Promoter wants mall to buzz
By MAUREEN BYRNE AHERN
SEMINOLE -- He's ba-a-a-ack.
Gerry Cachia, who hosted karaoke contests and managed a vaudeville theater in Seminole Mall to drum up business, has been rehired as the mall's promotions director. Tenants and shoppers can look forward to Elvis and Patsy Cline tributes, a Halloween horror show, a Christmas parade, hip hop shows for teenagers and Saturday morning children's activities, Cachia said.
"Just like old times," said mall manager Linda West, who also returned to the mall after it was sold to a group of New York investors in March. "My first thought, of course, was getting Gerry back. He's a natural."
Promotions may come easy for Cachia, but even he admits to having an uphill climb in front of him. "From an image and marketing standpoint, we're almost starting over," he said.
Many in Seminole felt the mall lost its community appeal after Lamar Co., which buys struggling shopping centers and revives them, bought the property in 1998. That's also when Cachia left the mall.
"When the new owners came in, I just didn't feel right about the transition," Cachia said. "I didn't think it was going to be community enough. Things just seemed so different."
They are. Gone are some of the mom-and-pop stores. Gone are the variety shows and holiday events. Gone are the back-to-school fashion shows and chamber mixers.
"There used to be pretty much nonstop activity in that place," Cachia, 48, said.
Cachia, who is now a partner with William Clare Entertainment, a local production company that specializes in active adult communities, plans to bring back some of the popular events. Next month, the company will move its office to the mall and work for the merchants association on a contractual basis. The company will share an office with West, who was hired by the mall's new management company, Tampa-based RMC Property Group.
"All I know is if a mall is active and organized and does some neat things, all the rest of the things that make a mall successful will come," Cachia said.
Simone Hovanec says she looks forward to Cachia's return. "We're glad he's back," said Mrs. Hovanec, who has worked as a waitress for 20 years at Telly's Restaurant in Seminole Mall."This mall will be back to normal again."
When Cachia worked at the mall, it buzzed with activity, especially on the weekends, Mrs. Hovanec said.
The 32-year-old mall is the oldest in Pinellas County. Folks who shop and work there say they like that it's different than larger regional malls, such as Tyrone Square in St. Petersburg or Countryside Mall in Clearwater.
Dianne Belcher, who owns Arden's Medical Equipment in Seminole Mall, says she remembers all the hard work Cachia did when the Johnson family owned the mall. Seminole pioneer Jesse Johnson built the center in 1970.
"I think this is a positive move for the mall," she said of Cachia's return, which is actually his third venture at the mall.
Fresh out of college in 1978 with an advertising and marketing degree, he was hired by the mall as promotions director. He stayed for a few years before leaving to work for a developer.
In the early '90s, he started his own advertising agency and also got his old job back. That's when he coined the phrase: Seminole Mall -- Where shopping is entertaining.
Cachia said he hopes to bring back some of the larger shows that were staged in the center of the mall. The events were designed to attract more visitors and enhance the mall's role as the city's downtown.
"They were very successful," he said. "We would be stupid not to do that again."
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