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Home Improvement Row builds a reputation in St. Petersburg

By making a name for themselves and promoting it, independents can better compete with the two big dogs in their midst. And they’re doing a good deed. The Carpet Store’s Brian Manning, left, works with Gaby Camacho and Rustin Rockstroh on the Habitat house.
Published Dec. 8, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG

The 600 block of Central Avenue has established itself as the arts block. Beach Drive is known for restaurants. The Tyrone area is the hub for big-box retailers and national mall stores. And now 22nd Avenue N between Interstate 275 and 34th Street is the go-to for home improvements. At least that's the label businesses there are working toward achieving. Fourteen merchants selling everything from carpet and tile to furniture and appliances have banded together to form a coalition they call "Home Improvement Row."

They pay dues, buy joint advertising, promote each other's businesses. They're even volunteering together to build a Habitat for Humanity house.

"As a single business you put a small little ad in the paper. By joining together we get a four-page Home Improvement Row wrap," said Greg Meana, owner of One Stop Kitchens & Bath.

"It's also helped us understand each other's businesses better," said Jim Main, account manager at Innovation Cabinetry. "If a customer is looking for furniture I can send them to Doma. The synergies we have with Apsco are great. If you're redoing your kitchen you generally are redoing your appliances."

One would think Innovation Cabinetry wouldn't team up with One Stop Kitchens & Bath, but representatives of both stores say there are enough differences between their products and price ranges that they don't cut into each other's business.

"We refer customers back and forth," Meana said.

"We want to keep them between (the coalition businesses) and not send them to Home Depot," Main said.

Practically in the shadow of not just Home Depot but also Lowe's, these independent businesses are after more than joint purchasing power. By making a name for themselves and promoting it, they can better compete with the powerhouses of home improvement.

"We had a good reputation before, but this helps get the word out and enhances it," said Louis Rodriguez, who works at Depot Granite, Marble and Tile. "It gives us a little edge. Everything helps."

Brian Manning, owner of the Carpet Store, is credited with forming the group, which has grown to 14 members since starting in April.

"The idea was minimal input and maximum benefit," he said. Members pay $235 to join the coalition and then $100 a month. The money supports, in part, a website — homeimprovementrow.com — that has information on each member business, coupons, the Habitat house, and design and construction tips.

Not all businesses are within the confines of the actual Home Improvement Row. Rick's Home Theatre Store is at 3435 30th Ave. N, and Tibbetts Lumber is at 3300 Fairfield Ave. S.

"It's all about remodeling. It's all about local people," said Joe Shelter, Tibbetts general manager. "We're just 30 blocks away. We are a part of it."

When Mayor Bill Foster recently spoke to the businesses at a reception in the courtyard of Mazzaro's Italian Market, he complimented their cooperation to form their own "mini chamber." He said it will help them as they talk to the city as a cohesive group about improvements to their business district. Better street lighting is on their wish list.

Mazzaro's is one member of the group that doesn't seem to fit the parameters. Homemade pasta, fine meats and wine aren't exactly the building blocks of home improvements. But it also benefits from the awareness and group power. And several business owners say they have customers from Sarasota, Port Charlotte and Tampa who come to St. Petersburg largely to shop at the landmark grocer.

"I have a friend from Miami who started coming here to go to my store and now he comes to go to Mazzaro's," Pedro Hernandez, owner of Depot Granite, Marble and Tile, said with a laugh.

Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at kssmith@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8785.

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