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Old Pickford's soda shop location now home to Custom Creations Cafe & Bakery

TAMPA — For Virginia Wiley, working at Custom Creations Cafe & Bakery brings back memories of a much simpler time.

Wiley recalls the late 1950s and early '60s when the building was a popular drugstore and soda shop, known as Pickford's Sundries.

"When my mother went shopping next door at Publix, she would drop me and my sister off at Pickford's and we would hang out," Wiley said. "I remember they had novelties and comic books.

"And the soda fountain was on the other side of the building," she added, pointing to the west wall of the building. "It was a much different time back then."

The decades-old hot pink building became something of a landmark on Hillsborough Avenue, between Armenia and Habana avenues.

But for 11 years, it sat vacant — until now.

Custom Creations opened in the old Pickford's building in mid March and held its grand opening Wednesday. Patrons streamed in, some for breakfast omelettes or pastries, lunch sandwiches or salads. Others to bask in days gone by.

Over the years, co-owners Marie Lesiak-Haley and Frank Greco had received many offers to buy or rent the property. They held out, waiting for someone whose business they felt would respect the building's history.

Lesiak-Haley's grandfather, Casimir Lesiak, her father, also named Casimir, and uncle Frank built the original structure and started the business in 1949. The current building was built in 1952.

Because Lesiak was difficult for people to pronounce, her father named the business Pickford's, in honor of his favorite film actress, Mary Pickford.

Lesiak-Haley wanted a business that would be welcoming to the community, as her family's had been, rather than another pawnshop or office building.

"It was my past, it was my family's past," Lesiak-Haley said. "It was Tampa's past."

Enter Michelle DeMicco.

Last year, DeMicco tracked Lesiak-Haley down through the city tax collector's office. She wrote Lesiak-Haley a letter, outlining her desire to open a bakery/cafe.

"I was always fascinated with the architecture, the ambience of the building," said DeMicco, a lifelong resident of Seminole Heights.

DeMicco has experience, having run her own business baking wedding cakes, and Lesiak-Haley is confident she has found the right tenant.

Today, the place is as much a time capsule as it is a bakery and cafe. The old soda fountain sits behind the bakery counter. An old Frigidaire refrigerator and the original ice cream cooler are also on display.

Glass cases display inventory from the original store — unopened bottles of suntan lotion; toothbrushes; an instruction book for playing the harmonica, originally priced at 35 cents; a small picture book of Florida, priced at a quarter.

Tables feature classic LPs and 45s under glass, from the likes of Perry Como, Connie Francis, Pat Boone and Frankie Avalon.

A photo gallery featuring the works of Tampa artist Steven Gregory includes a recent picture of the deteriorating structure. Graffiti covers the plywood. Faded paint advertises "HEALTH & BEAUTY AID." A dilapidated neon sign reading "Pickford's Sundries" contrasts with the new cafe currently inside.

DeMicco said she hears often from people who recall Pickford's glory days of the '50s, '60s and '70s. They share their stories of first dates and hanging out with friends.

Bob Floyd of Tampa recalls that his bike was one of many that leaned against the outside wall while he shopped or ate inside.

"I was here every day of my life, buying comic books or drinking Cherry Cokes," Floyd said. "Before me and my friends would go out and play basketball, we always met here first."

Floyd said he's glad to see someone restore the building after so many years in decline.

"I had to come in and thank her," Floyd said of DeMicco. "It broke my heart to see my neighborhood memories fading away."

Old Pickford's soda shop location now home to Custom Creations Cafe & Bakery 04/02/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 2, 2009 1:19pm]
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