By Joe Crews
For Hometown News
Perhaps one of the first signs a dismal economy is turning around is when new businesses start popping up in a neighborhood.
For the neighborhood that is downtown DeLand, more than a dozen new businesses, or new branches of existing businesses, have opened in the last six or eight months, said Mary Beth Harris, who has had a front-row seat to watch it happen.
"The downtown area is definitely attracting new and existing businesses," said Ms. Harris, executive director of MainStreet DeLand Association, a merchants' group that promotes the area in and on both sides of Woodland Boulevard.
In fact, downtown DeLand has, for many years, had enviable success in keeping the ground-floor retail spaces filled.
"Historically, the occupancy in downtown has remained over 90 percent," she said. "That's a pretty solid occupancy rate."
According to Ms. Harris, the new retailers range from restaurants to yogurt shops to boutique apparel stores. In addition, other kinds of businesses have moved into vacant office space that's not necessarily under MainStreet's purview.
One of the latter businesses is Kappa Map Co., which last month moved into a remodeled storefront once occupied by Orange Belt Pharmacy. The company brought 45 employees from its former location at the DeLand Municipal Airport.
Several of the new retailers spoke with Hometown News and cited DeLand's historic nature, artistic culture and abundant pedestrian traffic as reasons for setting up shop downtown.
Kimberly Cline opened Funky Trunk Treasures in the historic Fish Building at 100 N. Woodland Blvd. the day after Thanksgiving.
"I live in DeLand and it's just the perfect spot for what I wanted to do, with its very charming atmosphere," Ms. Cline said.
Funky Trunk Treasures provides a space for artists to show and sell their wares, she said.
"I provide the marketing component," Ms. Cline said. "A lot of artists like to create, but don't always know how to sell their work."
City Cigar at 111 N. Woodland Blvd. opened last May, said owner Richard Egli.
"It reminds me of old Florida, when you actually knew the people around you," Mr. Egli said.
In the next block north is BerryVille, a family-owned frozen yogurt shop that opened its doors in late June.
"We just thought that with Stetson (University) here, we'd get a lot of foot traffic," said Brittany Bradford, who runs the shop with her fiancÚ and his mother.
Elduets Jewelry & Gifts opened on the west side of Woodland Blvd. recently after a long hiatus, said owner Ron Steudle.
"I was in Afghanistan for two years and my wife chose not to run the store while I was gone," Mr. Steudle said. "Downtown DeLand has always been good for us and has been good already" since the reopening.
Elduets is just one of the successful downtown business revivals, said Ms. Harris of MainStreet DeLand. Another one occurred at The Blind Pig Pub, which reopened in the space where Mad Hatters was located.
Several businesses are on the way. One opening soon will be an apparel store called Anna Bananas that will occupy a former auto parts store on South Woodland, she said.
And a new business will be opening soon at what for many years was the Fogleman Studio photography business at 143 N. Woodland, which was sold in December to a company called Castle Harbor Holding Inc. Terry Fogleman said he has retired.
The president of Castle Harbor Holdings, Chris Calabucci, said he's opening a sports apparel store carrying licensed and non-licensed goods from several Florida universities, as well as an extensive line of merchandise for college sororities and fraternities.
Extensive renovations have been underway for what will be called Sportsanity, Mr. Calabucci said.
A soft opening is scheduled for Feb. 1 and a grand opening for March 1, he said.
A rumor has been floating around for several months that Panera Bread will open in downtown DeLand, possibly in a former Pennysaver building on the northeast corner of South Woodland Blvd. and East Voorhis Ave.
Another rumor has been floating around for several months is that Panera Bread will open in downtown DeLand, possibly in a former Pennysaver building on the northeast corner of South Woodland and East Voorhis Ave.
Panera officials in the past have neither confirmed nor denied being interested in DeLand specifically, only saying the company is always looking for good locations.
A historic, three-story building on the southeast corner of Woodland and New York Avenue is the former Drekka Building, rechristened One DeLand Plaza after being bought by an Ormond Beach businessman, Ron Daprile, from Wells Fargo Bank.
Eric D. Alexander, an Orange City Realtor and the leasing agent for One DeLand Plaza, said two businesses recently leased space on the top floor: Lake Disston Land LLC, a private land investor, and JLT Tax Services, which also has offices in Orlando and Mount Dora.
Mr. Alexander said the owners of Anthony's Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant in Altamonte Springs are investigating whether they can add a kitchen to the ground floor. If they can, they'll probably take 2,300 or 2,500 square feet, he said. He doesn't believe it will impact Main Street Grill, which has been in the basement of that building for many years.
For the rest of the building, the focus is on providing affordable office space to smaller companies, Mr. Alexander said.
"Leasing 3,000 square feet is kind of hard these days," he said. "We're looking for people needing around 1,000 square feet."
The owner has been doing "a lot of little things" to the building, and may consider opening the ground floor for art shows and the like to give the building more exposure.
"It's a great building, one of the icons of downtown DeLand," Mr. Alexander said. "I look forward to that building coming back to life."
Longtime downtown business owners, like Bill Budzinski, owner of the Elusive Grape wine store and a former president of the MainStreet DeLand board, are happy to see the new businesses opening.
"Anything that brings more people downtown is welcome news to me," Mr. Budzinski said.