No longer a 'ghost town'
Following a slow recovery from a devastating tornado, the remaining storefronts at the Southside Shopping Plaza have opened their doors in recent weeks.
The plaza, one of the last visible signs of the 2011 natural disaster, welcomed It's Fashion Metro, Vivid Salon and VN Nails & Spa within the past week, and Sweet Frog, which has been open since mid-January.
Sanford Mayor Cornelia Olive said she's happy with the work that has been put into the plaza and the aggressive marketing to bring in larger stores — like Dunham's Sports, Big Lots and Tractor Supply — and the smaller stores that have just begun to open.
"I am just so pleased," Olive said. "Because when you have smaller stores, including the mom-and-pop stores, that is what drives our economy. They are the ones paying the rent, paying taxes and improving the quality of life."
It's Fashion Metro, a retail and accessory store, was located in the plaza before the tornado hit, and store manager Debbie Deas said she is pleased to be able to serve Sanford again.
"Everything has been great so far," Deas said. "I love we have reopened and we are back."
Customers have been waiting for It's Fashion Metro to reopen, she said, along with its sister store CATO, which is scheduled to open in the plaza sometime in spring.
Vivid Salon is new to the plaza, but co-owner Tina Morton said she was impressed with the recovery efforts in the shopping strip after the tornado.
"We were concerned at first," she said. "We talked to the property owner and we are very excited to be working with them. All of the stores are bringing in traffic, and we're getting some great stores."
Vivid Salon is working with its neighbor, VN Nails & Spa, to target their customer base, Morton said, offering coupons and specials.
This is VN owner Amy Trouo's first business, and while she said she is hoping for more customers, the opening has gone smoothly.
On the north end of the plaza, self-serve frozen yogurt restaurant Sweet Frog opened in mid-January, and according to co-owner Marty Taylor, the reception has been positive.
"The plaza looks great, and it's a great thing for Sanford to have these stores back," Taylor said. "It's a great plaza."
American HomePatient was one of the few companies that reopened its doors a few months after the tornado struck, said Customer Service Representative Andrea Gutkowski. The influx of returning and new businesses in recent months has made a positive impact, she said.
"We really like it," she said. "It doesn't feel like a ghost town around here anymore."