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Gas Plant Antique Arcade building in St. Petersburg sold to investor

The Gas Plant Antique Arcade will remain an antique mall, a new manager says. The building, sold to an investor this month, housed the Lew family businesses for decades.

DIRK SHADD | Times (2007)

The Gas Plant Antique Arcade will remain an antique mall, a new manager says. The building, sold to an investor this month, housed the Lew family businesses for decades.

ST. PETERSBURG

Three generations of Lews have run furniture businesses from 1246 Central Ave.: Standard Furniture. Lew Bros. Gas Plant Antique Arcade. They finish moving out today.

"We just thought that it was time, and hope to see what someone else can do there," said Yvette Lew, 75, whose husband, Ross, built his career in the four stories of concrete block and stucco. He was the "lifeblood and backbone of that place," she said, and it just wasn't the same after his death in 2006.

The family sold it in early August to a Canadian real estate investor, Hunter Milborne, for $650,000. A new building manager says the imposing pink facade on the corner of 13th Street will remain an antique mall. Its first meeting with vendors will be Thursday.

It the late '80s, the mall was one of the first in the bay area to put a collection of vendors under one roof, collecting rent and a slice of sales, like Patty & Friends on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street. In a city where retirees flocked with their beloved furnishings, local antique malls did a brisk business. Dealers would come down from the North with trucks and fill them. Before the recession, more than 150 vendors sold antiques from the Gas Plant.

But the Lews got their start in the furniture business. Ross' father, Milton Lew, opened Standard Furniture in the '30s, moving it to the southeast corner of Central Avenue and 13th Street in 1948, the newspaper reported at the time.

He painted the 1920s building, just two stories then, a soft green, with display windows in coral and gray. His sons later ran it as Lew Bros. As the furniture business changed and manufacturers went out of business, Lew Bros. went with it, Yvette Lew said.

So in 1988, Ross, his wife and their sons, Alan and Jeffrey, created the antique mall.

Yvette recalls their seasonal customers, whom Ross often greeted by name, and big buyers. "My husband loved nothing better — he was the consummate retail man — than to talk to the customers," she said.

For the Festival of States parade, they would move furniture from the second-story windows for a front-row seat out of the sun.

Now the family's cleaning out closets and their offices. Furniture will move to a family warehouse on Central Avenue. Some vendors remain, though uncertainty through the sale sent many of them to other local malls.

Mark Ferguson, who owns Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill next door, helped arrange the sale and bought the parking lot across 13th Street for $200,000. The parking lot next to the Gas Plant on the east side has a different owner and is not part of the deal.

Gay Varano, an entrepreneur who works for Ferguson, is managing the building through the transition. She will talk with vendors Thursday about a plan to lease the building by floors to master tenants who will manage smaller vendors.

The building will get a new roof, new elevator and new air conditioning.

"We want to make a nice, beautiful environment for these dealers to enjoy selling," she said.

Yvette Lew, who says the family may continue its antiques business from the warehouse a few blocks away, looks forward to it.

"I'd like to be able to stroll in myself as a customer on the other side of the desk," she said.

Gas Plant Antique Arcade building in St. Petersburg sold to investor 08/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 25, 2010 10:55am]
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