TAMPA — Wine Design, the oldest remaining business at Channelside Bay Plaza, is closing after nearly 12 years.
Heidi Nietzel, who owns the wine store with her husband, Scott, said sales have dropped so significantly that it no longer makes sense to stay open.
"We've had days when not one customer walked through the door," she said.
The Nietzels had hoped to stick it out until plans emerged to revitalize the center, but, after a few painfully slow weeks, they decided they couldn't wait. Any improvements would take too long.
The retail and entertainment center has struggled since former owner Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. defaulted on the mortgage, putting the property back into the hands of an Irish bank. The Tampa Port Authority, which owns the land under the center, wants a new buyer to take it over but, so far, hasn't been able to reach a deal with anyone.
Hopes for the center flared when Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik talked about buying it but quickly disappeared when those plans collapsed. Many locals assumed the entire place was closed, and business got even slower.
Wine Design took a major hit when Channelside Cinemas closed last fall. As a result, the wine store cut back its hours to reduce costs, Nietzel said. But it wasn't enough. When a proposal from developers Liberty Channelside to buy the retail complex fell through, the Nietzels knew it was time to go.
"We think it's way too long to wait it out," she said, noting that Channelside might do better long term if all of the tenants leave and a new owner starts from scratch.
Wine Design, like some of the other remaining businesses, had been renting on a month-to-month lease, and it was down to three employees. Rain doused any hopes that the Fourth of July fireworks party would draw big crowds.
The Nietzels plan to put their energies into their other business, the nearby Pour House bar in the Grand Central condo building.
Surprisingly, they aren't bitter.
"I am sad," she said. "We considered it our baby. For seven years we didn't take a vacation because we didn't want to leave it."
The store will close at 9 p.m. Friday. In the meantime, bottles of wine are 30 percent off, and wine accessories are 50 percent off.
Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.