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Little Gym in Tampa may have to close unless a buyer steps forward

Christina Palhete, 6, does a back-hip circle on the bar with help from Jamie Oakes, lead instructor at the Little Gym. Owners of the Tampa gym seek investors or a buyer to keep them from closing.

ATOYIA DEANS | Times

Christina Palhete, 6, does a back-hip circle on the bar with help from Jamie Oakes, lead instructor at the Little Gym. Owners of the Tampa gym seek investors or a buyer to keep them from closing.

CULBREATH HEIGHTS — Parents flipped for the Little Gym when it opened at 4251 Henderson Blvd., but its long-term outlook changed right about the time the stock market began to tumble last fall.

Now the owners of the franchise, which serves mostly preschool and grade-school children and offers gymnastics, cheerleading, karate and dance, say the gym will have to close this month unless a buyer or investor steps in.

The gym has many loyal customers, co-owner Marie Boutain said, but because of the economy, growth has not kept pace with expectations. She said high startup costs, including franchise fees and nine months of construction before the location opened in January 2008, have made the business unsustainable.

"When we look at our retention, the members are still coming back, but they're not coming back as often," Boutain said.

Boutain and co-owner Susie DeCambra gave notice to parents last week and have not signed up children for fall programs. Camps and programs will continue through the summer session, which ends Aug. 23. "I didn't want to owe anyone any money," Boutain said.

She said the business could be purchased for "a lot less" than what she and DeCambra put into it. If no one steps forward, they will begin liquidating furniture and equipment on Aug. 24.

"I cry every day," she said. "The kids just love it here. I would love for somebody to take it over. I just want it to stay open for the families that are able to come."

Photographer settles in former antique shop

The Pink Pineapple antique store has moved out of the 1,200-square-foot space at 4220 W Bay to Bay Blvd., but it wasn't vacant for long.

Photographer Nicole Geller moved into the building last week after three years of shooting clients out of a studio in her home.

Pink Pineapple owner Valarie Cappello isn't out of the furniture business; she just moved some of her inventory into friend Malissa Ward's shop, the French Bee, at 3626 S Manhattan Ave. She also has leased a booth at MarketPlace Interiors at 301 N Willow Ave.

"We had talked about it for a while," Cappello said of teaming with Ward. "It's been great, because neither of us has to be here five days a week. We have a lot more flexibility, more ability to go out and find good merchandise."

Cappello was trying to trim expenses, and Geller was looking to expand. She converted the shop into four studios with a courtyard in the back. Known more for her portraits of children and pets, Geller wanted a location where she could begin shooting portraits of high school seniors.

"A recession is a chance for new businesses to start," Geller said. "I have a good (customer) base, and I feel like it's time."

Geller also is starting a group for graduating high school seniors called Tampa Teen Connection, which will involve modeling for local businesses as well as informative monthly programs. For more information, visit nicolegellerphotography.com.

Do you know something that should be everybody's business? Call (813) 226-3394 or e-mail sharonlginn@yahoo.com.

Little Gym in Tampa may have to close unless a buyer steps forward 08/06/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 6, 2009 5:30am]

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