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Wednesday, Aug 23, 2017

Circle K forcing tenants out of Land O’ Lakes shopping center

Ryan Marshall said he poured his life savings into opening the Recycled Dreams Thrift Store in Land O’ Lakes Plaza about 18 months ago.

With his 1,600-square-foot store stocked nearly full, Marshall said he practically is being forced to close because Circle K plans to build a 5,000-square-foot convenience store on the property that served as Land O’ Lakes’ first shopping center when it opened in 1966.

“I’m closing by the end of the month,” said Marshall, 26, a Miami transplant. “I’m leaving with about one month of profit.”

Marshall said he is not sure where he will relocate. Local commercial spaces have gotten more expensive since he opened the business, he said.

Shawnee Kircher, owner of Alchemy & Ashes, moved her business into the plaza in April. She, too, is leaving, as many business owners in the shopping center at Hale Road and U.S. 41-Land O’ Lakes Boulevard already have done.

Kircher’s new location will be just south of State Road 54 on U.S. 41.

With the plaza almost empty, the business owners said, customers have been hard to find.

“I haven’t had one person in the shop all day today,” Kircher said late Tuesday afternoon.

Marshall said he had three customers Monday and made $6. On Tuesday, he said, he didn’t make a penny.

“I spent $13,000 to open, and now this,” Marshall said. “They (Circle K representatives) say, ‘We’re allowing you out of your lease,’ but I didn’t want to move. I’ve been scraping by. I don’t know what to do with all my stuff; I’m filled to the brim.”

Joaquin Servia, Pasco’s development and review boss, said Circle K representatives met with county officials for a preapplication conference in February. Circle K submitted a proposed site plan that calls for a 5,000-square-foot store with gas pumps and a car wash.

Businesses typically submit an official application shortly after such conferences, but Servia said Circle K has not done that.

“That’s not a good sign,” Servia said. “It’s a pretty extensive process.”

Jon Christiansen, real estate developer for Circle K, said this week that it will be “a long time” before construction on the new store might begin. He did not offer specifics. He did not respond to follow-up phone calls and email.

It also is unclear what will become of the Circle K on the northeast corner of Hale and U.S. 41.

Land O’ Lakes Plaza was built by late community activist William E. Roach in 1966 and expanded eight years later.

Kircher, who owns Alchemy & Ashes, is a lifelong Land O’ Lakes resident and remembered the shopping center’s heyday.

“When I was little, my doctor’s office and the pharmacy was in here,” she said. “It was the place to go. I mean, this is where you went.”

Many units in Land O’ Lakes Plaza are unoccupied.

A barbershop that long had been at the location recently moved just south of the plaza, on Land O’ Lakes Blvd., and a Bell Insurance office has relocated to West Linebaugh Avenue in Tampa, according to a sign on the door.

Only a few businesses remain, including a liquor store, nail salon, a Mexican-Colombian restaurant and Elaine Erickson’s Tampa Bay Geocaching Store.

Erickson said she moved into Land O’ Lakes Plaza about 18 months ago.

“At the time, it was what I needed,” she said of her roughly 800-square-foot retail space.

Last month, Erickson said, she received a letter from Circle K.

“It basically said, ‘Be out by the end of’ ” June, she said. “I didn’t expect that.”

Erickson said she plans to move her business to Spring Hill in Hernando County, closer to her home.

“Oh, I’ll stay in business,” she said. “It just won’t be here. What would be the point?”

Joseph Nahas, manager of TJ Liquors, said each tenant he has spoken to told him they also were told to vacate. He said he is not yet sure when the liquor store will be affected.

“We don’t know how fast (Circle K’s) plans are,” he said.

Sandy Graves, who serves on the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors and has always lived in the area, said she is sorry to see local businesses leaving the plaza.

“I wish we could have gotten them offices somewhere for their businesses instead of another gas station going in on U.S. 41,” she said.

gfox@tampatrib.com

(813) 371-1860

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