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Business Outlook

ReMax Advantage Realty of Hernando County, Spring Hill

By Times Staff Writer
Published February 15, 2004

Barbara Quist was a broker with the local ReMax agency for more than 10 years before she purchased it in July from her employers and good friends Dennis and Lunette Kolean. While the purchase was under sad circumstances (Lunette Kolean was suffering from a terminal illness and died several months later), Quist said business has been good.

"We had a phenomenal year," she said. "Commission-wise, we've done 25 percent more than the year before."

The success is in large part attributable to the continued growth Hernando County has been seeing, Quist said, both residentially and commercially.

To meet the demand, Quist said she is working to start a commercial division within the company. It is more than a service Quist wants to provide. "We absolutely need it," she said.

With a growing staff, which is now between 55 and 60 people, the ReMax office recently moved to a new location on Lake in the Woods Drive. Quist said she has high expections for this year.

"Ever since I've moved here, (Hernando County) has been an excellent place" to live and work, she said.

Woodruff and Co., P.A. Brooksville, Spring Hill

Ken Woodruff has been providing financial and tax services in Hernando County for 30 years. And when his son and co-owner, Randy Woodruff, joined the business in 1994, services and business expanded.

Ken Woodruff is a certified financial planner and an enrolled agent, and son Randy is a certified professional accountant and also an enrolled agent. Together, they offer computerized accounting services, business consulting, tax preparation and planning for individuals and businesses, financial advisory services, and retirement and estate planning.

Woodruff and Co. has not been touched by the sagging economy that has affected the nation in recent years. In fact, business has doubled in the past five years.

"I think that Florida is such a service business-driven state that when the economy dips we're the last ones to feel it here in Florida," Randy Woodruff said.

He expects to have a good 2004.

"If there's a recession, we're still waiting to feel it," he said.

Signs By Connie, Spring Hill

Anyone who drives past Weeki Wachee Springs, bowls at Spring Hill Lanes, notices any of the numerous Palmwood Realty signs throughout the county or visits the annual Parade of Homes in Pasco or Hernando counties may not be aware that they are seeing the work of Connie and Dave Mastroni.

The Spring Hill couple have been creating signs, banners and original art for Hernando County businesses and individuals for more than 15 years. And while many across the country are facing economic strains, Signs By Connie hasn't seen a lull in business.

"We really haven't been affected by current economic conditions," Connie Mastroni said, "probably because our signs help other businesses."

Signs By Connie offers hand-painted signs, vinyl lettering, sandblasting, banners, magnetics and truck and window lettering. What makes it different from other sign companies is that the Mastronis are also artists and are able to include unique touches to their clients' signs.

The small company has grown in recent years. About three years ago, the Mastronis took over the unit adjacent to their shop on Commercial Way to meet the needs of their growing business.

To accommodate their current clientele, as well as to expand it, the couple are creating a Web site, which should be running soon. They also said they hope to add digital signs to their services in the future.

Your Arts Desire Studio and Gallery, Spring Hill

It wasn't until about a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that artist and gallery owner Mary Petricone started to notice its effects on her business.

"Before Sept. 11, parents were having their kids take art, karate and dance," she said, "but now they have scaled down to just one activity." Petricone said about 75 percent of her students' parents have told her that.

Petricone opened Your Arts Desire Studio and Gallery on Commercial Way more than four years ago, not only to teach, but also to provide a place for people to appreciate artistic undertakings. The gallery includes works from professional and local artists, as well as exhibits of young students' creations.

Petricone, along with artist Tony Capparello, offers art classes in a variety of mediums. Capparello also offers workshops throughout the year to the public.

Since moving to Hernando in 1999, Petricone's efforts have affected many - not just her students. Shortly after Sept. 11, she organized a fundraising sale of donated art that raised $22,000 in two days for the families of firefighters killed in the rescue attempts in New York. Locally, she has held fundraisers, donated her efforts and participated in events to benefit numerous local groups, including the Spring Hill Community Association, Hernando-Pasco Hospice and Weeki Wachee Springs.

This year, Petricone plans to focus more on her older students, who will soon be college-bound.

"We will be offering concentrated workshops for the older teenagers and help get their portfolios together," she said. The workshops, she said, will be more intense than the weekly classes she and Capparello now offer.

Little People's Preschool and Youth Learning Center, Brooksville

Little People's had been offering day care and preschool services for 15 years in Brooksville when Kevin Nissen purchased the business on Fort Dade Avenue in 2002.

Under his ownership, Nissen said, the center has steadily remained full, with 105 children enrolled. While quality service will continue, there will soon be some changes, he said.

Nissen said the preschool has been working with the state school readiness program to prepare for universal prekindergarten, which voters approved.

"We're also working to get nationally accredited," Nissen said, "which we hope to have before the end of the school year."

Little People's will soon also have a small bus to transport children for field trips and other activities.

Technological advances, such as parents being able to view their children's classroom on the Internet, may one day be made available at the center.

"Getting cameras for the Internet is something we may do down the road," Nissen said. But he is still wary about the practice. "We won't offer it until it is absolutely certain that only parents and those authorized will be able to view it," he said.

Manzi Metals, Brooksville

In an industry controlled by men, Barbara Manzi, a Brooksville grandmother and owner of Manzi Metals, has defied the odds. Manzi Metals is the only metal distribution company in the United States fully owned, operated and controlled by an African-American female.

Manzi said her business has not been exempt from feeling some of the economic strains of recent years. But, she added, the slowdown has not been as bad as she feared.

"Last year I thought it wasn't going to be as good as 2002," Manzi said. "But profits in 2003 were actually better than the year before."

The outlook for 2004 is even more promising, since Manzi has taken some precautions, purchased new equipment and secured some "really wonderful contracts."

"I feel very good about this year," she said.

Things are so much better, in fact, that Manzi is hiring new employees.

Manzi has been operating the business in the Airport Industrial Park since 1989; it officially became Manzi Metals in 1993. The company recently took over the entire building where it operates, adding more than 10,800 square feet to its work space.

"We've been here awhile, and we're not going anywhere," Manzi said.

Papa Joe's Italian Restaurant, Brooksville

Crowds of hungry people have been swarming to Papa Joe's Italian Restaurant since owner Joe Giarratana opened its doors 23 years ago. Its reputation for quality food and service has drawn people from around the Tampa Bay area to the restaurant at Spring Lake Highway and Cortez Boulevard, east of Brooksville.

But in recent years, Giarratana said, the restaurant has seen a dip in business, which he assumes has a lot to do with the national economy.

"It did affect us," Giarratana said. But, "it's definitely been picking up," he added.

As Hernando County grows, so do the number of visitors to the area, he said. People come to Hernando to take advantage of the Withlacoochee State Trail, and dog shows at Florida Classic Park and the annual Family Motor Coach Association rally at the Hernando County Airport all help draw business to Papa Joe's.

Giarratana said he tries to remain loyal to his local friends and patrons. He donates his services to numerous charitable events - most notably the annual fundraising event he hosts every October at his restaurant. The event features games and rides for the entire family, the auction of gift packages donated by local businesses, and an all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner. All of the money raised is donated to charity.

Papa Joe's also offers catering services and a gourmet deli. Giarratana expanded his services to the banquet business last year when he opened the Max Grill, a full-service banquet hall at the Best Western hotel at Interstate 75 and State Road 50.

ACBS Travel Agency, Brooksville

It is no surprise that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks hurt the local travel industry. What some may not realize is that, along with the effects of the attacks, technological advances have severely crippled travel agencies - particularly small, independent businesses.

"From the 9/11 standpoint and the onslaught of online booking, many agencies have not been able to survive," said Trey Jordan, co-owner of ACBS Travel.

The travel agency, which opened in 1970, is the oldest in Hernando County. Jordan and Greg Myers bought the agency in 1994.

Despite the problems smaller travel agencies have faced, Jordan believes the tide is changing; he said many people are returning for the personalized service that the Internet cannot provide.

What keeps ACBS afloat, he said, is that it strives to go the extra mile to provide vacations and travel arrangements to customers. And, the company takes precautions to protect customers' confidential and personal information.

Jordan said the growing epidemic of credit card and identity theft has made people wary of making purchases over the Internet. People are also finding that online companies and large travel companies sometimes offer a limited number of travel choices.

Agents at ACBS use the Global Distribution System, which gives flight information and rates for all airlines. And, Jordan said, the information is at the agents' fingertips immediately, whereas people can spend hours trying to do it themselves online.

And, despite what some people think, online rates are not always cheaper, he said.

"We beat (online) fares nine times out of 10," he said.

Jordan said experts predict that 2004 will be a "rebound year" for the travel agency, which he believes will extend to the travel agency network.

"People are finding that the Internet is not all it's cracked up to be," he said. "All this electronic wizardry is very impersonal."

[Last modified February 15, 2004, 01:15:45]

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