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Two cafes open, two stores dim the lights

WEST TAMPA — Starting a new business in an unstable economy often means getting creative. For Guillermo "Willie" Abreu, it meant getting a little help from a friend.

On Jan. 12, Abreu opened Jack's Cafe, a 25-seat eatery at 2301 N Armenia Ave. Abreu said the building that houses Jack's is owned by a lifelong friend who not only waived several months' rent but worked with him to get the restaurant open.

The result is what Abreu calls a "homey" neighborhood spot, named after his pet beagle. He said he was a dealer with Snap-On tools for 10 years but recently had to close his business.

"The economy started hitting me," he said. "I decided that I have to do something. Food is one of the businesses that everybody goes for. Everybody has to eat."

He hired a cook to prepare Spanish and Cuban meals for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is toast, eggs, bacon, grits or breakfast sandwiches with coffee, espresso drinks or cafe con leche. The lunch menu centers around sandwiches and Spanish foods such as black beans and rice, with a rotating menu of specialty dishes, including oxtail or breaded steak. Prices are "very decent," Abreu said, with sandwiches starting at about $3.50.

Hours at Jack's Cafe are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 7 to 2 Saturday.

Design store closes; kids boutique is next

One of South Tampa's most popular retail corridors soon will have two more empty storefronts.

The doors are locked and the spacious showroom of the 5-year-old Designs of the Interior franchise at 2202 S Dale Mabry has been cleaned out. It is one of several furniture and design stores to close in recent months, including Norwalk a few blocks north, and Tom Furniture and HP Interiors on South MacDill Avenue. Furniture stores have been one of the hardest hit retail sectors during the economic downturn.

Meanwhile, children's boutique Smarty Pants at 1548 S Dale Mabry will close in late February, said Annette Alexander, who opened the store three years ago with her mother, Ann McGill. Contents of the store, including display furniture, are being liquidated with prices up to 80 percent off.

"Our lease is up, and retail is just very difficult right now," Alexander said. "Our numbers were down last year. I feel very strongly that for the next year and a half (sales are) going to continue to go down, especially for small boutiques. We felt like it was a smart decision to get out now."

Cash-strapped shoppers have understandably grown used to steep discounts, Alexander said, but it is an environment that is especially hard on small-business owners.

"You don't have the buying power" to make up for smaller profit margins, she said.

New downtown cafe has European flavor

Frank Bordieri and Joe Zanni opened Cafe Volo downtown this month in the former home of the Lucky Dill Deli at 400 N Tampa St.

Cafe Volo is a European-style market and eatery that is open weekdays for breakfast and lunch. The restaurant also offers pastries and desserts, and family-sized dinners ($22-$28) for takeout to customers who order ahead.

Breakfast offerings include bagels, croissants, egg sandwiches, pancakes and omelets. Lunch is a buffet and salad bar with mostly Italian-style food, said catering manager Elizabeth Wrobleski.

Cafe Volo is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Do you know something that should be everybody's business? Call 226-3394 or e-mail

>>hot tip

Gasparilla parking

Reserve a primo parking spot at the Tampa Woman's Club, at Bay to Bay and Bayshore boulevards, for the Gasparilla parade Feb. 7. A donation of $25 in advance holds your spot; price goes up to $35 day of the event. All proceeds go to club restoration. Call Whitney St. Amant at 839-7457 for reservations.

Amy Scherzer, Times Staff Writer

Two cafes open, two stores dim the lights 01/29/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 3:30am]
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