Up-and-coming South Street?

April 18, 2008
By

David Taber

Local florist plans to set up shop, bakery plans expansion

SOUTH STREET—It was a happy accident, Petal and Leaf Florist owner Cat Thomson said, that she found a new location for her store on South Street.

If everything goes according to plan, she will be taking up at the new space at the 48 South St. location that used to house the eclectic Honeyspot boutique and gift shop by the beginning of June, she said.

Meanwhile, Fiore’s Bakery owner Charles Fiore said he last week briefly considered opening a new business on Centre Street, but is instead exploring the possibility of expanding operations at the bakery.

Petal and Leaf has been doing well at its current location at 467 Centre St., but the space Thomson rents from CVS Pharmacy is a little big and the rent is a little steep, she said.

“I made the decision after sitting down with a financial advisor…He told me my best option to reduce costs was to make a move to somewhere more secure,” she said.

Thomson, who lives two blocks away from the 40 South St. location where she is planning to move, said she was heading home on the day of that meeting and saw a “For Rent” sign in Honeyspot’s window.

“I stopped and talked to them and it turned out really well. Everything worked out right,” she said.

In March, Honeyspot moved out of 48 Centre St. and into 46 Centre, where it is sharing a space with the hair salon Miss Laura’s at Cla-Mar. The consolidation came after Laura Dembski, who owns both businesses, moved with her family to Scotland.

In an e-mail, Dembski told the Gazette both businesses had been flourishing, but she “moved with my husband and two girls to Scotland for him to pursue a career in forensic reconstruction.”

He is heading up a new masters in forensics program for the University of Dundee, she said.

And, Dembski said, she is continuing to manage both businesses “remotely…I have a great, devoted staff who have helped me deal with all the glitches. There are two hairdressers who are taking on the overflow of clients and two ‘honeybees’ who have taken on the roll of assistant managers.”

Her husband has signed on for a four-year term, she said. “As things go, we plan on moving back after his term is finished, but you never know what the future holds.”

Thomson said the 48 South St. location is close to perfect for her.

While it is significantly smaller than the one on Centre Street, Thomson said most of the extra square footage at her current location is “dead space in the back” devoted to offices and storage.

“We will carry the same stuff and we might add a few lines,” Thomson said, potentially including greeting cards—items Petal and Leaf has not been allowed to carry because of a non-competition agreement with its landlord.

While she said she will miss both the neighboring businesses and her local customers at her current location at the intersection of Centre Street and S. Huntington Avenue, “It’s more my style [on South Street]. It’s less corporate and slick and more affordable and small-business-friendly.”

Businesses on the South Street have been “stepping it up over the last few years, she said. A redesign—currently in its design phase—of the South Street Mall park at South Street and Carolina Avenue will go a long way to sprucing the area up, she said. And Fiore’s Bakery, across from the Mall at 55 South St., has already gone a long way in turning the area into a local destination.

Bakery Expansion

Fiore said business has picked up drastically at the bakery since it introduced vegan baked goods last year. Last fall, Helen Mathews began baking vegan pastries for the shop and since then, a number of “savory items” including vegan pizza and sandwiches have been added to the menu.

“It’s been too busy in here lately,” he joked, noting that business had also increased with the closing of Sweet Finnish Bakery a few weeks ago.

Last week Fiore told the Gazette he was considering renting the space recently vacated by Sweet Finnish at 761 Centre Street. He said at he time that he wanted to keep the current bakery location and open an “all purpose Italian eatery,”— serving simple sit down meals and featuring a deli, baked goods and espresso—at the Sweet Finnish location.

But, in a more recent interview, he said his plans had changed and he is now looking into expanding the bakery at its current location.

The rent at the Centre Street space was too high, Fiore said, and he decided he would rather continue to focus on the South Street neighborhood than try to establish a new location.

“We are a pretty good barometer on what people at this end of town want,” he said. “This place has a real nice JP feel to it, and we would have a hard time doing that at [the] Sweet Finnish [space].”

Fiore described the bakery as a place where people of all ages feel welcome, and conversation is encouraged.

He decided not to install wireless Internet access (WiFi) at the bakery specifically to discourage people from “sitting on their computers all day.”

Patrons are often able to pick up WiFi, he said, but the bakery has successfully established itself as a place where, “People can hang out and talk and get to know each other.”

Instead of moving, Fiore said, he plans to begin looking into the city permitting process to see if it is feasible to renovate the basement at the bakery’s current location into a kitchen and expand the seating area in the storefront.

Fiore said he was thrilled to hear that Petal and Leaf is planning to move to South Street. “More and more interesting shops are coming down this way,” he said. “I think people are starting to figure out they can go beyond Centre Street.”

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