SARASOTA, Fla. - The S. H. Kress and Co. Building, located at 1442 Main St., has been home to many types of businesses over the years. It was the site of a department store in the 1930s, then the home of the local newspaper after that. It's since housed several restaurants, including the popular Patrick's, which was forced to vacate the location during the Great Recession.
Now the historic downtown building is getting another facelift in preparation for a new tenant: the "runner's superstore" Fit2Run. This addition of a retail business is part of a bigger trend that's seeing downtown Sarasota's empty storefronts filling up one after the other.
Everywhere you look you see construction, and that includes the site Fit2Run is currently renovating.
"This location here is phenomenal," says Fit2Run owner Bill Robinson. "It's right in the middle of downtown, and we can make our presence [in] the 17,000-square-foot store which will be one of the largest running stores in the country. So we are really excited to get this very visible location."
Fit2Run is only one of the many stores planning a move into downtown.
"Right now I'm out on Cattleman Road and Cattleman Lane, and we're getting a lot of patients from Bird Key, Longboat Key, St. Armand's Circle and the downtown area driving all the way out to Cattleman," says Kiekie Fugleberg, owner of physical therapy provider Fyzical. He's one of the entrepreneurs opening in a location along Main Street. Instead of making his customers continue to drive out to him, Fugleberg is coming to them.
It's a move that Douglas Gourley, owner of wine and cheese merchant As Good As It Gets, made a little over a year ago. He says his business has been booming ever since.
"We do see a very sharp increase in business. I think what we're finding is there is a market which we feel As Good As it gets fills," Gourley says.
"Downtown now is on fire," says Ron Soto, chair of the Downtown Merchants Association. The market is made up of highly affluent people with money to spend, which Soto says is not only driving store openings but also major construction projects.
"Real estate right now is hopping, along with the stores we have coming in, we also have five new hotels that are being put together," he points out.
That includes the project that has broken ground on the corner of Palm and Ringling. It's expected to have 800 rooms, which means even more people with money to spend shopping and eating in the downtown area in the near future.