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Lodge makes a winning move

The Sons of Italy finds an opportunity on 34th Street S in St. Petersburg for itself and others.

Published March 1, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Three guys enter through the second-floor glass door and shout across an empty banquet room.

"Hey, we came all the way from New York looking for a pinochle game," said one, whose accent betrayed his origins.

"Well, you're outta luck," Tony Celona jokes as his cell phone chirps the theme from The Godfather. "We only play canasta here."

The conversation turns to food and bocce and other resources Celona wants to provide through this new location of the Sons of Italy Lodge, at 2500 34th St. S.

With more than just dances and a Monday all-you-can-eat homemade pasta dinner, this lodge has engaged the community by repairing an old building to make space for new businesses in the rising city district. The investment also pays off for the lodge, which is looking to bolster its membership.

"You don't have to be Italian," said lodge president Celona, who orchestrated its move last year from 3615 37th St. S to this more prominent location. "What we're trying to do is keep people together."

Celona said the lodge purchased the building from World Impact Church, which now rents his old space. He has a bit less land now and half the space, but renting out the first-floor offices pays the lodge's bills and extends its reach into the community it hopes to help continue to improve.

"This was a higher crime area," Celona said. "By renting these spaces out, we bring in more people and everything calms down."

The added traffic is useful for those occupying the refurbished storefronts, too.

"We've gotten a lot more exposure," said Rosie Peterman-Thompson, who runs a real estate and mortgage business from one of six units under the lodge. "The other businesses bring in more, and the club brings in a lot of traffic."

Other spaces include a beauty supply business, a tax-preparation business and a barbershop. Two of the businesses enjoying the lodge's $100,000 rehab are new.

"Location is the key," said Ivory Wright, 36, who started Trillion Kutz Hair Studio in January. "We get good support from the community, but also from the other businesses, too."

Wright said he also enjoys the lodge's Monday pasta dinners, as does Chris Sheppard, 34, who opened Investment Tax Service in the building in December. Sheppard said his is the first of this Ohio franchise in the state, though it's the right market for retail financial services because of an Amscot across the street, a Jackson-Hewitt office down the street and two H&R Block offices within a few blocks north and south.

"This felt like an up-and-coming area," said Sheppard, whose wife simultaneously opened another office in Tampa.

"I'm from around here, feel real comfortable. And there's lots of exposure from the club."

Celona said he has enjoyed becoming a landlord because his tenants have been so good to work with.

The economy of the operation means the lodge can devote more resources to its charitable donations for people with cancer, Alzheimer's disease and Cooley's anemia.

The lodge both benefits from and helps drive revitalization of the 34th Street corridor, Celona said.

Its grand opening was Sunday.

"This place is going to do nothing but get better," he said.

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or

[Last modified March 1, 2007, 00:18:12]

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