CLEARWATER — The Downtown Newsstand, a Clearwater institution for two decades, closed following the death of its owner George Kelly, a curmudgeonly figure who manned the store's cash register for 21 years on two sides of Cleveland Street.
Now someone else wants to bring the newsstand back. Harvey Deatherage, a 56-year-old catering chef from Valrico, intends to open a new newsstand in the same spot. The vacant storefront has signs in the windows saying "Open soon."
Deatherage plans to make his newsstand a success even though, toward the end of Kelly's life, the former owner had lamented that business was slow.
Kelly died of a heart attack in January at the age of 64. He ran the Downtown Newsstand for 16 years at 522 Cleveland, then moved across the street and stayed another five years at 621 Cleveland. After he died, the newsstand's co-owner, Linda Franklin, decided she couldn't keep it open anymore.
The place was an old-school newsstand with a surprisingly large selection of magazines and newspapers, although in recent years Kelly made much of his money selling cigarettes, soda and candy.
Kelly was a thorn in City Hall's side, and he was no fan of the Church of Scientology's presence downtown. He wasn't fond of the Tampa Bay Times, for that matter.
But he saved his harshest criticism for Clearwater's streetscaping project to spruce up Cleveland Street through downtown. The plan was conceived as a way to offset the loss of traffic when a new Memorial Causeway bridge rerouted beach-bound traffic away from Cleveland Street.
Kelly wanted the city to build angled parking, like in downtown Dunedin, rather than a lesser number of parallel parking spaces. He got 25 other business owners to sign a petition imploring the city to consider it. But the city said angled parking wouldn't fit along with widened sidewalks and landscaped medians.
"A bunch of bricks and plants is not going to bring people downtown if they don't have a place to park," Kelly said. He wasn't satisfied by the public parking garage around the corner on Garden Avenue. Customers didn't want to walk, he said.
Robert Granda owns one of the few other businesses on that block, the Cleveland Street Cafe. He misses Kelly's blunt nature. "He let you know what he thought," Granda said.
Over the years, Kelly wrote blistering letters to the city and launched low-budget legal crusades against it.
• In 1999, he sued the city over the newly opened Clearwater Beach Roundabout. "They've turned this into a disaster," he said. "They've compromised safety for the sake of entertainment."
• In 1994, he sued the city over its plans to build the Municipal Services Building, writing in court filings that the city was being "colossally stupid." In court documents, he contended that Clearwater improperly canceled a referendum on the project and was financing it in a way that was "colossally stupid" and "criminally misfeasant." He complemented his legal filings with full-page newspaper ads.
At the end, business was slow on Kelly's block of downtown. At one point last year, he confided that if he didn't own his house, he'd be in trouble.
This is the situation that new business owner Harvey Deatherage will be taking on.
"We signed a two-year lease," Deatherage said recently. "We have long-range plans."
He is familiar with the old newsstand because his girlfriend works in the nearby Atrium Building.
He'll have challenges. There's still little foot traffic on that block. And like Kelly, he is not a Scientologist in a downtown that's known for the presence of the Church of Scientology.
But Deatherage intends to market the newsstand differently and make changes to the inventory. "We always wanted to open a business," he said, mentioning his extended family. "This seems like an opportunity, and the time was right."
Courtney Orr, Clearwater's downtown manager, said the 400 block of Cleveland is the most vibrant block downtown. That's where Starbucks and the Capitol Theatre are located. The goal now is to bring more life farther east to the 500 and 600 blocks, where the newsstand was located.
"I think people enjoyed having a newsstand there," Orr said. "It's sad to see a business close, but to have one turn around and reopen there is terrific."
The new newsstand isn't open yet. But this week a sign appeared in the storefront's window: "Harvey's News."
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.