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Shops to go from ho-hum to quaint

A retail strip on Davis Islands may soon get a makeover.

Owners of the shops on the east side of E Davis Boulevard, between Barbados and Biscayne avenues, plan to spruce up the shopping center. In doing so, they hope to draw more customers.

For weeks, talk of new awnings and painted sidewalks has been rampant among the shopping center's retailers. But some also worry how much the changes will affect their profits. Along with design plans, the buildings' owners also presented tenants with rent increases and new leases.

Some tenants had not received a rent increase in nearly a decade, excluding them from the real estate boom of the past five years, the owners said. While retailers said they understood the need to raise rents, several were unhappy with the increase.

"I understand what their goal is, but this isn't like Dale Mabry," said Dennis Cavanaugh, who owns Java and Cream, an ice cream and coffee shop. "It would be hard to survive."

Robert Morris, who owns the shopping strip with his wife, declined to say how much rents rose. But he said the increases were in line with market rates. So far, Morris said, no one has refused to sign a new lease.

"We've been able to make improvements to the buildings, which benefit the tenants and the neighborhood and everybody else," said Morris, noting new bicycle racks and trash cans. "We have to have the income to make the changes, and change is always scary to people."

First among the proposed improvements at the shopping center is a new name, the Village Shops at Davis Islands. Morris plans to paint the buildings by spring, though he has yet to settle on colors.

He would like to put new facades on each of the shopping center's four buildings. Though still in the design phase, Morris said he wants each building to have a facade reminiscent of early 1900s architecture.

Morris is also looking for a tenant to fill the vacant space that once housed a hardware store. Efforts to find another vendor with similar wares bore little fruit. Now, Morris wants to attract a cooking school or a pet-related business that could cater to animals whose owners are headed to the nearby dog beach.

"We'd like to find more places like Serendipity, Fig Leaf and the Body Boutique that are unique places that serve the community," Morris said. "We really like the independent businesses, and we try to support that as much as we can."

Sharon Rose, proprietor of Fig Leaf, a clothing and accessories store in the shopping center, welcomed Morris' plans. Rose said she was heartened when he sought her opinion about design ideas.

"It's going to be great," Rose said. "Everybody has to adjust to change. When you have change, you attract people to that change, and we haven't had change for a long time."

Sherri Day can be reached at 226-3405 or