Lakeland's downtown café, Black & Brew, is a popular student hangout.
Nov 5, 2015
It doesn’t take a special event to draw FSC students to downtown Lakeland. With its coffee shops, galleries and wide open spaces, the downtown area is often brimming with FSC students going off campus to grab a bite to eat or settle in for a study session at any number of local hangouts, many of which offer discounts to FSC students. A truly wired city, with free wifi through the downtown district, students can even sit in the park or by the lake and still be plugged.
Take, for example, the famous Concord Coffee: Connor Lockhart ’17 is always there enjoying the café’s aromatic smells and homemade pop tarts. “It’s a great alternative to Tutus when I am ever off campus,” he said. “ It feels a lot like my favorite study spot back home, so I always go there when I need to get away and really focus.”
With a large community table where groups of students can work together, and a picturesque outdoor seating in the sunny Florida air, Concord perfectly captures the cozy coffee-shop feel. Evenings add to the creative ambience with live music featuring local talent. Concord truly lives up to the meaning of its name, “together in harmony and peace.”
Concord is certainly not the only neighborhood business to promote Lakeland’s own musicians, many of whom are FSC students. Tony’s Studio B on Bay Street features live musical performances nightly, seamlessly blending art and music with dining. As jazz music fills this intimate setting, creating a warm, inviting atmosphere that feels truly artistic, it is clear why students are drawn here.
"Tony’s Studio B provides a great environment for students," said Tyler Grimmel '15, a bass player and member of a jazz band called [Us]+ ("Us Plus") that performs at the Studio during the evenings. "When it comes to music, comedy, or even dance, Tony's Studio, as well as other downtown venues, recognize FSC student potential. Being able to put to professional practice what I learn as a student at FSC is so amazing. It's a way for other aspiring artists to get their names out and hone their craft, too."
Lakeland doesn’t stop there when it comes to artistry. Just off of Lake Morton, The Polk Museum of Art borders the downtown area and recently featured a fascinating painting exhibition by Japanese artist Michiko Fujii Fowler entitled “Matter Makes Space.”
And even beyond artisanship is service, which is integral in the Lakeland community. Recently dubbed the most generous city in Florida, one may wonder how it comes so easy. Socially conscious students love the chance to sort through the array of handmade fair trade and vintage goods at "The Kind Place." You can immediately sense the owners’ mission to create community, not just profit. With products from around the world, this kind of social consciousness and commitment to community is growing as businesses seek to respond to student values.
Y Lakeland, a local blog dedicated to reporting all of the fun things happening around town, put together what they call a “Platform Art Walk,” a 30-minute walk around Lakeland with stops to see all the different kinds of art offered, something that students truly value.
In acknowledgement and to serve student needs, local venues aim to specifically draw students into the downtown area by hosting regular events and programs, like 5K runs.
Summer Cleaver ‘17 is one of the many runners who joins together with others like her to jog around the shining lakes of the scenic Lake Morton/Lake Hollingsworth area, which bustle with gorgeous swans and local artists, who take advantage of the setting and set up near the lakeside to enjoy the warm Florida air and paint the lovely landscape. Runners start their race near the lake and end it near restaurants like Red Door Market and Chop Shop, where they rest and get to enjoy great discounts and special food prices.
“I knew when I was looking at schools that I wanted to be in a college town,” Cleaver said, “I love that downtown feels almost like an extension of campus. The walk there is through a cool neighborhood and downtown has that college-town feel that I always dreamed of.”
Especially appealing to students are the regular downtown Lakeland events that shut down the streets and attract large crowds, filling the air with chatter and an aura of excitement. First Friday, the Thursday Squared Food Truck Rally and, every Saturday, the Downtown Farmer’s Curb Market, are among the favorites.
The first Friday of every month brings students downtown in droves to sample treats from food vendors, enjoy Lakeland’s street musicians, and view new work from local artists. Themes in recent months have included “Downtown/College Town,” “Friday Night Live,” with a focus on the arts, and “Sci Friday,” which celebrated fiction and fantasy.
“First Friday is my favorite night to be out and about in Lakeland” said Rachel Bourgois ‘16. “It’s a great night to get to know the local arts and eats scene and sample delicious treats.”
FSC student organizations have also participated in First Friday, encouraging students to reach beyond the easy boundaries of campus life and become involved in their larger community.
Recently, Zeta Tau Alpha, a women’s fraternity on campus, hosted a booth where they promoted their philanthropic efforts: breast cancer education and awareness. The women handed out pink lemonade, pink ribbons, and information packets, including shower cards, to passers by.
Lindsey Jordan ‘17 names the Thursday night food truck rally as her favorite downtown event. “It has such a great atmosphere,” she said. “Everyone is able to be social and just enjoy the food and music together. There’s always a great student turnout.”
With delicacies ranging from Cajun to crepes, this culinary feast takes over the entire downtown square the second Thursday of every month, with more than 20 food trucks from all over central Florida. The Center for Student Involvement is often there to hand out free food vouchers to students, who come in large groups to sample the endless treats. Munn Park buzzes with activity as community programs set up booths and live music, including FSC’s own Erica Bitting, creates a truly spirited atmosphere for students and townspeople alike.
Saturdays are perhaps the most popular day, as students congregate in downtown Lakeland to get a start on their homework or grab an espresso to jump start their weekend before heading over to the Saturday Downtown Farmer’s Curb Market. Organic fruits and vegetables, as well as delicious breads, desserts, and other locally made goods make for great weekly shopping.
Just a short walk through a neighborhood full of classic, vine-draped southern homes is Lakeland’s home away from home. A truly young town of glistening lakes and wide, open spaces to study, walk, enjoy the view, Lakeland is a benchmark for first-rate dining, great food, art, music, and fun activities for college students and visitors.
Whether it’s seeing classmates perform at a neighborhood venue, taking an art class, or just wandering the streets of this historic downtown, students are never disappointed by Lakeland’s wealth of opportunities to feel at home and make new friends.
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