When he left the Navy in 1951, Elvin Hansen had $1,200. He used some of the money to buy a 1941 powder puff blue Chevrolet. He bought his parents a house for $300. With the remaining $450, he purchased an acre on Lithia Pinecrest Road.
Hansen, 84, is elusive at first about the $1,200.
"Maybe I shouldn't tell you how I made money in the Navy," he says. "The government didn't find out about it."
It comes out later: loan sharking.
His grandfather had always told him to invest in land. "They can move it," he'd tell him, "but they can't make it anymore."
Hansen built a home for his family on Lithia Pinecrest in the 1950s, then added on to make room for businesses, operated over the years by him, his family and others who have rented space. Around him, Hess gas stations and Quiznos sandwich shops have replaced small stores selling horse feed and Western wear.
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His acre remained untouched by modern development for almost 60 years, while the landscape of suburbia changed around him. But now his acre will change with it.
Hansen recently sold his land for $1.2 million to an investor who also bought surrounding properties. Hansen wasn't looking to sell, but when he was approached, it seemed like the right time.
He lives in Sun City Center with his wife of eight years, Shirley. His daughter and her husband, Maria and Herb Gomes, run one of the stores, Consign DeZigns. His son Dennis Hansen once ran a motorcycle repair shop there with his wife and son, but now he is a pharmacist in North Carolina. His daughter Kathy, a nurse, died in a car crash in 1994 at the age of 34. His first wife, Maxine, died in 1999 at the age of 66.
Selling is "bittersweet," Maria said. "So much work has been put into it. The community has really embraced all the businesses here."
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Elvin married Maxine when he was 27 and built a two-bedroom house. After Dennis and Kathy were born, he built a new two-story home in front of it.
He continued adding on and renting out space. One of the first businesses Hansen ran was a gas station and service center in a 10- by 10-foot concrete building near the road. Dennis still has one of the old pumps in storage. Today, along with Consign DeZigns, there's a guitar shop, cabinetmakers, a hairdresser, a seamstress and a vintage store.
The buyer, through the sales agent on the deal, John Harris, declined to comment on what will replace the stores until plans are finalized. Harris met the family when he was working with another business next door and introduced the buyer to Hansen.
The shops have to vacate by the middle of March. Maria and Herb are closing Consign DeZigns, and Maria plans to start a home decorating business. Most of the owners plan to open in new locations.
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Hansen was born on Dec. 22, 1928, about a year before the 1929 stock market crash that would cause the Great Depression. His family lived on Six Mile Creek Road. U.S. 301 had about three houses. State Road 60 was a dirt road.
When he was 13, in 1941, he and two boys herded cows from Bloomingdale Avenue to a dairy farm across 301.
Cow herding was one in a long line of jobs. Hansen joined the Navy in 1947 when he was 18. After, he taught dance at a local Fred Astaire studio, worked for the American Can Co. for 17 years, herded cows for 30 years, and learned to lay bricks and build automobile batteries. At one time or another he ran a gas station, general store and sandwich shop on his Lithia Pinecrest property.
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There are black and white photos of Elvin, Maxine and Dennis sitting in rocking chairs on the porch of the original one-story pink house. Hansen sits in a rocking chair now, on the same porch he built in 1955 right after they were married.
It took 18 months to complete. The house has been his family's home. It has also been a pet grooming shop and a hair salon. Now it's mostly storage.
Parts of the two-story home are still distinguishable from the rest of the plaza that was built out of and around it. Maria gets to work from home at Consign DeZigns, she says, because the store used to be their living room. Maria and Herb moved to Idaho in 1997. They were amazed by how many new businesses, like Stein Mart and Chili's, had opened when they came back in 2005.
"I grew up in a small, little sleepy town, and to come back, it's hustley and bustely, but at the same time it's been good for business," Maria said. "They just kind of built up around my dad. This was cattle farm, pasture, orange groves."
Hansen has learned a few things from all his years in business. People are smart to buy in the right places, like his, he said. People coming home from work in Tampa and Brandon stop in the shops. They want to stop after work, and they want to make right-hand turns.
"You want to have a business where people are coming home and passing your place," he said.
Tim Weir owns Weir's Music. He'll reopen at a new location in March, but he has given guitar lessons from his shop in Hansen's building for 11 years, and started without a lease.
"He made me a handshake deal when I was looking to teach music," Weir said. "I went from two chairs and a couple of guitars. Now I've got a full-blown music store. There's no way I could have afforded to do it anywhere else."
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Hansen still gets out to the property almost every day, coming in the mornings with Shirley from Sun City Center, where they met after her husband died.
They shared a dance and "I got a warm feeling," he said. "Didn't take me long to say, 'Let's get married.' "
He pulls her close near the old facade of the two-story house, and they sway. Shirley smiles.
"He's a good storyteller," she says. "He tells everything just the way it is."
He's not good at walking away from something, Maria says, and he can't throw anything away.
"If I could be up on that roof, I'd be up there," he said.
But when the offer came, they all felt it was time.
"Somebody came along that wanted it worse than I did," he said. He smirks.
"When they offered me $50 for it, I figured I'd better take it."
Keeley Sheehan can be reached at [email protected]