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Office supply shop files its last smiles in business

For some customers, it's Wanda Via's charity raffle they'll miss the most. For others, it's the personal service they'll miss. They agree this city will be losing something of an institution when Mrs. Via, ready for retirement, closes Via's Office Supply for good this Friday.

"No one expects to find that kind of service anymore. And now, we won't," said Rita Bott, Pinellas Park Chamber of Commerce executive vice president. "It's the end of an era now that she's not there anymore."

Mrs. Via has occupied the store at 4930 Park Blvd. for 15 years. Before that, she ran another office supply shop in the city for 11 years. She joined the Chamber of Commerce in 1976, making her business among the Chamber's 20 oldest members.

But Mrs. Via feels it's time to move on. "I'm at an age where I should retire," said Mrs. Via, 74. "I have an 11-year-old grandson that we're raising, and so I want to spend some time with him. He likes to play golf, and he likes all sports and so do I."

The people who know Mrs. Via say they'll miss her.

Dot Rooney, who with her daughter, Linda Lance, runs Dot-on-the-Spot, an alterations service next door to Via's store, has known the office supply merchant for 10 years and recently gave her a retirement party.

Mrs. Rooney remembers the times when she has left her shop door unlocked or has locked herself out and went to Mrs. Via for a key.

"She's always kept an eye on us," she said. "She's always been there to oversee us. She's one of the oldies here _ kind of the mother of the complex," she said of the Hill Building.

Aside from her business and the games she attends with grandson, Jimmy, Mrs. Via has managed to help out the Soroptimist Club and the Girls Club of Pinellas Park.

About five years ago around Valentine's Day, Mrs. Via began selling tickets for a raffle of a dozen long-stemmed roses and a five-pound box of chocolates. All the proceeds from the raffle went to the Girls Club.

"You knew you were going to buy raffle tickets from Wanda Via for the candy and flowers. It was a tradition at Valentine's," Mrs. Bott said.

The office supply business was foreign territory to Mrs. Via when she moved here from Illinois with her husband in 1963. Once a telephone operator, she moved to Florida to retire.

But her husband, Harold, a printer, needed a place to operate his presses. So they rented a store across from the Park Boulevard McDonald's and, at the same time, purchased an office supply business that Mrs. Via ran in the store for 11 years. She called it Via Printing and Office Supply.

Her experience in her former and current shops has earned a solid reputation for Mrs. Via.

"The unique thing about her .

.

. was the personalized service," Mrs. Bott said. "It was just like in the days of the old grocery stores. You'd go in with your list, and they'd find everything for you."

Lately, competition from the Workplace, a discount office supply warehouse, has been fierce, Mrs. Via said, adding that many mom-and-pop businesses can't afford to advertise as heavily.

It's one of the reasons that she's closing out completely instead of selling the business.

"I wouldn't want somebody else to lose their money by buying this and not being able to make a go of it," she said, adding that she hasn't been able to save much money the past few years. "To me, that's not the right thing to do."

Up next:BIRTHS

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