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Shopping plaza evolves with a quieter clientele

What once was Spring Hill's loudest little shopping plaza has metamorphosed into a quieter and perhaps less colorful place as new businesses have taken over Forest Oaks Plaza at Forest Oaks Boulevard and U.S. 19.

The same building where formerly darkened windows hid sweaty and inebriated young dancers has sprouted five new neighborhood storefronts, with a sixth on its way.

Nearby residents say they couldn't be happier with the businesses that now occupy what was once Planet Bubba's nightclub and Bubba's Ale House. The new tenants include: Silver Screen Video Cafe, Beef O'Brady's restaurant, Holiday Builders, Cash Register Auto Insurance and Nova Star Home Mortgage. A butcher shop will open in the last vacant spot next month, tenants said.

"I have no problems with the new businesses," said Asenath Kuhar, who lives within blocks of the strip shopping center and who lobbied county officials to get rid of Bubba's. "We put up with a lot when Bubba's was here, so it's been very nice."

Chris Lamia, owner of the new Beef O'Brady's, which took the spot of Bubba's Ale House, said the Clinton, Tenn.-based landlord, Southeast Realty & Investment Co., spent money to clean, paint and landscape the plaza.

"'It wasn't in the greatest shape, but they did a 360 with it, it's amazing," said Lamia, who recently moved his restaurant from a location farther south on U.S. 19.

Officials from Southeast Realty did not return calls from the Times, but county property records show the company purchased the plaza in December 2000.

Seven months earlier, Planet Bubba owners Richard Fabrizi and the controversial radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem closed the doors on their club after several rounds with neighbors, sheriff's deputies and county officials. The county, responding to neighbors' complaints about excessive thumping from dance music and unruly, late-night patrons, had passed a stricter noise ordinance and slapped the club with a $500 fine.

Last December, the pair filed an insurance claim against the county, the precursor necessary for a lawsuit, which they have threatened to file, but have not done so yet. Clem's attorney did not return calls from the Times.

Some tenants said they could see remnants of the nightclub when they moved in. Holiday Builders manager Rob DeRoss said he and his partners scraped sticky goo off the floor when they moved in last April.

Other tenants, such as the owners of the well-lit, freshly tiled Silver Screen Video Care, are wary of talking about their predecessor.

Chris Bibbo and his three co-owners invested a lot of thought into their location, which they arrived at after a lengthy search, complete with trips to the county Development Department and census data analysis.

Yet, during its first few days of business, more than a couple of customers mumbled the word "Bubba" as they walked, somewhat cautiously, through the quaint little store, which sells homemade goodies and offers low-key jazz on Thursday nights.

"They came to check us out _ make sure we were okay," co-owner Matt Baroni said.

Silver Screen and Beef O'Brady's had a grand opening celebration on July 20.

Nova Star Home Mortgage was among the first new tenants, opening its doors in March. Owner Mick Pasmore lives across the street in Lake of the Woods and said the plaza's proximity to the county offices and several residential communities drew him there.

"This seems to be the area where people come," Pasmore said.

And for now, neighbors are satisfied. But they say they haven't let down their guard.

"At this point, it seems to be neighborhood friendly," said Jeanette Sprague, who lives in nearby Weeki Wachee Woodlands.

_ Jennifer Liberto covers business and development in Hernando County and can be reached at 848-1434. Send e-mail to libertosptimes.com.

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