Ghosts of Christmas Past: Backyard Economics 101

Doing business locally when possible in our own backyard is more important than ever in the current economic environment. Local residents should remember the ghosts of Christmas past and think twice before spending dollars outside of Nassau County, Florida this holiday shopping season, and throughout the coming New Year.

"Christmas on the River," a shop open year round on historic Centre Street in Fernandina Beach, Florida.
"Christmas on the River," a shop open year round on historic Centre Street in Fernandina Beach, Florida.

Amelia Island Living published the article below, “Can Demographics Support New Growth?” many years ago in 2003. Since the message is still timely today, it’s being republished below.

Local residents should remember “the ghosts of Christmas past” and think twice before spending dollars outside of Nassau County, Florida this holiday shopping season, and throughout the coming New Year.

Let’s remember the top stimulus of growth in jobs, income, and gross regional product — tourism spending. Visitors are critical to the local Nassau County economy, but residents can help by spending locally. Help keep downtown Fernandina viable, to keep the tourists coming.

Florida has plenty of beaches and golf courses. Setting Amelia Island apart is the historic character of this island’s gem — the historic district of Fernandina Beach and Centre Street. The charm of historic Centre Street will be lost and future tourism dollars, as well, if businesses in downtown Fernandina don’t thrive. Empty storefronts do not add to the ambiance. Let’s not allow history to repeat itself (when the north-south railroad line bypassed Fernandina in the early 1900s, tourism shifted south). If you are able to spend, do it in Nassau County. Shop (and eat) in the heart of this town — Centre Street and the historic district. The essence of Fernandina will change if businesses can’t survive downtown.

FROM THE PAST: JANUARY 12, 2003 article “Can Demographics Support New Growth?”

With all the new commercial development in our local area (both retail space and food service), one has to wonder, how much new business can the area really support with current demographics?

According to statistics published on the Nassau County Economic Development Board’s web site, the county, which encompasses about 649 square miles, had a population of 57,663 in the year 2000, and is projected to grow at a rate of 3.5% per year, for the next decade through 2010 (see their web site at

The city of Fernandina Beach, itself, had a population of approximately 11,000 in 2001. There are currently 37,875 registered voters in Nassau County. A projected 3.5% annual population growth rate through 2010 (an increase of 20,182 people), does sound impressive. The median household income in the county was $46,022 in 2000 (incidentally, one of the highest of 67 counties in the state of Florida), which by now is probably up into the $50s. But, after taxes and required living expenses (housing prices on Amelia Island have soared during the past couple of years), how much “disposable” income is left to spread around the county? Plus, many local residents don’t spend it here, but go to Jacksonville regularly to shop.

Of course, there is a transient tourist population visiting this barrier island, the largest numbers arriving during spring and summer seasons, one of the major supports to the local economy. But tourism in the Amelia Island area has still not fully recovered from the 911 attack.

One must also take into consideration larger trends in the Digital Age. Internet shopping, eCommerce, continues to explode. A recently issued industry report, (the eSpending Report) indicates that an estimated $13.7 billion was spent in the US online during the 2002 holiday shopping season (defined as November 2nd through December 27, 2002). This was reportedly a 24% increase over online “holiday” spending during the same period last year. Thus, many people are turning to the internet to shop (and not just during the holiday season), rather than spending dollars at physical “brick and mortar” locations.

The food service/restaurant business seems to be particularly competitive on Amelia Island, with many restaurants opening and closing during the past decade. Just in the last year or so, consider the following restaurant closings:

Cinghales restaurant has a FOR LEASE sign, and Tony’s Italian restaurant next to the movie theatre closed a few months ago. Other casualties of the local restaurant scene during the past year or so include the Golden Grouper located in the historic district, Larry’s Charcoal Grille in the Publix shopping plaza, and Willy’s Wieners & Frozen Custard Shop in the historic district. Yet, five new restaurants are slotted to open in the near future (including the re-opening of Sliders Seaside Grill). Will all the existing restaurants be able to survive with this added capacity?

Consider Centre Street retailers (the historic district’s main corridor and tourist “drag.”) ZZ Toys on Centre St., is downsizing their store, moving into a smaller space next door after about five years at the present location. And some commercial space on Centre Street continues to sit empty. The Harris Teeter shopping center on the southend of the island, built about two years ago, still has empty retail space within the plaza that has never been occupied.

Yet, new retail space continues to be developed in the local area, like the new shopping plaza nearing completion on 14th Street next to Walmart, and new space in Gateway to Amelia shopping village. Then there’s Scotty’s. With home improvement giant Lowe’s about to open in Yulee, can Scotty’s compete? I doubt it.

Buy Local To Help Support Nassau County Economy

Opening a business is fraught with risk, yet many people take the risk and follow their dream of having their own business, choosing the Amelia Island area. I do hope that both existing and new businesses can make it here. They’d have a better chance, though, if local residents put more consideration into buying “local” rather than driving over to Jacksonville to shop and eat out. Supporting local businesses in Nassau County helps support neighbors — those reliant on employment opportunities within the local business community.

Of course, islanders like to go to Jacksonville to shop and get off this little island for awhile. Living in a small-town environment can be confining at times, and many get a sort of “cabin fever.” But perhaps we all should think twice before making purchases for goods and services in Duval County (and Camden County) that can be acquired in Nassau County. Why give the sales to out-of-town businesses (and the associated sales tax revenue to Duval and Camden counties), rather than supporting the Nassau County economy and our local community?

There are some products and services that are simply not available locally. But, if they are, we should all think about putting our neighborhood first.

The Amelia Island Chamber of Commerce tried earlier in 2009 to encourage a “Buy Nassau” mentality, even running a contest to try and get local residents to “think before they shop and shop where they live.” It’s backyard economics 101.

(Source: Amelia Island Living eMagazine, this archived article was originally published in January 2003.)


By The Editor

Observations of island life, news & opinion by Wendy Lawson. With background that began at a newspaper, she later spent 14 years in the financial services and real estate industries (managing editor at an equity research publishing firm). She's enjoyed the laid-back Amelia Island lifestyle since 1993.