Years before the Grand Central Business District set up shop, a pair of women took bold steps to open a store in a part of the Sunshine City that few would consider a shopping destination.
Owners Mary Coyle and Durella Rodriguez will soon celebrate RoCo Traders' 11th anniversary.
The shop, at 2115 Central Ave., is planning a daylong block party on Sept. 28.
The Grand Central District is a stretch of Central Avenue from 18th Street to 31st Street where revitalization is gaining traction.
The women opened RoCo Traders in 2002 and were among the first business owners who bought property in Grand Central.
"We came in just as they were coming into the live-work space concept," Coyle said.
And while much has changed since then, Coyle says she marvels at the different vibe in the east end of the district, which borders the Warehouse Arts District.
"From an 11-year standpoint, Grand Central has really become an urban village," she said. "It used to be way far from downtown, and now downtown is creeping toward us."
Coyle and others in the district are quick to point out that the eclectic mix of shops and restaurants like the Queens Head, Beak's, Nitally's and Taco Bus have served as a bedrock for others to build on.
"People come here for a reason," she says of RoCo Traders. "We have some of the best handcrafted items from Mexico that you can find in the city."
Five years after the condo boom subsided, the district and new neighbors are seeing a renaissance.
Unlike its more genteel cousins along Beach Drive, the district represents the Sunshine City's urban, funky side, with ArtPool and other galleries moving to the district in recent months.
The recent influx of new galleries and shops has created a buzz as rumors spread of more small businesses moving to the area.
"Our anniversary seemed to be a good time to have a block party to say, 'Look at what we are, what we've become,' '' she said. "So we're celebrating by having an out-of-the-box block party."
Owners of other shops and galleries will participate in the celebration that will feature music and a Spanish dancing troupe.
• • •
For those looking to lend a helping hand, CareFest St. Pete 2013 is seeking volunteers.
The annual event is scheduled for Sept. 28 and targets home repair projects, painting, mowing, weeding, yardwork and cleanups in neighborhoods throughout the city.
A year ago, more than 1,249 volunteers completed more than 70 projects at this event.
Volunteers work from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. CareFest organizers say the event allows people to give back to the community by helping individual homeowners, schools and nonprofit groups.
Check in and enjoy light refreshments at 7:30 at Lake Vista Park, at 1401 62nd Ave. S, and return there at noon for recognition, lunch and entertainment.
To volunteer, call (727) 892-5141 or (727) 743-5695 or get additional information at ICAN@stpete.org.
Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8874. Follow @StPeteSandi on Twitter.