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Business

Summit Pools hopes to rebound from disaster

By CARRIE JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003

HOMOSASSA -- A banner in the window of Summit Pools proclaims "We're Still Open" in bold block letters.

Carol Martin never dreamed she would need such a sign just six months ago. But after a fire consumed her family's swimming pool supply store, it has been a struggle just to keep the once thriving business afloat.

"It was devastating, absolutely devastating," said Martin, 52. "It changed everything."

The blaze gutted the warehouse on Grover Cleveland Boulevard, burning a hole through the roof. Martin and her husband were forced to relocate to a much smaller location, tucked away from the street in Homosassa.

Even worse, they had just ordered a new shipment of spas in preparation for the winter rush and hadn't yet insured the additional merchandise, Martin said.

Then, three new pool stores opened in their area. Several of Martin's longtime customers, unable to find the new location, assumed the business went under and switched allegiances. "Now it's like starting from scratch," Martin said. "In fact, it's worse, because we still had a little money when we started."

Martin moved to Citrus County in 1998 to care for her ailing father. She had been living in the Clearwater area where her husband, Rob, owned a carpet cleaning business.

The pair was hired by Frank Strifler, who had owned Summit Pools for more than 15 years. The Martins planned to work at the pool supply store long enough to save money to buy their own business, a storage unit company.

Then, one day, Strifler made a proposal. "He said, "I'm getting ready to retire. Why don't you buy this place?"' Martin recalled.

The Martins called their two grown sons, Matthew and Michael, and arranged a family conference. Together, they bought Summit Pools. The couple's sons agreed to move to Citrus to help. Carol Martin tended the store while the others handled pool maintenance and spa installment.

They quickly built up a loyal clientele. Business was flourishing until disaster struck the evening of Oct. 16. Firefighters received the call to 7975 W Grover Cleveland Blvd. about 5:45 p.m. By the time they arrived, flames were shooting from the front windows and smoke billowed from the roof.

Michael Martin was the first in the family to hear about the fire. He notified other members of the family and rushed to the scene.

For the next seven hours, the Martins stood across the street and watched their business burn.

"There was nothing we could do," said Rob Martin. "The firefighters were already there and they wouldn't let us get too close."

According to the State Fire Marshal's Office, the fire was sparked by a short circuit in the building's automatic garage door mechanism. Determined to stay in business, the Martins set out to find a base of operations until their building could be repaired. They finally found a location on U.S. 19, next to Vascamini Woodworking.

But getting the word out proved to be difficult. The Martins hung a banner from the fence outside their burned store.

"They drive right up to the building and they don't seem to see the banner," Rob Martin said. "They see right through it."

One customer who followed them to the new location was Bill Harms, 55, of Sugarmill Woods. Harms and his wife bought a spa from Summit Pools about eight months ago and were impressed with the service they received.

"They treat you like you're family when you go to that place," he said. Harms said he learned of the fire from the Martins after running into them at a local restaurant. Despite the changed location, he continues to buy his pool chemicals there.

Construction is almost completed on the former home of Summit Pools, and the Martins hope to return to their former location by the beginning of March.

Although the setbacks have been difficult, Carol Martin remains optimistic.

"We'll be in that building, taking care of our customers if we have to do it from the parking lot," she said. "I think we're going to have the best year we've ever had."

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