Fifth Avenue South aims to be more family friendly

Dania Maxwell/Staff 
 Emily Smith, Victoria Welch, and Katrina Welch, left to right, spend some time together at Spin Frozen Yogurt on Fifth Avenue South on Thursday, November 29, 2012 in Naples, Fla. Many fans of Fifth Avenue South say the city is becoming more family friendly since the Business Improvement District started hosting holiday parties and weekly street events.

Photo by DANIA MAXWELL, NAPLES DAILY NEWS // Buy this photo

Dania Maxwell/Staff Emily Smith, Victoria Welch, and Katrina Welch, left to right, spend some time together at Spin Frozen Yogurt on Fifth Avenue South on Thursday, November 29, 2012 in Naples, Fla. Many fans of Fifth Avenue South say the city is becoming more family friendly since the Business Improvement District started hosting holiday parties and weekly street events.

Corey Perrine/Staff 
 Tyler Bonyman gives his son Gavin, 3, a lift, while waiting in line to see Santa Claus Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 on 5th Avenue in downtown Naples, Fla. Thousands came out to celebrate the 38th Annual Christmas Walk & Tree Lighting Ceremony. This Naples holiday tradition was emceed by local television personality and news anchor for NBC2, Krista Fogelsong. The evening commenced with a performance by the ReCreation Tappers on the Sugden Plaza, followed by a performance by Poinciana Elementary School. The lighting of the Christmas tree was by Mayor John Sorey as well as a visit from Santa Claus. The evening included holiday performances and activities by local acts all along Fifth Avenue South from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Photo by COREY PERRINE, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Corey Perrine/Staff Tyler Bonyman gives his son Gavin, 3, a lift, while waiting in line to see Santa Claus Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 on 5th Avenue in downtown Naples, Fla. Thousands came out to celebrate the 38th Annual Christmas Walk & Tree Lighting Ceremony. This Naples holiday tradition was emceed by local television personality and news anchor for NBC2, Krista Fogelsong. The evening commenced with a performance by the ReCreation Tappers on the Sugden Plaza, followed by a performance by Poinciana Elementary School. The lighting of the Christmas tree was by Mayor John Sorey as well as a visit from Santa Claus. The evening included holiday performances and activities by local acts all along Fifth Avenue South from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Friends Susan Mathews and Jazmin Geeslin sat outside a Fifth Avenue South shop this week surrounded by five children.

"We found the ice cream, so that's keeping everyone quiet," said Mathews, whose sons Robbie, 8, and Kevin, 7, busied themselves with tiny cups of mint chocolate chip.

It was the Mathews boys' first trip to the street for the annual Christmas tree lighting and so far, they were behaving. Until that night, Mathews, a two-year resident of Naples, had only come downtown for the occasional dinner with her husband.

"I never ventured out with them. I never dared," she said of her sons.

But residents and city officials said they've noticed more families visiting the street for similar events, breaking the stereotype that Fifth Avenue is reserved for Chico's shoppers or seafood connoisseurs.

During the tree lighting, Santa met with kids in Sugden Plaza, there was face painting, and singing groups like the Consecutones taught kids dance moves to songs by The Temptations.

"I didn't think (the street) was family friendly, but now I'm changing my tune," Mathews said.

Many credit the all-inclusive atmosphere with the formation of the Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District and Executive Director Lise Sundrla's push for more frequent events that block off the street to vehicles and cater to patrons of all ages.

"When the (Business Improvement District) took over, it seems Lise was the glue they really needed ... There was always family," Councilman Bill Barnett said. "It was never strictly adults, but I think the events have made a real effort to make it real family almost weekly."

Sundrla said creating a family-friendly environment means making shops and restaurants of varying prices available to patrons, and creating places along the street where people can gather to enjoy cultural activities.

"Fifth Avenue went through hard economic times and during that people start to reinvent themselves," Sundrla said. "They have to, for one thing, but I think we've also had an increase in businesses on the street at different price points."

Hosting events brings people to the street to discover what's changed since their last visit, Sundrla said, and that gives them a reason to come back when the events aren't going on.

For Susan Kreski, events like the tree lighting means more foot traffic to her children's boutique, Giggle Moon. And she stays open late to accommodate shoppers on those nights.

"We've always had families," Kreski said, "but it just seems with the events they hold now, they always have things for everyone. Everyone's included. Even the pets."

There was a costume contest for pets and kids at the Halloween event this year.

"Every age, every genre, everyone on the street, they were all enjoying it in different ways," Sundrla said of Halloween. "Older folks love to see young kids all decked out in all their costumes."

Golden Gate mom, Molly Badham said she brings her two daughters to the street occasionally and has always felt comfortable eating at restaurants with them or shopping.

"There's no (alcohol) drinking on the street," Badham said. "All the shops allow kids. It's a nice place. Everybody's real nice with kids."

Mathews and Geeslin each moved to Naples two years ago. Geelsin said street events are family friendly. Her 9-year-old daughter Carmen plays softball during the week at Cambier Park, which she enjoys. But some people she encounters while visiting during the day with her special needs daughter can be less accepting.

"When there's not a big event, it's hard to just come out and see," said Geeslin, whose 8-year-old daughter Sophia has Autism.

Her hometown in Pennsylvania was more aware and accepting of Austism, Geeslin said, and the shoppers and diners along Fifth Avenue enjoy their quiet during the day, without kids running around.

"They're older, I think. They want to relax," she said.

Regardless, Geeslin and Mathews plan to return for another Christmas event next week.

"We'll be back for the parade," Geeslin said.

"Yea, we'll be back," Mathews said.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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