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Anastasia's move gives store space to flourish

The owner wanted to own her own building and be downtown. The new address is 954 First Ave. N.

By LENNIE BENNETT

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 24, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Fred Victorin]
Popular florist and gift shop Anastasia's will move closer to downtown. Owner Carol Laughlin purchased the building at 945 1st Ave. N. that used to house LeeAnn's Casa Napoli.
ST. PETERSBURG -- The toilet runneth over, and nobody knows how they will get the pizza oven out the door. But Carol Laughlin is sure that by the end of August, she will have transformed the old Mama Leeann's Casa D'napoli Restaurant at 954 First Ave. N into a new space for Anastasia's, a floral design, home furnishings and party planning business.

Laughlin closed on the 4,000-square-foot building on Wednesday, paying $250,000 for it.

Anastasia's, currently located in leased space at 6297 Central Ave., is stocked with flowers, unusual furniture, decorative accessories and garden ornaments. It specializes in seasonal decorations, especially Christmas ones. Laughlin has been in business for 16 years, starting as a florist in a small shop on the west side of St. Petersburg, then moving five years ago to larger space, still on the west side of the city. She said she wanted to own her own building and to be near downtown "because everything is happening in the downtown right now," she said.

The new location doubles the space for Anastasia's.

The interior will be gutted and the exterior resurfaced with stucco, she said. The small curved windows lining the front will be extended to the ground. Laughlin has already found a set of copper and glass doors for the entry and salvaged antique wood flooring for part of the interior. She plans to give her new shop a Mediterranean look, with lots of natural materials such as stone and marble.

"I can't talk about the cost because I get sick whenever I talk about it," Laughlin said. "Everything keeps getting more expensive. We'll tell you when we're done."

For about three decades, Leeann's drew diners who hungered for traditional Italian fare. It had been closed for several years and the owners, the Berg family, have had it on the market during that time.

On Thursday, the building still had the look of an aging restaurant. All the equipment and fixtures will be auctioned on site Wednesday. After that, Laughlin will begin renovations.

"The building is in great shape," Laughlin said. "It's got the potential to be a really cool space."

The redesigned work space in the back will be open, she said, so customers can watch her and her designers while they work, just like the trendy "open kitchen" designs of many new restaurants.

Laughlin, who designs for both private parties and large fundraisers, is known for her Baroque-like masses of flowers in vibrant colors.

She said the retail portion of her shop has grown and the extra space will allow her to add more garden furniture and whimsical occasional pieces "but no sofas."

Laughlin has learned over the years what works in a service-oriented niche market that serves affluent consumers.

"You have to be careful you are not doing what mass marketers do," Laughlin said. "You have to be trend-oriented. If I see one of my vendors in Target or Wal-Mart, I stop buying from them."

On Thursday, Laughlin and several designers gathered at the sunken fountain in one part of the dining room. Because of toilet problems, the water had just been turned off by a city utilities worker, so the fountain stood empty except for coins tossed in by patrons years ago.

"You're sure you want to get rid of the fountain?" Ed Rogers asked her.

"We're getting rid of the fountain," Laughlin said. "But we're keeping the money from it. We need every cent."

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