Jamrock’s Jamaican Grill closed in early May at Whitney Beach Plaza and moved to Bradenton Beach.
Then, earlier this month, A Moveable Feast left the shopping center with plans to re-open on Holmes Beach. Late last week, Key Video owners began moving out of the plaza and will re-open July 1, at the Centre Shops. And Sunday, June 21, Whitney Beach Deli & Wines served its last meal until October, although the liquor store inside the restaurant remains open.
“This is the biggest exodus of the plaza I’ve ever seen,” said Whitney Beach Plaza owner Andrew Hlywa, who also owns the deli.
Many of the remaining 10 tenants at Whitney Beach Plaza have taken note of the exit, as well.
Bayou Tavern owner Domenico Padula, who opened the continental restaurant in October, said that he likes his location at the plaza. Technically, the restaurants that closed were his competition. But, more businesses and more customers were good for the entire plaza, he said. Now, he worries that the lack of activity will cause customers to skip over the plaza entirely.
“Night here is totally dead,” he said. “From four restaurants, we have only one restaurant. That’s bad.”
Sue Vaught, owner of Tiny’s of Longboat Key, also worries about the plaza’s empty look. Frequently, she gets new customers who spot the bar on their way back from the beach.
“They’re just going to see the whole plaza is dead,” she said.
Rick Obeid, owner of Key T-Shirts, said that the restaurant closings have made business tougher.
“There’s no foot traffic here anymore,” he said.
At Design 2000, co-owner Irina LaRose said that the salon has a loyal client base. But they used to count on new customers who might notice the business while waiting for a table at A Moveable Feast.
“Business is about growing and expanding,” LaRose said. “It’s hard to grow and expand when people can’t get to know that we’re here.”
The remaining tenants at Whitney Beach Plaza say that the back-to-back closings are just the latest challenge.
They say that few south-end Longboat residents and Anna Maria Island residents patronize north-Key businesses and that the north Key lacks tourist units.
“We have a bigger challenge within the plaza,” Obeid said.
But Hlywa said that things weren’t always so tough. He bought the plaza in 2002, when the number of vacancies was close to the current number. By 2004, every storefront was full. Since then, occupancy has vacillated.
In 2005, he opened The Market, a gourmet grocery store, which he closed in May 2008. Then, in February, Hlywa opened Whitney Beach Deli & Wines. He said business was steady for weeks, but by Easter, business declined sharply, and within a week after that, Hlywa made the decision to close for the summer.
But the remaining tenants say they’ll work through the challenges. According to LaRose, Design 2000 employees often park in the spaces just south of the salon so that drivers can see activity in the plaza.
Padula is trying to keep prices at Bayou Tavern as low as possible to attract customers this summer. And Hlywa plans to tweak certain aspects of Whitney Beach Deli & Wines before re-opening in the fall.
He has also been advertising the spots where Jamrocks and A Moveable Feast were located to restaurant owners. He says that the locations are set up as carryout restaurants and would be ideal for a pizza or Chinese restaurant, although he is willing to consider any potential tenant.
“I’m open to all suggestions,” Hlywa said.
Vying for visibility
Tiny’s of Longboat Key owner Sue Vaught says that summers are tough. But she had an unexpected hit Tuesday, June 16, when Longboat Key Code Enforcement told her that her illuminated beer signs were a violation of the sign code. She removed the signs and also cut off the bottom of the sign in the window advertising happy-hour specials, because it was too large, according to the town’s sign code.
Vaught said that the sign removals have given customers the impression that Tiny’s has closed.
“Even regulars are questioning whether or not I’m open,” she said.