Bikers, runners and walkers will see two new retail developments in the coming days, further solidifying downtown as a new hub for athletic specialty stores.
On Tuesday, Run With It, which specializes in running shoes, is moving a few doors down from its current downtown location on U.S. Highway 98 to a new space almost three times as big.
Also, Bob's Bicycles, a bike retail and repair shop currently in Mary Esther, is relocating to the strip of downtown stores. They hope to be up and running in their new building by the end of the month, said owner Jeremy Keeney.
Run With It owner Jeff Harris said his store's move and the relocation of Bob's Bicycles is going to be great for downtown.
"If you think about it, the whole make-up of downtown has really changed," he said. "For a long time it was tattoo parlors and things like that. It's really turned into almost a sporting mecca. It's a whole different vibe right now."
The strip of downtown businesses now also features two surf retailers, a skateboard store and a kite surfing shop.
Keeney said Bob's Bicycles' move from their location in Mary Esther where they've been for about 20 years will offer more space for more products, a bigger and better repair shop and — best of all — a prime and visible location downtown.
“We're going to be exposed to so many more people who might not be looking for a bike shop,” he said. “Plus I'm tired of looking at these same walls.”
Bob's will move into the spot that previously was Manatee's Castle at 212 Miracle Strip Parkway. That business has been dormant for years.
Bob's is renovating the building both inside and out, which will be a major improvement for the area, said Ted Corcoran, president of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce.
"An underutilized building right in the thick of downtown is now going to be vibrant and new," he said.
Run With It is moving into the space directly next to the movie theater at 170 Miracle Strip Parkway. The building previously was used by Plus Skateshop to house a few skating ramps used for product demonstrations, but wasn't used as a storefront, Harris said.
Corcoran said Run With It's move into the space that hadn't been open to the shopping public expands opportunities for retail downtown. He hopes a retailer will move into their old location.
He said both the stores' moves indicate that downtown Fort Walton Beach remains a successful location for businesses.
"It just shows that downtown is vibrant, and people are wanting to move their business there or continue their business there," he said. "It's just fantastic."
Harris said business has been so good since he and his wife moved Run With It to downtown Fort Walton Beach from Navarre three years ago that they almost grew out of their old location immediately.
"We've never had a negative month," he said. "Every single month we've had we've increased sales. Response has just been phenomenal."
The move to the bigger location comes with some risks; it's a significant increase in square-footage and rent, but Harris is hopeful.
"This opportunity just came up and we had to go for it," he said.
The store holds weekly noncompetitive runs and Harris said he regularly sees more than 100 runners show up.
They will continue the tradition at the new location and Harris said he hopes to team up with Bob's Bicycles for some events in the future.
Bob's Bicycles is planning their grand opening for March 1 and Run With It will hold their own celebration March 2.