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We're still open, BayWalk merchants assure


News from last week that BayWalk's owner is in default on his mortgage loan and is likely headed to foreclosure comes at the start of the busy holiday shopping season. Many merchants, however, are hoping customers aren't misinformed.

For Mike Shapiro, the main point to stress is that foreclosure doesn't mean closure. His gallery, Shapiro's, will still be open.

"My first reaction was, 'Yikes!' " Shapiro said. "We're ready for a strong holiday season. We need people to come back to BayWalk."

The situation at BayWalk has been echoed throughout Florida and the nation as the economy is in crisis.

Experts say it's no coincidence that local businesses are feeling the pinch as well.

"You're seeing a weak job market, a loss of wealth and tighter credit," said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg. "All those things are real restraints on consumer spending,"

"It's something that's going on across the country," said Mike Carcaise, owner of Grille 121. He added, though, that this is an opportunity for "everybody to get their ducks in a row and their acts together."

Many owners hope that BayWalk will re-emerge stronger after a rough patch of several years. The owners say the complex's reputation has been eroded unfairly.

"We keep getting black eyes," said Domenic D'Angelo, a co-owner of Gratzzi Ristorante and Ammazza pizza cafe. D'Angelo said that recent negative publicity has had an impact on the center.

That concern was echoed by Shapiro as well. "Quite frankly the big issue is that there is a perception in the community that BayWalk isn't safe," he said. "While there have been incidents, they have been isolated. That has become an urban legend," he sighed.

Once the whole situation has shaken itself out, Shapiro hopes some steps are taken to bring crowds back. For example, he'd like to see better policy enforcement and management. "Some businesses keep different hours and to the customers that can be frustrating," he said.

"You've got issues with the whole economy, Florida issues, then there are issues that are specific to BayWalk — it's a triple threat."

For D'Angelo and other owners, BayWalk still has better days ahead and he doesn't plan on leaving. He's in the process now of taking a controlling interest in the restaurant from Fred Bullard, the complex owner. "I believe in BayWalk. I believe in St. Petersburg. That's why I'm doing this," he said.

We're still open, BayWalk merchants assure 11/25/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 28, 2008 7:33pm]
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