TARPON SPRINGS — In recent years the short downtown stretch of Hibiscus Street was an afterthought for consumers and business owners alike.
The few buildings there were mostly vacant and their facades reflected it.
Interest in setting up shop on Hibiscus Street had been so sparse for so long that even when a new plan to revitalize the area was presented to City Manager Mark LeCouris, it sparked little optimism.
But after about a year and a half of cooperation between the city and local business owners, suspicions about the area’s ability to bounce back and return to relevancy have faded dramatically.
All the once-vacant storefronts on Hibiscus Avenue are now officially open for business after The Gallery of Fun Finds celebrated its ribbon cutting and grand opening last week. It was also the owner of the new furniture and home decor store, Sherry Wendt, who set the ball rolling on Hibiscus’ turnaround.
Wendt, a certified home stager who specializes in property management with downtown’s Olympic Realty Services, played an integral role in attracting new business owners and working with LeCouris and the city to help spruce up the streetscape.
One of the key factors in improving the buildings’ exterior appearance, according to Wendt, was getting businesses to take advantage of grant money available through the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency. The CRA’s Facade Grant Program reimburses applicants 50 percent of project costs up to $10,000 for a single-story building and $15,000 for a two-story building.
Examples of these improvements – matching red awnings and signage fixtures – //can be seen along the brick-paved Hibiscus Street north of Tarpon Avenue.
The city stepped in with streetscaping improvements including new benches, flower pots and landscaping.
“Overall we just want it to look better down here to get people to come and shop,” Wendt said of the Hibiscus Street transformation. “It’s gotten people enthused and I think it’ll make a big difference.”
Wendt hopes the revitalization of Hibiscus Street and Safford Avenue and other parts of downtown will continue to spur aesthetic improvements that benefit the area as a whole.
Wendt’s new store, The Gallery of Fun Finds, is one of four on the east side of Hibiscus Street. It joins Stiltskin Studios, E.M. Wallace Auctions and Appraisals and CCC Timeless Treasures. White Crane Clinic operates from a store on the west side of the road and utilizes matching signage on its facade.
The Gallery of Fun Finds specializes in furniture and other home decor items, including lighting and artwork.
“It’s a small store but I think it’s a good place, a good niche shop over here,” Wendt said. “It’s not set up like a consignment store. I set it up so it’s staged like a home with things that look good together in an individual room.”
Wendt, a member of the Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Merchants Association, plans to continue promoting and encouraging similar turnarounds throughout the city, not just downtown.
“A little bit of paint, some cleanup, a new idea in window; it really turns your store around,” she said. “It makes people stop and look.”