Optimism building at revitalized Parkway Collection shopping center in University Park

SARASOTA -- The timing could not have been worse when Linda Evens opened her Divine Hair Creations salon six years ago in the Parkway Collection shopping center.

Sweetbay, the shopping center's anchor, closed shortly afterward, and the Great Recession devastated businesses and family checkbooks across the nation.

But somehow Evens persevered, starting with one employee and growing her staff into nine.

Today, Evens and her business neighbors share a feeling of optimism that perhaps the best days are ahead for Parkway Collection, located on the southeast corner of Lockwood Ridge Road and University Parkway in Sarasota.

"This is just the beginning. To fill the parking lot, it's a good feeling," she said. Feeding the optimism is the opening of Detwiler's Farm Market and Miller's Dutch Haus Furniture, anticipated for February. The businesses have subdivided the old Sweetbay space and are making renovations.

Two new businesses -- Sip n' Create and A Quilters Stash -- opened in Parkway Collection this month, and a new consignment shop, and a massage business are expected to open soon.

Sip n' Create, which features a gift shop at the front of the business and tables with art easels in the back, invites customers to bring their favorite beverage and snacks and sit and paint or work on a craft.

The owners, three sisters, Paulette Perruccio, Debra Crowley and Linda Santangelo, could see that Parkway Collection was an ideal location, especially with the arrival of Detwiler's and Miller's.

Parkway Collection is revitalized and "re-emerging," Perruccio said.

Parkway 8 Cinema, which offers $2 matinee tickets ($2.50 evening) plus Bollywood movies at $10, was another incentive for Sip n' Create to open in Parkway Collection.

Parkway 8 Cinema, and the restaurants in the shopping center, would pull customers into the evening hours, ideal for an arts-and-crafts business that has daytime hours and events that begin at 7 p.m.

"It just feels like this is part of an upswing in this area," Crowley said.

Linda Snyder, owner of A Quilters Stash, said she has had no second thoughts about the move to Parkway Collection.

"Bigger space, better parking, and the food," Snyder said of reasons for moving from a location about 1 1/2 miles south.

"I had grits for breakfast at Peach's this morning," she said of the restaurant next door.

The new location has been a hit with customers.

"They are loving us. They are coming by the bus load," Snyder said.

And that's not an exaggeration. Bus loads of quilters have been visiting Snyder's new location.

'So many opportunities'

If it sounds like small business is finding the American Dream at Parkway Collection, that may go double for the small business owners who were born in other countries.

Such as Evens, who was born in the Philippines.

"It's about how you treat others. It's about the relationships. It's a good feeling when you are helping others," she said, referring to her customers, as well as her business neighbors.

"Here we have so many opportunities. But you have to go and get it. It won't be given to you," Evens said.

Among those she has mentored are Alounlack Oula and Van Sysouvanh, who own Infuzions, a restaurant next door featuring Thai and Vietnamese food, such as crispy duck, summer rolls, and pho.

"Linda tells us how to promote our business. She is a very sweet lady," Oula said.

When Infuzions opened in the shopping center, business was very quiet, Sysouvanh said.

"It's a good location. Now there is more business," he said.

Helping add to the international flavor of Parkway Collection are Sweet in the City pastries, owned by a native of Colombia; Filippo's Pizzeria, an Italian affair; VV Nails has Vietnamese ownership; the movie theater is owned by Om Cinema LLC with owners from India; and The White Horse Pub. The British pub was recently purchased by veteran restaurateur Bob Kirscher.

Nakisha Lawrence, a native of South Devon, England, stayed on as manager and will ensure the pub doesn't lose its British ambiance.

"I take pride in the craft, the food, and the drink that we put out here," Lawrence previously told the Herald.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.