The downtown Bartow business environment worsened on the 100 block of East Main Street and adjacent South Central Avenue. It started several days before Christmas as one store closed its door for good on Christmas Eve, while two others began winding down operations. Of the latter two, there is an outside chance — albeit slim — one might either remain in business, but just barely and perhaps in a caretaker capacity, or re-open under different owners or operators
Regardless, as a result, only one mercantile retail establishment, Parker Place, remains in business on the ground floor of the first block of East Main Street or South Central Avenue. All other establishments are either restaurants or real estate/insurance offices.
Of the three that shuttered or will soon be, the imminent closing of Apple Seeds may have been the one that surprised people. Having been in business nearly 20 years, it was bought earlier this year by Samantha Bayarr, an author of Amish romance novels (who later bought the former Stanford Inn and turned it into a private residence).
The decision to close down Apple Seeds was not lightly made, said Olivia Morgan, Bayarr’s daughter, who worked at Apple Seeds.
“It was the rough economy,” said Morgan. She said the last day it was alleged to close, Friday, Dec. 20, was inaccurate. “The last day we’ll be open for business will be next Friday, Jan. 3.”
The closing is bittersweet, added Morgan.
“We both love this place,” Morgan said. Her mother, she added, did try to find a new buyer but had no success.
Prices have been slashed, said Morgan. With few exceptions, many items are marked 50-70 percent off. Most of those items are Christmas-related. Almost everything else, she said, including furniture, is 50 percent off. Yankee Candles and figurines are marked down 30 percent.
One of the few people perusing remaining inventory was Theresa McCall and her daughter, Rachel. However, theirs was not a planned trip.
“We just happened to walk by,” said Theresa McCall. “Had the day off.”
Morgan disputed the contention that it was not the economy alone that led to the decision to close Apple Seeds. During the past several months, hours of operation became irregular. Despite posted hours, the store was open on a hit-and-miss basis during the week. Anyone who wanted to shop could not rely on whether it would be open for business. She said the store kept to its posted hours, with only changes being seasonal.
Happy Feet Ice Cream Cafe
Earlier this year, Georgina Herzog took over Cool Shoppe and renamed it Happy Feet Ice Cream Cafe. Located at 139 S. Central Ave., the first intersection off East Main Street, it was a struggle for her the entire time she owned the ice cream parlor. The Polk City resident said that more often than not, it cost her more to run the parlor than she was taking in.
“It cost me, on average, $130 spread out over six days per week,” she said. She added that in addition to traveling, which put wear and tear on her car, there was the cost of gasoline. Then there was city utility costs. “Most days I wasn’t even making $30.”
There were some days she did well, but they were far and few between. Herzog added that she did not realize November and December are notoriously slow for ice cream sales. Had she been able to get through those last two months, she might have been able to make it, she said.
The fate of Happy Feet is not yet known. Herzog said there may be another couple willing to take over.
Bartow Flowers and Gifts
While the existence of the ice cream parlor hangs in the balance, and the Apple Seeds closing is being prolonged until Jan. 3, Rachel Benning moved the last of the inventory and furnishings of Bartow Flowers and Gifts, 125 S. Central Ave.
Although Benning chose not to speak on the record, she did post a message on the store’s Facebook page prior to the closing in which she (sic) wrote:
“Dec. 24th will be our last day. I want to thank everyone who supported us while we were here. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to own a flower shop it was my dream and I had the best 3 yrs thanks to all of you. Everything in the shop is 50 percent off or more so come see what we have we will be here 10:30-5 this week and saturday 10-12”
Two signs hang in the windows of the ice cream parlor and the flower shop, which are housed in the same building. The sign in the latter announces the storefront is for rent. The sign in the window of Happy Feet announces store and the building are for sale.