ST. PETERSBURG - Peggy Terry knew that the Columbia Restaurant was the perfect place to spend Mother's Day with her 86-year-old mom, Eileen. So much so that she made reservations two months in advance.
“Mom loves the langostino lobster here and we're so sad that it's closing,” Terry said. “We drive from Sun City Center to come here every couple weeks since we heard it was closing so we can make as many memories of it as possible. I can't believe this will be our last time.”
The iconic Spanish restaurant in the fourth floor of The Pier will relocate when the St. Petersburg landmark closes its doors May 31 to make way for a new structure called The Lens. Many other occupants will close for good. The Pier is scheduled to be demolished in August.
For the Terry's, and countless others who stopped by The Pier to pay their final respects, the location made all the difference.
“We're from Nantucket Island and lived by a harbor where they used to send boats out, so coming here and watching the sail boats is like a little piece of home,” Peggy Terry said.
Christian Obenshain, manager of Johnny Reno's, said the response from customers in their final weeks has been overwhelming, especially on Mother's Day, when even the casual, surf-themed bar had large parties reserving tables. The restaurant is looking to relocate, but it'll be tough to recreate the waterside dinning atmosphere of their current location of two years, he said.
“The sidewalks are absolutely packed with people from Beach Drive, all the way to The Pier,” Obenshain said. “I think there's a lot more sentiment than people think about The Pier, even though a lot of us didn't come here until restaurants like The Columbia came in. It's really just a relaxed atmosphere for you to spend time with your family.”
Maggie Scruggs and her four children and 5-year-old granddaughter from Valrico stopped by The Pier to take some family pictures on their way to watch the Tampa Bay Rays play the San Diego Padres.
“I really miss when the HMS Bounty was out here, and we used to come out with the kids when we would go to the beach and get ice cream,” Scruggs said. “We'll definitely miss it, we have a lot of memories here.”
After eating a homemade breakfast of gum, Hershey's Kisses, and donuts with sprinkles, Michelle Thomson and her children Bella, 8, and Michael, 5, decided to spend the day exploring the Aquarium, listening to live music and playing old fashioned arcade games.
“We've only been here once before and came to see it one more time since they were too young to remember it,” Thomson said.
Customers packed the Crystal Mirage gift shop, which has called The Pier home for 25 years. When The Pier closes, the crystal shop will close its doors for the last time, owner Carol Gray said. When a young couple came to the register with a small crystal turtle she let them take it home for free, but not before explaining why her shop windows were covered with newspaper clippings and signs declaring “Stop The Lense.”
“For me, Mother's Day is about taking care of your family, and this business has allowed me to raise my two children without a dime of assistance,” Gray said. “All of these businesses are independently owned, and part of a family. My kids grew up working here and fishing here. They went to college because of here. A sidewalk is not a good enough replacement.”
The Pier will celebrate it's 40 years of operations with the Raise a Toast to The Pier party Saturday, May 18, where visitors can enjoy everything from water-ski shows, live music and custom cocktails from noon to 8:30 p.m.