Rob Peadon were growing concerned about the lack of visitors who were finding their way to the couple's eclectic, restored furniture store and wine/beer bar in Artisan Alley called The Nest.
Wedged anonymously as it is between West New York Avenue and West George Avenue, the alley is in the shadows of the county courthouse and the backs of Woodland Boulevard businesses. Unless you know about Artisan Alley, it's almost like it's not even there. Until now, anyway.
The couple gathered friends and fellow merchants to kick off Fourth Friday in early 2011, which brings visitors to the alley on the fourth Friday of each month for an impromptu art sale, live music and socializing.
"We did it to get people back here to notice us," Ms. Peadon said. "And I guess it worked."
All around are signs the effort paid off.
As crowds grew, a day spa, a belly-dancing studio and a goldsmith became neighbors. Then Dally in the Alley, a gourmet American-style bistro, started taking shape at the southern end of the alley.
Owned by chef Melanie Luke Perryman, who recently performed sous chef duties at the culinary gem Cress Restaurant nearby, the restaurant offers American-style dining with a gourmet touch. And yet another reason for visitors to come.
"I wouldn't have picked anywhere else in town," Ms. Perryman said. "I love my spot. It's perfect."
Not every business is well-served, she said, by being highly visible.
"I like discoveries," Ms. Perryman said. "So, to me being in the alley is like being a discovery, like, 'Ooo, what's back here?'"
Not much retail space remains in Artisan Alley. In fact, said Mary Beth Harris, assistant director of MainStreet DeLand Association, the alley is proving to be a boon.
The Peadons are among several local businesses that have thrived so well that they've recently branched out, Ms. Harris said. In The Nest's case, to a new location in New Smyrna Beach.
The association's regular Art Walks are held in conjunction with the First Friday events.
"Our main missions are economic development and historic preservation," she said, "And that's not just for four blocks of downtown. It's for all of DeLand. So it's gratifying to see an event have this kind of success."
Capping off the alley is a renowned local concert venue, DaVinci's, which provides a heartbeat for the surrounding merchants.
Revenue has blossomed over the past year at DaVinci's, 112 W. Georgia Ave. Owner Dan Reed credits a liquor license change early this year that allowed for more than beer and wine sales, as well as the increased visibility of the alley.
But instead of putting the money in the bank, Mr. Reed put much of the extra money into improvements for the venue's iconic patio area - a new stage, gazebo bar and billiards parlor where the old stage was located. Over all the structures is new metal roofing.
"It'd be hard to put an exact dollar amount on the improvements," he said, "but it's been a considerable amount of revenue that's gone right back into the business. That's part of success. You gotta give people a reason to be here."
For now, they seem to have more reasons than they need.
"I certainly would love to say that (success) is 100 percent guaranteed," Mr. Reed said, "but nothing is guaranteed in life but death and taxes. Still, people in this town love this bar and word is quickly spreading to the outlying areas. Things are shaping up quite nicely."
To set up a table at the next Fourth Friday event or for more information, call the Peadons at (386) 450-0200 or email email@example.com.