Big plans for Largo's shop of horrors

One of its owners wants to use the spooky space as a store and for events -and as a home.

Published May 18, 2007

LARGO - The 12-foot gargoyles are gone.

So are the broken-down hearses.

And the toe-pincher caskets.

The spooky Halloween-themed store at 1751 Missouri Ave. - which is fashioned after the European castle of Vlad Tepes, the inspiration for Dracula - has been eerily silent lately.

The city made sure of it. In February, code enforcement officials shut down the business called Castel Bantuit before it even opened, calling it a fire and safety hazard.

But one of its owners, Helene Urbin, has hired a Clearwater engineering firm, Scott & Scott, to renovate the building. The engineers said she wants to be open by August.

"We're going to bring the place into operation, " said Peter Scott, the owner of the engineering firm.

Urbin is spending about $150, 000 to revamp the 15, 000-square-foot former car parts store, including adding an elevator to the second floor, adding restrooms with access for the disabled, creating a 900-square-foot ground-floor sales area, an upstairs events area for 40 people and personal living quarters for Urbin, Scott said.

The progress at Castel Bantuit comes amid a sordid and contentious domestic tale involving Urbin, her well-to-do co-owner and his daughter.

At the heart of the story is Bert Beigel, 80, who amassed a small fortune as a North Pinellas real estate broker and whose wife, Liane, died in 2002. The value of his assets aren't fully known. But documents show he has about $175, 000 in at least one bank account.

Court documents filed this month claim Beigel has Alzheimer's disease. Both Urbin, 58, who describes herself as Beigel's fiance, and his daughter, Larraine Beigel, 58, have filed competing petitions to have a guardian appointed for the elder Beigel due to incompetence. An emergency guardian was appointed May 11.

Neither woman qualifies as a guardian because of prison records.

Larraine Beigel declined to comment for this story. Urbin could not be reached.

Urbin and Bert Beigel met when Urbin and Larraine Beigel were both serving time in a minimum-security North Florida prison in the 1990s.

Larraine Beigel was there on a burglary conviction and was released in 1997. Urbin was serving time for intimidating a witness and was released in 1998. She previously served time for trafficking cocaine.

Larraine Beigel "was concerned about her father's safety and his finances, " said her attorney, Richard Green. "She had been wanting to declare her father incompetent for a long time but didn't want to hurt his feelings."

According to public records, Urbin and Bert Beigel, who have been together for more than four years, bought the property on Missouri Avenue and the vacant lot next to it in March for more then $1-million.

Urbin, who used to run a terror shop at the Oldsmar Flea Market, told the St. Petersburg Times months ago that it was always her dream to have a horror store and that Beigel helped make that dream come true. Before the city made her get rid of it, she had painted "Dedicated to Bert Beigel" on the outside wall, which threw off at least one Largo police officer who thought that meant he was dead.

She planned to sell gothic T-shirts, jewelry and candy, and $450 caskets that would also be available for rent.

On the second floor she planned a stage where entertainers would perform and The Rocky Horror Picture Show movie would be shown during private parties.

But before her dream came true, city officials shut the business down in February for sign and fire code violations. A month later, Urbin was arrested by Largo police on charges she was selling contact lenses - including pairs with spider webs, smiling faces and cats -without a prescription. She is free on $10, 000 bail and no court date has been set.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com.