CLEARWATER — Starbucks isn't coming to Clearwater Beach after all, but another iconic American brand is taking its place — Ron Jon Surf Shop.
The Tampa Bay area's first standalone Ron Jon store is slated to open next month in a building that is under construction on the north side of the Clearwater Beach roundabout.
The 3,600-square-foot Ron Jon store will occupy the bottom floor at 385 Mandalay Ave., which becomes the newest outpost of the legendary Cocoa Beach surf supply retailer and apparel brand. Upstairs will be a 250-seat Hooters restaurant featuring a third-floor rooftop bar.
"It's a natural for us in a premier beach location," said Ron Jon president Debra Harvey.
A Starbucks coffee shop was originally slated to occupy about half of the building's bottom floor, with an unidentified retail store to go in the other half. But Starbucks backed out when it became clear that it couldn't have a drive-through lane at that location, said Joseph Kokolakis, the property owner who is developing the $5 million retail building.
"Ron Jon's Surf Shop took the entire first floor," Kokolakis said, adding that the building should be finished soon. "We're pushing for a Memorial Day weekend grand opening party."
This will be Ron Jon's 10th location and the first full-fledged store in the bay area. There is a Ron Jon outlet that's operated by a licensee at Tampa International Airport.
"I think it's a testimony to the success of our beach and the recognition that we're getting nationally for someone like a Ron Jon to choose Clearwater Beach as a location to expand their turf," said Darlene Kole, president of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce.
So Ron Jon and Hooters, two national chains, will join a crowd of locally owned restaurants and small shops in the Mandalay business district near Pier 60.
"We'll be the first thing you see north of the beach roundabout," said Neil Kiefer, chief executive of Original Hooters Inc., the local franchisee that has increased its store count from nine to 12 in two years.
Since 1997, Ron Jon has grown from a pair of surf shops in Cocoa Beach and New Jersey into an empire of 14 company-owned or licensed stores in three countries, a surf school, a time share resort, and four airport terminal outlets.
The chain was founded in 1959 by Ron DiMenno, a Jersey shore surfer who was advised to get in business when he wanted a custom-made California board. His father told him to buy three boards so he could sell two and get his own free.
Once the first shop opened in Long Island Beach, N.J., DiMenno in 1963 pursued better waves near Cape Canaveral, where he opened what's touted as the world's largest surf shop.
The four-story, 52,000-square-foot Cocoa store is a tourist attraction in its own right, complete with its own indoor waterfall. It attracts nearly 2 million visitors a year.
Ron Jon has broadened its surfer lifestyle to the skateboard crowd, too. The store will have plenty of competition on Clearwater Beach when it comes to beachwear. However, more than half the chain's sales are of its own store brands.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Send letters to the editor at tampabay.com/letters.