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Crispers to leave West Bay Village in Largo

If you have a hankering for a summer salad or a tropical chicken sandwich next week, you won't be able to grab one at Crispers in Largo.

The once-popular soup, salad and sandwich shop on West Bay Drive is closing its doors Saturday.

"That's a shame," said Rob Blanken, 42, one of several Largo patrons who hadn't heard the news. "Now, I won't have a sandwich place around here."

The restaurant had many dedicated customers, said Maria Brous, a spokeswoman for Publix, a privately held company that owns the Florida restaurant chain.

"We just didn't have the consistency at that location," Brous said.

Crispers, which has 40 stores including the Largo one, last month closed another store in Bartow for the same reason.

The Largo shop had 20 employees, who were offered opportunities to apply at other Crispers and Publix markets, Brous said. The chain's other Pinellas store is in Safety Harbor.

Other tenants at the West Bay Village commercial center knew about Crispers' departure and said they weren't too concerned.

The location is great and business won't be affected by a temporary vacancy a couple of doors down, said Ehab Wasif, an owner of Alexis Jewelers.

"We're a mom-and-pop store," said Wasif, who moved the shop to West Bay Village five years ago. "We've been around 22 years."

Brian St. Arnold, one of the owners of the Thirsty Marlin Grill & Bar, said he didn't want to see any business leave, but Crispers' farewell may actually boost business because there's a lack of full-service lunch places in the area.

"I'm hoping that people that used to go to Crispers will come over here and try our food," St. Arnold said.

Other tenants in the 11-unit center include a salon, a fitness center and a vitamin store. Besides Crispers' 5,400-square-foot space, another 1,400-square-foot unit is also available, said Ross Realty's John Stoner, who handles the leases for the center.

When the center opened five years ago, Crispers was the lone tenant. Alexis and Vitamin Discount Center came a couple of months later. Several other tenants followed. A few came and went.

Now, the owner and developer is trying to find the right fit to replace Crispers.

"We're really going through a whole analysis to find out what would be best for the urban core of Largo," said Scott Shimberg, president and owner of Hyde Park Builders, which developed West Bay Village.

West Bay Village, a $12 million project with 54 homes and a 21,000-square-foot commercial center, was the culmination of years of planning aimed at revitalizing downtown.

To entice developers, the city offered several incentives. In the fall of 2002, Hyde Park paid the city $1.08 million, a little more than half of the appraised value, for Largo's old City Hall site. The city also waived building permit and planning fees and spent $4.2 million to widen and beautify West Bay Drive.

The area has seen little development since. But Largo and local business leaders hope that a new redevelopment plan will encourage more projects. Next month, city leaders will consider the new plan, which would increase density and allow buildings up to eight stories in parts of the West Bay Drive district.

Shimberg said such plans, and a commitment to them, are a draw for developers like himself.

"It's about planning and focusing on what that vision is, so you do attract the developers that see the potential of that area," he said. "But that community's got to maintain that vision going forward to stimulate more development and opportunities."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Crispers to leave West Bay Village in Largo 06/23/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 23, 2009 7:17pm]
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