Now that breezes no longer blow through their shop, Bob & Daughter Produce is saturated with the sweet smell of ripe fruit.
"I've got to stand here and smell it," said employee Kelley Shader, leaning over a tray of Georgia peaches.
After 29 years of business at 1262 Lakeview Rd., Bob & Daughter Produce has closed its open-air roadside stand and opened a storefront at 420 Cleveland St. in downtown Clearwater.
The store will be a new source of fresh fruits and vegetables for downtown visitors, but city officials hope it also will help freshen up the downtown business environment.
For Bob Henschen, 77, and his daughter Connie Lehmer, 52, who run the business together, it's a big move. For almost three decades Bob & Daughter was in a mostly residential area of Lakeview Road about a mile south of downtown. But with changes in their customer base and rising demand for healthier products, the pair decided to close the roadside stand and open a real store downtown.
"They needed something like this down here," Henschen said of downtown. "We're going to give it a shot."
In addition to their stand, Henschen and Lehmer sold produce at the downtown farmer's market for nearly 14 years. There, Bob & Daughter developed a base of regular customers who encouraged Henschen and Lehmer to open a downtown store.
"We thought it was time for a change, for something different," Lehmer said.
Customers will notice the changes immediately.
The Lakeview Road stand had a chain-link fence, a plastic roof and no cooling. Now, the business is in an air-conditioned storefront. Figurines shaped like smiling mushrooms and bunches of grapes sit on bricks that protrude from the store's back wall.
In the new location, Bob & Daughter also can offer more products, Lehmer said. Once the store receives a permit, Lehmer plans to sell cheese, drinks and ready-made goods, such as fruit salads.
Despite the empty stores around them and the closings of several downtown restaurants in recent years, Lehmer said she and her father are not concerned about moving the business downtown. The city is "working very hard," Lehmer said. "They're giving a lot of incentive for people to move in here."
The arrival of Bob & Daughter downtown helps the city's effort to brand the Cleveland Street District, Clearwater downtown manager Courtney Orr said. "We're always recruiting and looking for more unique, one-of-a-kind retailers and restaurants," Orr said. "Definitely, it's a great business that offers something the downtown doesn't currently have."
As the city attempts to draw in new businesses, downtown property rates have been reasonable and property owners are willing to work with potential business owners, Orr said. "Any new retailer helps bring in the customer," she said. "We want to show there's activity, there's life here."
Henschen said Bob & Daughter's opening day, June 20, went well. The flow of customers slowed the next day, but he thinks business will blossom once word gets out about the new store.
A couple of days later, longtime Bob & Daughter customer Sonja Sheppard visited the new store. "If nothing else, it's cool," Sheppard told the owners, referring to the building's air conditioning.
Sheppard, 76, said she regularly patronized the Lakeview Road stand because it was convenient for her. Now, she said, she may visit the store less frequently, but she wishes the owners well.
"They've put a lot of years and effort into it," she said, "so I hope it flies."
>>If you go
Bob & Daughter Produce
Bob & Daughter Produce is at 420 Cleveland St. in downtown Clearwater. It's open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call (727) 442-3147.
Article source: St. Petersburg Times, By Katie Park, Staff Writer