For David Fruscione, 2020 is more than a year. It describes his vision for Naples’ up and coming Design District, where he is the association president. Fruscione, who owns and operates The Republic of Décor, aims to welcome a major project, The Collective, on First Avenue North and 10th Street; expand membership beyond today’s 50 dues-paying businesses; and lay groundwork with City Hall to improve the pedestrian experience via landscaping and benches, for example, and maybe parking.
The district capped 2019 on a positive note, sponsoring a holiday stroll. The public could walk into shops to see what’s new and have a drink, with proceeds from “tips” and a share of sales – more than $500 – going to charities designated by each venue. Fruscione’s mission for the past four years has been to market the area bounded by U.S. 41 (west), Goodlette-Frank Road (east), Seventh Avenue North (north) and The Naples Depot (south) as a unified destination for interior design services and specialty accessories.
His own business deals in both. Further, he shares space in a sleek, modern-looking building – part of a cluster of three – with a stone and flooring company, a builder and others in the same field. Foremost, Fruscione is a believer in the school of thought that several stores of the same kind are a boost, not a drag, for the success of all. Rather than compete for customers, the critical mass attracts more of them as the district becomes the go-to place for design – a design destination.
That design component joins the traditional second-hand/thrift and antique shops in the area once considered on the wrong side of the tracks – i.e., U.S. 41. Look closer and you also see doctors, pet shops, a brewpub, ballet school, restaurants and the headquarters
of the United Arts Council. Now the area is next door to some of the hottest real estate in town – condominiums at Naples Square and Eleven Eleven –which is sending traffic into district businesses. Fruscione is careful to advocate protecting the mom-and-pop feel of older buildings that have not been razed or remade. He says that’s what small business is all about, and the district benefits from an eclectic mix of old, new, large, small, chic and funky.
The “new’’ is getting a leader in the southern district, next to Naples Square, in The Collective, hosting home furnishing businesses, interior design shops and art galleries. “For the aspiring and professional home builder, home renovator and home decorator, The Collective embodies the complete design cycle –from architecture and planning to interior design and finishes, product sourcing, art and décor,” says the developer. “I’m excited to see the culmination of a vision that started 14 years ago when I purchased this land with two close friends,” said Randy Kurtz, co-founder of Kurtz Homes. “I wanted to create a landmark building … The businesses that are going in the building are a perfect fit for what we envisioned.”
“Other metropolises, such as Chicago, New York and Miami, all have areas where design, trade and art-oriented businesses are
showcased in close proximity,” he notes. “The Collective is unique in its size, architectural appeal, and destination.” The community is watching. Michael Wynn, president of his family’s Sunshine Ace Hardware, which has been based a stone’s throw away since 1964, credits David Alger, owner of Whitman Designs, with planting the seed for the district and “helping local business owners see the value of pooling their resources to have greater influence in shaping the future of their district.”
“Projects like The Collective are perfect examples of how the design district vision continues to influence redevelopment in the area,” Wynn says. “Most importantly, district businesses have unified through a merchant association, led by David Fruscione, to amplify their voice as a community as well as leverage the power of branding and marketing.” His advice: “There is power in speaking with a single voice.
Business owners in the district need to keep focused on the big picture knowing that ups and downs in the economy, disagreements on marketing strategies will require compromise and patience. If they can keep the end goal in mind, they will realize their vision and add their name to the many successful districts in Downtown Naples.”
Michael Dalby, president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, adds: “Districts can be a fun way for a neighborhood to set itself apart and attract attention. Typically they have some ‘funky’ aspect, and look a little different than the rest of the community. The niche could be ethnic, architectural, arts and culture, a cluster of like-businesses — or a combination of all or some. Whatever the district hangs its hat on, it has to be authentic and deliver to really take hold.”