Gregory Brady: Downtown Dunedin’s crusader and advocate through three decades

“We have come full circle” from an abandoned, boarded-up commercial district to one of the county’s most vibrant tourist destinations, said downtown Dunedin booster Gregory Brady.

DUNEDIN — Gregory Brady proves you don’t have to be a city commissioner to initiate great change and get things accomplished in Dunedin — you just have to dedicate yourself to be involved in the community.

For more than 30 years, Brady has been an advocate for downtown and vocal crusader leading the charge for its growth from an abandoned commercial district in the 1980s to one of the county’s most vibrant tourist destinations.

Currently owner of Salon GW at Main Street and the Pinellas Trail, Brady has been a city resident since 1974, graduating from Dunedin High in 1983. He worked in the salon for 24 years, buying the shop in 1993 and renaming it as Gregory's Salon; he purchased the building in 2005 from former Mayor Tom Anderson. It was renamed Salon GW with partner Walter Deford in 2013.

He remembers the days when, as a young boy and teen, there was not much reason to venture downtown except as a stopover to go somewhere else. Three decades ago, many downtown stores were vacant and boarded up.

In the 1980s, when the state Department of Transportation redirected State Road 580 off Main Street to Skinner Boulevard, the little vehicular and pedestrian traffic downtown had disappeared. Back then S.R. 580 was a two-lane road with one traffic signal on County Road 1. Then Clearwater Mall opened and attracted shoppers, and development of Countryside Mall finished off what was left downtown, he recalled.

“Now we have come full circle,” he said, as people reject the sterile, cold, cookie-cutter malls, all with the same stores, for the friendliness of the quaint downtown. They enjoy strolling along a picturesque, trendy Main Street with a variety of different retailers, restaurants and taverns, where business owners give personalized attention.

The magic didn’t happen overnight; Dunedin’s downtown evolved slowly, over three decades, built with doses of good luck, advantageous timing and methodic planning.

In the early ’80s Brady worked as medical orderly at Mease Hospital; then he got a job at the former Dallapes Bar, which is now Blur, rising through the ranks from bartender to manager. It was then that Brady’s prowess at promoting downtown started to pay off and create Main Street’s positive, down-home feel — at first for Blur, then for the entire district.

In 1985, after successful event nights at Dallapes catering to the LGBTQ community that saw patrons lining up outside the bar to enter, management welcomed members of the gay community long before they felt safe anywhere else.

In true delightful Dunedin camaraderie fashion, patrons from the straight community also frequented Blur to enjoy the festivities.

Pedestrian traffic downtown sparked interest from entrepreneurs looking to opening up shops in abandoned storefronts, and retail establishments and restaurants slowly started popping up.

Brady said as more and more businesses started to open, they began to spread the word to attract others, and the downtown community was born largely through word-of-mouth.

That spirit and sense of a community where local businesses support each other, and are made to feel welcome, has made Dunedin’s downtown the attractive place it is today.

Brady said he is invited to speak before groups in other cities to explain what has made Main Street such a unique place, as they try to reproduce Dunedin’s successful charm.

What was first seen as an economic bust to downtown in 1980 became its biggest boom when the DOT agreed to redirect S.R. 580 to Skinner Boulevard and give maintenance and control of Main Street over to the city. Local control meant Dunedin was allowed to make major streetscaping improvements along Main Street, Brady said.

In 1988, Brady was one of the first to serve on the newly formed Downtown Technical Advisory Committee, which is now the CRA or Community Redevelopment Agency, an officially designated downtown district comprised of 217 acres and approximately 550 parcels. 

In December 1988, the city finalized its first CRA plan. The availability of CRA Tax Increment Financing dollars meant the downtown could fund its own improvement budget.

Another streak of great luck came in 1991 when the county opened the Pinellas Trail through downtown, attracting thousands of recreational enthusiasts.

Brady was instrumental in forming the Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association in 1992 to create a unified voice to promote the district, first to attract potential shop and restaurant owners and then customers.

To kick off its success, the merchants association started with a Mardi Gras parade and party, initiated a year earlier by the Blur nightclub, which attracted hundreds of revelers to its event commemorating Fat Tuesday.

The merchants association and its event won support of local officials, with then-Mayor Manny Koutsourais serving as the first Mardi Gras parade grand marshal. The merchants association then created more of the city’s popular signature events, Dunedin Wines The Blues and First Fridays.

Brady said their initial idea was to fill vacant storefronts with local retailers and restaurateurs, each of whom brought something special to Main Street. Three decades later there still are no national chain shops downtown, he said proudly.

People like the pedestrian walkability of downtown, and now the variety of friendly shops, bars and restaurants, noted Brady, who just joined the board of directors at the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce.

He foresees planned Skinner Boulevard improvements as creating an extension of downtown, and attracting more retail and eateries as adaptive reuse of property takes place.

He praised DOT’s change of mission from one of just ferrying cars from place to place to trying to create a quality of life.

With expected Skinner Boulevard improvements and the proposed Gateway Center and Dunedin East End Plan coming to fruition, Brady suggests the actual fork in the road at New York Avenue become the official entrance into Main Street, rather than Bass Boulevard, to encompass more shops that are really part of downtown.

Brady said the city has to keep up its efforts to promote downtown, its economic engine, especially on new venues such as social media.

The city does a good job to promote Dunedin through traditional methods such as the city newsletter, its website and mailers, he noted, but many people are turning to social media to get information. The city has to combat the negativity found on social media with a more concerted effort.

He suggested the city enlist a dedicated in-house team to correct misinformation that spreads quickly on social media, on sites such as Facebook, and react quickly to critical, negative and false comments on pages which focus on Dunedin.

Along with his newfound duties as a Chamber of Commerce director, Brady said he recently began helping Patricia Avenue merchants get organized, as the city plans improvements along that corridor.

Next year, Brady said, downtown Dunedin may host a family-friendly North County Pride event, to add to festivities already taking place such as Mardi Gras, Wines the Blues, Cinco De Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day.

Brady said he never ran for City Commission because he feels he can get more done serving on boards as just a business owner and interested resident.

The live-work-play model is alive and well in Dunedin, with the idea being that no one will have to drive far to find any service they need, he said.