LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Ace is the place for the Crowder family, owners of Crowder Bros. Ace Hardware stores here and on Manatee Avenue West in Bradenton, which also have popular gifts and gadgets shops next door.
Ron Crowder, son of John Crowder, a former Sarasota builder who switched to the hardware business in 1955 with his brother, Chester, also owns Crowder Plaza next door to the Ace off Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and State Road 64.
But despite the prestigious Lakewood Ranch address, the influx of new homeowners and several nearby post-secondary and technical schools, Crowder Plaza, a strip shopping mall with service-oriented tenants such as Dominos Pizza, State Farm Insurance and Goodwill Industries, is three-quarters empty and numerous tenants have moved in and out since it opened in 2006 right as the national housing crunch worked its way into Lakewood Ranch.
Four unleased storefront units in the plaza range in size from 1,200 to 8,600 square feet. Two larger units are advertising split possibilities to bring down the space and the pricing, which is $15 per square foot, according to George Brusco of Casto Leasing, the main leasing agent handling Crowder Plaza. In addition, a vacant 1-acre parcel exists next door to Goodwill, also owned by Ron Crowder, which could be turned into a bank or a restaurant, Brusco says.
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Casto Leasing aims to have the entire plaza filled with new, service-oriented retailers by the end of the year, he said.
"We're in discussions with a few businesses, and we've picked up a lot more activity this year. We're trying to select the right tenants who
will complement the tenants already there," Brusco said. "There's not much leasing space available in Lakewood Ranch, with Walmart Center off State Road 70 now fully developed, so this is a great opportunity."
A new, upscale, 1,800-square-foot nail salon scheduled to open in May once renovations are completed. The storefront was home to several tanning salons, the latest Tropical Tanz, but none lasted long, according to the other tenants, despite having Boutique Out East Salon and Spa in the same plaza.
Minh Tram manages the new nail salon owned by Vietnamese doctors who have another nail salon business in Bradenton. Tram, who has worked in Lakewood Ranch before, says the salon will be one of the biggest and most distinguished in the area, boasting 10 chairs, Venetian design, spa pedicure rooms and sanitizing equipment.
"We'll have a separate person completely devoted to sanitation, which I'm proud of. I like the idea of being sanitary for my clients as well as all the great parking that exists here," said Tram, who is offering a 20 percent discount for all customers in May.
Phil Miller, general manager of the Dominos Pizza,, said his takeout and delivery business is doing well despite the vacancies and lack of foot traffic.
"Surprisingly, you wouldn't think so, but this is a great location," he said. "We do a lot of carry-out business, especially from all the schools in the area."
Suzie Jackson, registered representative and owner of the State Farm Insurance Agency, was the first to lease in Crowder Plaza and just re-signed for another three years. Jackson started when the housing crunch began and said she's doing well now with people moving into Lakewood Ranch, many of whom are State Farm customers from other states.
"I'm happy here, but a busy restaurant would bring people in that might not have noticed our business before," she said.
Jason Devine, owner of two athletic conditioning studios, Suncoast Strength and CrossFit 941 down the road from Crowder Plaza and across from Imagine School, drove by Tuesday to check out one of the vacant storefronts.
"We opened last August and we've already outgrown our facility. This is a great area and a good location. Now, it just depends upon the price," he said.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.