SOHO — As the recession deepens, landlords across town are finding themselves in a pickle as stores close and fewer new tenants are coming along to replace them.
But Whaley's Plaza in SoHo, largely empty since longtime anchor Whaley's Market closed in August, is bucking the trend. Several new tenants have signed leases in recent weeks, and all but one space in the high-profile shopping center at 533 S Howard Ave. are rented.
In addition to Green Fish Greetings, which moved in before Christmas after being forced to leave Hyde Park Village, the plaza is getting a Japanese steak and sushi house, a new pizza takeout joint, a Jimmy John's deli franchise and an Edward Jones investment office in the coming months.
Leasing agent Joanie Gonzalez said she and landlord Charles Mendez, who co-owns the plaza with the family that owned Whaley's Market, had to be creative and accommodating to fill the spaces.
"We had to be more aggressive than we've ever been," she said, including dividing up the large empty space and doing much of the buildout for the new tenants. "Never have we been vacant in 20 years of leasing that center. If it was vacant, we had people saying, 'Please put me on the list.'
"We did a lot of cold calling. Normally with cold calling, I never get anyone. But this paid off."
The pizza place should be open any day. New York New York Pizza owner Freddy Mamudi, who has a restaurant on Seventh Avenue in Ybor City, is taking over the space and its contents from the owner of a Lenny and Vinny's that closed in December.
Mamudi will offer mostly takeout and delivery in his second store, plus some informal seating for those grabbing a slice or two. He plans to serve lunch and dinner but will cater to the late-night crowd, staying open until 4 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. He's confident the time is right to open his second shop.
"If you have good ingredients, and you know how to make a good pie, you should be okay," he said.
The other tenants, including Green Fish Greetings and Edward Jones financial adviser Ian Markowitz, soon will move into the old Whaley's Market space, which has been divided into several storefronts. Green Fish has been set up temporarily in the space formerly occupied by Charlie's Wine Bar, which closed.
Also moving in will be Tampa's third Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches franchise, Mendez said. One of the nation's fastest-growing sandwich chains, Jimmy John's has opened several stores in the Tampa Bay area in the past year.
The new Koto Japanese steak and sushi house will take up the largest space in Whaley's, at nearly 5,000 square feet. It likely will open this fall, said Sandy Ou of Future Home Realty, who represents the owners. The restaurant will serve steak, seafood, sushi and a variety of Asian dishes, she said.
Customer buys children's boutique
In Carriage Trade Plaza, another high-traffic South Tampa retail center, will also see one less vacancy.
Last month the mother and daughter team of Ann McGill and Annette Alexander, who own Smarty Pants kids' boutique, sent a postcard to customers announcing they were closing the store at 1548 S Dale Mabry. Their three-year lease was up and the economy was too worrisome, Alexander told the Times the day after the notice went out.
But loyal customer Jennifer Ramirez, a mother of two toddlers who had long imagined owning her own shop, decided she couldn't let it close. The three struck a deal and Ramirez took over the store early last week.
"It was very quick and very sudden and definitely a pleasant surprise," Alexander said.
Ramirez said she loves children's clothes and "was in there all the time with my kids."
"I wanted to open up something and this is the perfect opportunity," she said. "It was already established and was such a well-known store. ... (The former owners) are wonderful, wonderful women and I loved how they were with their customers."
Ramirez said she plans to tweak the inventory slightly by adding a few of her favorite clothing lines and plans to stay open until 6 p.m. so more shoppers can drop by after work.
While the economy concerns her, "I know it's going to come back up and it's just a matter of time," she said. "I'm going to wait it out."
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