MASARYKTOWN — At 4 a.m. each day, when Daylight Donuts opens for business, the shop's lights serve as a lone beacon of activity just north of this sleepy outpost in southern Hernando County.
Inside, Aimee Delgado is well into her shift. She arrives by 2 a.m. to begin baking the day's fresh batch of sweet treats.
She and her husband, Lorenzo, launched the business earlier this month. It is one of 1,000-plus locations for the Oklahoma-based chain, established in 1954.
The grand opening came days after the federal government disclosed the U.S. economy lost 533,000 jobs in one month and amid growing talks of another massive financial bailout.
It's safe to say the timing is unfriendly at best.
To see evidence of the sour economy at the local level, just look out the doughnut shop's door.
Empty storefronts with "for lease" signs dominate this unnamed strip mall.
And the complex's bold coloring only makes the emptiness more conspicuous in this quiet community along U.S. 41 south of Brooksville.
A Naples dentist-turned-developer, Dr. Luyen Nguyen, built the 27,000-square-foot plaza earlier this year where the major north-south thoroughfare intersects Ayers Road.
The two-building complex, completed in September, includes a total of 16 units, with the doughnut shop as the lone tenant.
Nguyen acknowledged the sliding economy in an interview this summer. He said he saw optimism in the long term.
But for the moment, the strip mall is among the glut of commercial spaces available in the Hernando market.
"The flood of commercial buildings going up is more than the demand," said Gus Guadagnino, a local business owner. "It makes it seem a little worse than it really is."
Guadagnino, a director of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce business assistance committee, said opportunities still exist for new business owners. The tough part is getting started.
"The ability to get money is a lot harder," he said. "I think people are a little more cautious than normal."
John Monticcido knows the difficulty in starting a new business in these economic times. In November, he cut the ribbon on Up 4 Breakfast, a new restaurant in Spring Hill.
Last week, with the clamor of the kitchen behind him, Monticcido said it was worth the leap. He said business so far is "fantastic."
His advice for those considering a new business venture: "Go for it. You'll never know until you take a chance."
As for Daylight Donuts, it's too early to call it a success. But a steady trickle of customers keeps coming through the door.
Bob Barnett came to visit recently with three of his grandchildren. Rindy Kline, 7, peered excitedly through the glass case of goodies before deciding on a doughnut with pink icing that matched her jacket.
Barnett said he has watched for weeks as the shopping center and doughnut shop slowly moved toward completion. He said he hopes other businesses will soon fill the vacant storefronts and bring much-needed establishments to this largely noncommercial community.
Now he just hopes the doughnut shop can persevere.
"They are one of the few that stuck to it," he said. "But it's going to be tough (to survive) unless they get some other shops in here."
John Frank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6114.