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Checking on an old friend — the Lake Lindsey Mall

The Lake Lindsey Mall, a tiny crossroads at Lake Lindsey Road and Snow Memorial Highway, closed suddenly, leaving its regular visitors without one of their favorite hangouts.

RON THOMPSON | Times

The Lake Lindsey Mall, a tiny crossroads at Lake Lindsey Road and Snow Memorial Highway, closed suddenly, leaving its regular visitors without one of their favorite hangouts.

Back when my boys were more agreeable and easily amused, I'd strap them in their car seats and drive out to the little grocery at Lake Lindsey Road and Snow Memorial Highway.

We'd pass through the pretty countryside north of Brooksville, then sit outside the store, say hello to incoming customers and eat ice cream bars or boiled peanuts. After that, we'd drive back through the same countryside.

There was no real point to these outings, nothing my sons could necessarily identify as fun.

Even so, ask them about this famous, ironically named grocery — the Lake Lindsey Mall — and they'll call it now what we called it then: "Our favorite store.''

We weren't the only ones who think — or thought — of it that way.

Rick Roberts made a special trip there on Veterans Day, riding his flame-orange motorcycle from his home in Spring Hill. He wanted to confirm what we had separately noticed in passing: that the store appeared to be shut down. It is, at least temporarily.

"This is sort of a favorite spot for bikers,'' Roberts said, looking in the window at the cardboard "closed'' sign illustrated with a frowny face. "We all really liked coming here and getting a drink and breaking up the ride.''

So did my bicycling friends from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, who never got tired of the mall joke.

"You got your Nordstrom card with you?'' they liked to say as they prepared to stop for Gatorade or mini packets of Fig Newtons, "'cause we're almost at the mall.''

Residents of Lake Lindsey depended on the store as a convenient spot to buy bread or beer. But unlike a quick-stop planted by a corporation, it just grew up here like a tree in an opening in the woods.

When John Higginbotham, 65, was a boy, this crossroads was so quiet that if he saw a car pass, he would run in the house and excitedly tell his mother, Bessie.

In 1955, she leased the family's house to his uncle, Ridgway Higginbotham, who wanted to open a gas station. To make room for pumps and parking, John Higginbotham said, his uncle "jacked up the building, put it on logs, and twisted it around so it sat diagonally on the lot.''

Subsequent owners began selling ice cream and groceries at the station, which was taken over in 1981 by another relative, Warren Sizemore, who became known as the unofficial "mayor of Lake Lindsey'' and for seemingly never budging from his stool behind the counter.

Sizemore was the one who started calling the grocery "the mall.'' He encouraged his customers to stay and talk or, if they had lost a dog or wanted to sell a boat, to post a flier.

Neighbors became so loyal to him and his wife, Caroline, that after the original store burned down in the early 1990s, they helped the couple build a replacement with exterior walls covered in split logs and a concrete floor so uneven that dropped quarters could roll all the way to the rear beer cooler.

Carolyn Todd took over the store in 2002, after Sizemore's death, and increased its draw as a community gathering place, adding a deli and, out front, a checkerboard and logs for stools.

"I'd take my (Yorkshire terriers) over there and just sort of hang out,'' said Kathy Natali, 48, who lives about two blocks away.

The problem was, Todd said, that as much as everybody liked the store, their incidental purchases didn't add up to much.

"You make your money not by dollars, but by nickels and dimes,'' she said. Meanwhile, she said, "the cost of the product went up. Insurance, taxes, payroll — everything was going up. … I don't see how anybody can make it in this economy.''

Though she had long complained about losing money, her sudden departure two months ago stunned some regular customers.

"I got up one Sunday morning, and I was jonesing for Diet Coke, and I went over to the store and it was shut tight,'' said Natali, who, like Roberts, went back to make sure it was closed for good.

Hopefully, it's not, said Melody Tincher (wife of former Brooksville police Chief Ed Tincher), who owns the building and is confident she can find a store owner to lease it.

Will she? Who knows?

I was spooked by the sight of checkers still set up on the board and the full ashtray next to it. It made the store's abandonment look sudden, as though the current economy is an advancing plague.

But I also saw how many passing cars slowed down, the drivers looking hopefully at the store for signs of life, and it seemed as if there still might be an opening here.

Checking on an old friend — the Lake Lindsey Mall 11/13/08 [Last modified: Saturday, November 15, 2008 5:27pm]
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