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Wanted: Renter to keep an old-time Florida property open for business

TAMPA

The little girl sat in the back of the store doing her homework and watching future West Tampa baseball icons Steve Garvey and Tony LaRussa browse along with their parents.

It was the 1950s and Pickford Sundries was where you went for pancakes, herbal medicines, perfume — even to test your newfangled television set's tubes.

Casimir Lesiak moved to Florida with eight family members and built the little-bit-of-everything store in 1949. It passed from one generation to the next until that little girl in the back — granddaughter Marie Lesiak Haley — acquired the building in 2001.

"It represents all the memories of my childhood, all the people who came here," Haley, now 67, said.

For the last three years, a bakery operator has leased the building and kept its old-school charm as if time had never moved. But nothing lasts forever, and now Haley is searching for another tenant willing to help keep her family's legacy and a slice of Tampa's history alive.

• • •

Hillsborough High School kids used to hang out at Pickford Sundries. So did more notable figures, such as a principal violinist for the Tampa symphony, a well-traveled man who had lots of stories to tell. Families stopped by the store at 2606 W Hillsborough Ave. on their way to Egypt Lake to buy swim trunks and picnickers bought Haley's mother's meticulous ham and tuna sandwiches. Teens couldn't wait to peek at the latest Mad magazine on the shelves.

"It was like a Happy Days store," said Haley who lives near Carrollwood. "People came in with their families. I saw their whole families grow up."

Haley spent much of her time after school at the store since it had air-conditioning — and because her family rarely left it. It was open year-round including Christmas and other holidays.

"We could have as much sweets as I wanted," she said. "We could raid the place."

As an adult, Haley moved around the world in her careers as a zoological researcher and a technical representative for hospital laboratories. Along the way, she stopped in Germany, Washington, D.C., and Santa Monica, Calif., but always counted on coming home to Pickford's old jukebox, comforting egg creams, malts and grilled cheese sandwiches.

"I could always come back here and it gave me a sense of home," she said. "Until 1993, that was true for me."

That was when her father died. Five years later, her uncle died and the store closed. Haley ponied up her life savings and recruited her siblings to buy out an extended family member's share at an auction in 2001.

She then fielded offers from pawn shops, a bankruptcy attorney, a tattoo parlor, bars, refrigerator reseller and others who wanted to lease the store. None seemed like a fit for the old Pickford Sundries. Then, in 2008, lifelong Seminole Heights resident Michelle DeMicco wrote Haley a letter. DeMicco had always been fascinated by the building and wanted to open a bakery that would preserve the building's memory.

It was the match Haley dreamed of. DeMicco and her father renovated the store, adding a wooden dance floor and vintage accessories, posters and signs to accentuate the 1950s vibe. DeMicco hauled out leftover inventory from Pickford Sundries such as Bee & Flowers brand rose soap, old cake pans, bottles of baby oil and lotions and Elvis Presley records. She stuck them in shadow boxes and display cases. She put the original ice cream cooler near the front door, the original soda fountain behind the counter and named her business Mikey's Custom Creations Cafe & Bakery.

Open since 2009, Mikey's offers custom-made cakes and desserts, and also serves sandwiches, soups and salads. DeMicco has hosted special events, as well, bringing in an Elvis impersonator to entertain guests on the King's birthday.

"It's just a great building," DeMicco said. "Just the history and the architecture of it. Just a wonderful piece of Tampa."

But DeMicco, 33, a single mother of three, now wants to downsize so she can spend more time taking care of her kids. This month, she is moving her bakery to a smaller, more manageable location at N Central and Hanna avenues directly across from Seminole Heights Elementary School.

"I'll be closer to home and directly across from their school," she said.

That leaves Haley once again searching for a perfect tenant.

"A death in the family," is how she describes DeMicco's exit.

• • •

DeMicco always dreamed of turning the building into a full-service diner and catering business — something she said the building deserves.

"If I was single and I had no kids, my vision would be broader," she said.

These are ideas Haley is exploring. She has posted YouTube videos of the building's history and layout to attract the right tenant. Metropolitan Ministries has considered renting the building to expand its successful lunch cafe, catering business and culinary training program known as Inside the Box but those discussions remain preliminary, said Frank Greco.

Greco, a city of Tampa plans examiner, helped Haley buy the building in 2001 because he loved the architecture and Haley's passion in protecting her family — and the city's — history.

A decade later, he still doesn't want that history to fade.

"We're going to look for someone to carry on the nostalgic feel that the building has," he said.

Justin George can be reached at jgeorge@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3368.

Wanted: Renter to keep an old-time Florida property open for business 05/03/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 3, 2012 4:30am]
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