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Hudson bar stays put in face of Wal-Mart

Bobkatz Bar & Grill remains in its old U.S. 19 Hudson location as a Super Wal-Mart prepares to open. The bar endured clouds of dust and ground-shaking noise during months of construction.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Bobkatz Bar & Grill remains in its old U.S. 19 Hudson location as a Super Wal-Mart prepares to open. The bar endured clouds of dust and ground-shaking noise during months of construction.

A spanking new 211,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter opens today in Hudson. It's a beauty, compared with so many other big box stores, and definitely an improvement over the abandoned mall that sat rotting on the property for so many years.

Nearby residents, though concerned by the traffic that the new 24/7 store will bring, are optimistic that it will also attract some nice new stores and other businesses to the neighborhood.

Then there is the bar right smack in the front yard.

Bobkatz Bar and Grill is badly out of place, but it stands as an example of stubborn independence, the little guy against the giant, if you will.

U.S. 19 can be a raunchy strip, a mishmash of adult businesses, car lots, pawn shops. Some see Bobkatz as part of what needs to change along that strip. But others, especially the regulars who show up for birthday parties and karaoke nights, feel this neighborhood bar is taking a stand against the avalanche of suburban sameness that Wal-Mart often represents.

To be fair, this was a stand more on price than principle. Had Wal-Mart made the property and building owner Henry Javer a more generous offer (he says it was $150,000), he might have gone away.

That would have been so much easier.

During months of demolition and construction, Bobkatz lost its usual driveway to U.S. 19 and endured clouds of dust and ground-shaking noise.

That didn't stop the beer flow.

Bobkatz co-owner Pete White, who tends bar on Tuesday, says regulars didn't let the confusion deter them. They'd play darts or pool or watch either of the two small TV sets that hang above the bar. They also came to celebrate.

On a recent afternoon around 4 o'clock, business was still good. Customers lined the bar, while employees inflated balloons and hung festoons for a two birthday parties that night. White believes the new megastore will drive even more business.

"There's going to be a lot of traffic," said White, who owns the business along with his wife, Debbie, her sister, Karen Graham and her husband, John, and father-in-law and mother-in-law, Ed and Janet Beck.

Their offerings are simple: Beer, burgers, banter. The new place will employ 400. You can get an oil change or your hair done. You can shop for groceries, eat in the restaurant, bank at SunTrust.

The early opposition to Wal-Mart led to some concessions and considerations. One exit from the store directs traffic onto U.S. 19, away from the Beacon Woods subdivision, which is also getting new sidewalks along the main drag. Wal-Mart also promised to build Bobkatz a new sign on U.S. 19 so its customers don't end up in Bobkatz's parking lot.

Time will tell if those concessions will avert the feared traffic headaches. But in the meantime, Bobkatz regulars will belly up and grab a cold one. Most guys will tell you, it sure beats shopping.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at askerritt@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602.

Hudson bar stays put in face of Wal-Mart 03/06/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 6, 2008 8:54pm]

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