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Palm Harbor shop owners find ways to generate revenue in sour economy

Bill Gallant strutted through his revamped convenience store and showed off his new self-serve walk-in beer cooler, nicknamed the Polar Beer Igloo.

"It keeps beer four or five degrees cooler," Gallant bragged.

For about a decade, he's owned Bill's Super Gas full-service station on Florida Avenue. Lately, his auto repair business has been a bit flat. But his store at the station has been thriving. So he knocked down a concrete wall, got rid of two repair bays and tripled the size of his once-tiny store.

Like several others who work in funky shops, quirky cafes and run-of-the-mill offices on Florida Avenue, he's found what works in today's economy — and he's milking it.

A few others are having a rough time. Most along the one-fifth mile stretch from Bayshore Boulevard to Omaha Street say they've learned the importance of offering people what they want right now: cheap food, extra hours and bargain haircuts.

"People are still buying cigarettes and beer," said Gallant, 61. Even though he is doing all right, Gallant doesn't think the economy is getting better.

"I see too many people coming in here that are out of work and struggling," said Gallant, who owns another station at Tampa Road and U.S. 19. His wife, a legal assistant, got laid off a few months ago.

Just next door, Dan Kauffman, owner of Old Town Cafe, said his business is going strong.

This January was $5,000 ahead of last year, he said.

"It's busier every month," said Kauffman, 33, who's been here about two years. "It takes time for people to find you."

Lots of shops have gone by the wayside, but sometimes people use the bad economy as an excuse, he said.

"You've got to plan for the rough months," Kauffman said. "We didn't make money our first year. We didn't make a ton of money our second year."

Since a lot of people are looking for affordable meals, Kauffman actually thinks the weak economy might be good for his coffee and sandwich shop, where the average ticket is about $7.

Things are also booming across the street at Peggy O'Neill's Irish Pub & Eatery, according to bartender Jenna Brewster.

"We're doing great," said Brewster. "We're rocking and rolling."

Good staff and good deals help keep the restaurant successful, she said.

But Brewster thinks the "economy's fine."

"I think people's spending habits are bad, because I'm fine and I'm a server," she said.

A tad east, in a small office strip center, certified public accountant Ted Freidinger said he's doing great, too.

"I just picked up a couple of big accounts, so my business is as good as it's ever been," Freidinger said. "And I feel terrible."

Why? A few of his clients are doing well, he said, but most are not.

A couple of doors away, at Palm Harbor Family Barber Shop, a fixture on the road for 18 years, owner Kathy Lanni says business isn't what it used to be.

"We're keeping our head above water," Lanni, 52, said.

It seems like fewer snowbirds are coming down, and people are waiting a bit longer between haircuts, she said.

But senior specials remain a popular draw. From 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, women can get cuts for as little as $7, and men for just $5.

"It's crazy in the morning. It gets packed," said stylist Wayne Garrett, 53.

Jennifer Knellinger says her husband's 28-year-old dental practice is weathering the economy just fine. But they have made some adjustments for their patients, she said. For one, they've added more evening hours. On Tuesdays, they're open until 8 p.m.

"Patients don't want to take off work," Knellinger explained.

Just next door, near Omaha Street, three local moms decided to set up shop together to split costs.

Their upscale store, called the Boutique Shops, offers an assortment of fashion and gift items. It's actually a mix of shops under one roof. Keirsten Mahaz designs embellished flip-flops, and her partners run a shop within the store called the Mommy Boutique.

"We came together to make it work so everybody has a storefront," Mahaz, 35, said.

They also rent out space to about 10 different vendors.

It's hard to gauge how the economy is affecting their sales, Mahaz said. Business is slow right now, but they just opened in August. And they've been told that January and February generally aren't great for retail.

"We're kind of just riding that wave," Mahaz said.

Across the road, Lesley Klein, owner of Oak Trail Books and Witch's Brew cafe, says sales at her metaphysical book store have been sinking.

Klein, 46, has owned the store at this location since 1996. And last July is when she started to notice business taking a dip. Retail sales last year were down about 24 percent for her book store compared to the year before. Her cafe business, which features live music on Fridays and Saturdays, was up about 0.6 percent.

One of the psychic readers at Klein's shop said she's noticed that people who visit her have different priorities than they used to.

"They used to ask about relationships first," said Marilyn Mackey, 61, who reads tea leaves. "Now they ask about their jobs first."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

About this series

They say the recession is over. But is it? We're visiting streets throughout Pinellas County and asking people how they're doing. For today's story, we talked to people who work along Florida Avenue in downtown Palm Harbor.

Palm Harbor shop owners find ways to generate revenue in sour economy 02/13/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 13, 2010 1:46pm]

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