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Small businesses adapt to Howard Avenue culture

Howard Avenue is not known as a business hub like the Westshore district or Tampa's growing downtown.

But it certainly is home to an eclectic mix of businesses.

The same road that boasts the world-famous Bern's Steak House is also the headquarters for countless attorneys' offices, a handful of spas and contracting firms, several shops and many popular bars.

Business owners there are challenged every day by the multiple stigmas associated with Tampa's iconic road: the crazy party scene of the south end, and the reputation for crime that accompanies the area north of I-275.

Sharon Tabasco, owner of Frostings, Etc., a cupcake bakery at 500 S Howard, figured out how to adapt to the unique SoHo culture early on.

She opened the business about three years ago, and embraced the road's growing club scene.

"The neighborhood influences your hours, your ingredients, your recipes, everything," Tabasco said.

Instead of working traditional 9-to-5 hours, Tabasco opens the bakery at noon and stays open until 8 p.m., 10 p.m. on the weekends. Those hours allow her to capture customers who stop in after dinner at Bern's, and even some people who want a cupcake before hitting the bars.

And the neighborhood's reputation as a "party place" allowed her to get creative. Tabasco makes a special line of beverage-inspired cupcakes, including Margarita cupcakes, Cosmopolitan cupcakes and Irish Car Bomb cupcakes.

She uses real liquor in the recipes, and hopes to get a liquor license to serve beer and wine sometime this year.

"I'm in the party neighborhood," she said.

Up the road, Keith Koehler, owner of Koehler and Co. CPA, jokingly calls himself the "king of Howard Avenue."

In addition to his business, Koehler owns multiple properties on North Howard and leases space to other companies. He invested in Howard's future as a business hub, and has heard whisperings that it's the city's goal to expand downtown into West Tampa.

"I have a huge belief in this area just because of the proximity to downtown, the interstate and Hyde Park," Koehler said.

Development on Howard was obviously slowed by the recession and the collapse of the real estate market, Koehler said, but he believes the area will boom as more business owners recognize the benefits of working there.

"The professional offices have to kick it off first," he said.

Darren Diaz, owner of the nearby Olympia Catering and Events, agrees.

His family has run the bakery at 2201 N Howard since 1951, so he's seen businesses come and go. In terms of new development and construction, growth in the area has been stagnant.

It's not such a bad area anymore, Diaz said, but it's hard for area to shake that reputation. Some new business owners are slowly starting to show more interest, he said, and he plans on adding to his building in the next few years.

"It's all about the small businesses," he said.

Sandra Rossiter, owner of Raydiance Helio Spa and Wellness Center at 122 S Howard, also agreed that growth is slow in the area, but it is a great place to work. It attracts a great local client base, she said.

But the traffic and a lack of parking are definitely the biggest problems she sees. The city needs to build some sort of meter system or public parking garage to solve the problem, which would then attract more business, she said.

"Parking is clearly an issue that limits more growth in general to make this a very lovely area that we could bring more people to," she said.

Small businesses adapt to Howard Avenue culture 07/26/12 [Last modified: Thursday, July 26, 2012 4:29pm]
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