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Eager for a makeover

Tyrone Gardens has been serving customers 45 years, despite some faded facades. Some spiffing-up is coming.

By SHARON L. BOND, Neighborhood Times Business Editor
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- Tyrone Gardens shopping center has that worn look of a comfortable sofa where the dogs have lounged too long.

Its facade is faded and the signage for the shops is irregular, missing or touting businesses no longer there. "Far Out" says one sign in orange over an empty shop. You still can see the outline of "Buddy Freddy's Country Buffet" over the large, empty restaurant, even though the letters are gone.

It is a 1950s shopping center, where no-seam nylon stockings once sold for 64 cents a pair. And it looks it.

But the 210,000-square-foot, 40-store center is 90 percent leased. Its mix of stores, from a large grocery to a department store to a bargain basement to a barbershop plus several restaurants, may be modest but it apparently is what residents in west St. Petersburg need. The center is located at Tyrone Boulevard, Ninth Avenue N and 58th Street, a very busy intersection, which doesn't hurt business. On a recent Thursday afternoon, the parking lot was pretty full.

As Tyrone Gardens approaches its 45th birthday at the end of the month, renewal is under way. The worn look is being updated with $750,000 by the center's owners, Cursor Properties of New York. That will pay for a new roof, a paint job, new signs for the stores and landscaping.

"We just wanted to give the mall a fresher look, a more updated and modern look," said Ray Sohmer of Cursor. "It helps us attract new tenants for a couple of the vacancies we will have there."

One of the larger vacancies, a 14,000-square-foot shop next to Big Lots, could be leased in the next couple of weeks, Sohmer said. He would not say who the prospective tenant is. Signs in the windows of the former Buddy Freddy's say Good Fortune Buffet will fill that vacancy.

Scott Broughton, owner of the Garden's Laundromat, is one of the newest tenants at Tyrone Gardens. His laundry opened in September, and business is increasing weekly, he says. When customers get their dirty clothes into the washers, they often visit other stores, he said.

The center desperately needs a larger sign to announce its presence and one that carries names of the tenants, Broughton said. The corner of 58th Street N and Ninth Avenue would be the perfect place for it.

"We could really establish ourselves as a better mall that has come back," Broughton said.

Meanwhile, Tyrone Gardens is in the process of getting the new roof. When that work is finished in a few weeks, the facade will be replaced. Gone will be the corrugated metal look in faded blue with some cream contrast. Store names, some now in dirty white letters, will be spelled out in red lettering, the same for all tenants to give the center a more consistent look, Sohmer said.

The rest of the center beyond the facade will be painted in a brown/cream combination. Finally, landscaping will be added to the parking lot, which is a bit scraggly despite small islands with oaks, shrubs and liriope on the 58th Street side and some crape myrtles plus a line of palms on the Tyrone Boulevard side.

Tyrone Gardens is not a shopping mall such as Tyrone Square nearby, which has JCPenney, Sears, Dillard's and Burdines as anchors. Neither is it a power center like the recently reconfigured Gateway Market Center on Dr. M.L. King N, which has Target and Publix as anchors and a number of free-standing stores.

It straddles the community center/neighborhood center definition. A community center is one that has an anchor such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot or Lowe's, according to Howard Kramer, senior research manager for Marcus & Millichap in Tampa.

Tyrone Gardens does not have one of those retailers. Its anchor is Winn-Dixie Marketplace, which has been there since the beginning and was updated three years ago. It stands out in its freshness from the rest of the center.

A grocery anchor usually defines a neighborhood shopping center, Kramer said. But Tyrone Gardens also has Big Lots and a Beall's Outlet store.

"With three major anchors, I would say it would be a community center," Kramer said. That would mean it would draw customers from a 10-mile to 15-mile radius.

Chuck E Cheese's and Jo-Ann Fabrics are two more large tenants at Tyrone Gardens.

"It all boils down to convenience and price," Kramer added. "People go to Wal-Mart instead of the mall because they can get things at Wal-Mart cheaper."

When looking for a location for an outlet store in west St. Petersburg in 2001, Beall's first checked out Central Plaza and Crossroads Shopping Center but settled on Tyrone Gardens.

The area "seemed to fit exactly what our demographics fit," said Charlie Boscarino, vice president of real estate and store development for the outlet division of Beall's Inc., based in Bradenton. That meant settled, established residents.

"We needed one in that market. Business there has been great," said Boscarino. Of the 400 stores in the outlet division, Tyrone Gardens ranks in the upper 20th percentile, he said.

Jo-Ann Fabrics draws its own crowd, said manager Debra Eriksen. The store has been at Tyrone Gardens for 17 years; she has been manager for six.

Other tenants cite Jo-Ann Fabrics as a good draw. "It's kind of a neighborhood thing," said Clyde Zinc, manager for 20 years of the Winn-Dixie.

Business is very good, Eriksen says. Her only complaint is the need for more parking. The fabric store is on the Tyrone Boulevard side of the center, which has a smaller parking lot than the 58th Street side.

Sohmer, the owner's spokesman, says Tyrone Gardens' was attractive to Cursor because of its location at the intersection of three major St. Petersburg streets, its mix of tenants and the strength of its anchors.

In addition to the anchors and larger stores, Tyrone Gardens' tenants include: HeaRx, Sun Kote Paint Center, Tyrone Gardens Community Resource Center, Yolanda's Grooming, Adam & Eve Beauty Salon, Tyrone Barber Shop, Travel is Fun Tours, Bill's Dog House, Fantastic Nails & More and Weight Watchers. Also, Apple Insurance, Florida Water Management Inc., U.S. Armed Forces Recruiting, Bargain Basement, Garden's Laundromat, El Tropical Bakery, Fernando's Jewelry, New China Restaurant, Liberty Tax Service, Gianni's NY Pizza, Aquatic Obsessions, Suncoast Martial Arts and Lorraine's Hairstyling Academy. Rowland's Family Dentistry is in a separate building facing Tyrone Boulevard, sort of in front of Weight Watchers.

In looking for shopping centers to buy, Cursor checks out the stability of anchors, avoiding those such as Kmart, which is in bankruptcy reorganization.

Winn-Dixie actually had two stores at Tyrone Gardens when it celebrated its official opening in January 1958 as Tyrone Shopping Center. Tyrone Center had opened six years earlier with the first Winn-Dixie, which was known first as Margaret Ann and later Kwik Chek, according to Times files.

The second grocery was added when the center became Tyrone Shopping Center, and the first was remodeled. They were known in the center as Winn-Dixie No. 1 and No. 2.

-- Times researcher Mary Mellstrom contributed to this story.

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