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Buddies turn dreams into a skate shop

Brant Levine and Ira Dean set the plan into motion five years ago. They tucked away money. They continued to dream.

A little more than a year ago, the two friends with an affinity for skateboarding snagged a lease on a space at 426 West Bay Drive.

They continued to save money. Their friends and family chipped in, helping to paint walls, the ceilings, install a flat screen television and build an indoor ramp.

On Wednesday, Levine and Dean's dream became a reality. They opened the first shop in their hometown totally dedicated to the sport they love.

They opened Avatar Skateshop.

"In the third grade, my teacher wanted us to make whatever business we wanted to do out of a shoebox and magazine clippings," Levine, 28, said. "I made a skate shop with ramps in it. The shop is really similar to what I had in third grade."

Dean, 25, grew up hanging out at skate shops. When he was in middle school, someone stole his bicycle so he turned to skateboarding. He never got another bike.

"I never thought I would have my own shop," said Dean, who came up with the shop's name, which means an incarnation or embodiment of a quality or concept. "But we knew it was something we both wanted to do."

The shop's back wall is lined with Habitat, Plan B, Zero, DGK and Real skateboards. There are wheels in an enclosed glass case. T-shirts, hats and backpacks by skating designers are in the store. A leather couch faces the television where footage from some the world's best skateboarders is shown.

"We want it to be a hangout spot for skaters," Levine said. "We are also putting together a skate team and we want to make it a place where our team can hang out. If you want to come skate, you can come skate. But most importantly, we want it to be a spot for friends."

Levine and Dean said they invested $30,000 to $40,000 and are aware of the work ahead. Levine will continue to work his day job as a print salesman for Clearwater's Source Printing and Dean will continue working at Island Estates' Island Way Grill.

The skateboard industry has grown tremendously and shops such as Avatar, which cater solely to skateboarders, bring in about a $2.7-billion a year, according to John Bernards, executive director of the International Association of Skateboard Companies.

Bernards said the number of skateboarders has jumped to 12-million today from 11-million four years ago. He said there are 25-million skateboarders worldwide.

"It's a younger people sport from ages 7 to about 18," Bernards said from California. "But then, they go to college, start families and introduce their kids to skateboarding and it starts all over again."

Bernards said skate parks are being built, increasing the lifestyle's popularity. Largo has one of the first skate parks in Pinellas County.

Inside Avatar, open noon to 7 p.m., seven days a week, is the mini skate ramp. Outside is a bench that skateboarders can use to hone tricks.

"This is pretty cool," said Kevin Huber, 15, of Largo as he skated outside the shop. "Instead of having to go all the way to Seminole to get skate stuff, I can just come here."

Angel Martinez, 16, of Largo, described the store in skater terms: "It's pretty sick," he said. "It's like the best, having the first skate shop in Largo."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com

Buddies turn dreams into a skate shop 08/16/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 16, 2008 4:35am]
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