Throughout the past year, Cinda Ewen has watched the traffic steadily increase to her Simply Fashion shop off Sixth Street S. The biggest reasons for the rising number of shoppers, Ewen thinks, is the array of new businesses entering the Coquina Key Plaza and improvements in the landscape.
"We're seeing a flurry of new customers come in," said Ewen, an assistant manager at the store that specializes in ladies casual wear.
The shopping plaza has undergone a series of renovations and brought in several new tenants that business owners hope will help a previously struggling retail establishment to thrive. The center's Publix closed a few years ago and has been subsequently replaced with a Save-A-Lot.
The plaza's owner, developer Phil Farley, 44, said that he searched for six months to find a national chain to anchor the complex but was unsuccessful. "It was really tough in our economy," Farley said.
So instead, he decided to become assertive and looked for local businesses to bolster the plaza, which he has owned since 2004. "We had to get a little bit creative," he said, describing the search for new tenants.
Among the newcomers are a consignment shop, liquor store, hardware store, copy center and bicycle shop. A soon-to-be launched sports bar and a new produce market are expected to join the 18 tenants in the 112,893-square-foot center at 4260 Sixth St. S.
Farley has improved the shopping plaza's aesthetics with enhancements such as new palm trees and fresh paint and signs.
"It does a lot for customers' feelings. It makes them feel positive and renewed," said Linda Maddux, 50, owner of Classy Consignment in the plaza.
Maddux said the new additions will also benefit the surrounding neighborhoods. "It's going to increase their home values because of the nice center," she said. Maddux said it is a big difference from years before, when people would loiter and panhandle in the area.
"It has improved the plaza and made it much better," said Sam Tran, manager of Jenny's Nails. Tran has been at the center for 10 years. "In the last few months we've improved business slowly, but by almost 10 percent," he said.
Tran had witnessed month after month pass with vacant storefronts and now is happy to see them being filled. In the midst of the new renovations, his shop also moved from an old spot in the plaza to a new expanded location.
Ragen Gregory, 35, who co-owns Executive Cuts Barber & Beauty, also praised Farley's efforts.
"Phil's doing a great job with bringing in new attractions to the plaza," said Gregory, who is optimistic in the face of a recession after opening his shop Jan. 16. "At the end of the day, people are still going to want to have their hair done. We're still going to look good," he said.
Farley also wants to bring in a bowling alley, saying that Coquina Key Plaza is uniquely suited to such a family sports venue. "A bowling alley requires a lot of space and a lot of parking," he said, and that would be a good fit. "We also need a fast food chain," he said.
"We want to provide the community with everything a good healthy shopping center can offer," Farley said.
As he continues his pursuit of a variety of businesses to diversify the plaza, Farley thinks a Mexican restaurant might fit the bill. And, "if I can't find a tenant," he said, "I'll open one myself."
Austin Bogues can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8872.