Q: Have noticed some activity at the former Picture Factory on Immokalee Road in front of Walmart. Do you have any idea what, if anything, is going in that place?
— Joan Fuggi, Naples
Q: A long vacant building at 5410 Immokalee Road, in front of the Walmart Supercenter at Juliet Boulevard is now showing signs of life. Built originally for CVS, but never occupied, then a short stint as The Picture Factory, is now being renovated. Any idea of what will be occupying the building?
— John Jaffee, North Naples
A: Cellular Sales clearly chose a highly visible spot for the first Naples area location for its Verizon Wireless retail store. At least a dozen readers have written in wondering what was going in after seeing work being done on the new store in the last two weeks.
“It’s a really good location. You can see it from every angle in a busy Walmart parking lot,” said Jason Lema, who manages six stores in the Fort Myers-Cape Coral region for Cellular Sales of Knoxville, an authorized retailer of Verizon Wireless products with more than 500 stores nationwide, including nearly 100 in Florida.
The North Naples store, 5410 Immokalee Road, is expected to open in the first half of April, Lema said.
“We’re shooting for April 1,” he said.
Before the store opens, the company will have a trailer with banners and balloons parked out front beginning in mid-March to advertise and sell Verizon Wireless products, Lema said.
Authorized retail stores are able to offer many of the products and features that corporate stores do, but they are privately run companies. Cellular Sales owes its success to a simple, unrelenting focus on total customer satisfaction.
“At Cellular Sales, we look out for the customer’s wallet before our own. We want to take care of customers,” Lema said. “We want customers to leave the store happy and refer their neighbors and friends to the location.”
The North Naples store won’t be Cellular Sales’ new kid on the block for long. The company plans to open two more stores in the Naples area within the next three to six months, Lema said.
Many passers-by in the high-traffic area of North Naples have noticed the façade of the first location grow and change in the last few weeks. The previously peaked signage areas on the north and west sides of the building have been squared off, and the outside is being painted bolder colors.
Only about the front third of the 13,824-square-foot outparcel will be used as a retail showroom. The larger back section of the building will have space for stock as well as for training, meetings and vendor expositions, Lema said.
Built in 2004 as a pharmacy location, the building was vacant for its first few years before Picture Factory occupied the building for a short time. The space has been vacant again for the last couple of years.
Although it has been commonly referred to as a former CVS location, the structure was built by Eckerd Drug prior to its acquisition by CVS in 2004, but a pharmacy was not opened there, said Mike DeAngelis, director of public relations for CVS/pharmacy.
“We did not open stores in any Eckerd locations that they built but never occupied,” DeAngelis said.
Q: I just wondered if you have any information about Buddy's Burgers in Naples? I have heard they had a fire, but I have not seen any activity to reopen. Thanks.
— Jim M., Naples
A: Buddy’s Burgers will not be reopening after damage from an extensive fire last fall led to its closing.
“The building is going to used again, definitely. When it reopens, it won’t be Buddy’s Burgers. We just haven’t decided what we are going to do,” said a spokeswoman for Robert and Mario Vocisano, who own the Toll Gate Boulevard property and the adjacent Waffle House site near Collier Boulevard and Beck Boulevard.
The electrical fire started about 7:30 a.m. Sept. 30 before the local restaurant opened for the day, according to the Golden Gate Fire Control & Rescue District.
The 1,786-square-foot building with the double drive-thru had been home to Buddy’s Burgers for only a few years. It previously was the short-lived Mr. V’s Pizza & Wings To Go, and was a Checkers drive-in restaurant before that.
More local restaurant news
■ Gyrene Burger, which on Dec. 27 started a local business to deliver cheeseburgers, now offers chips and drinks, too. In addition to its classic or deluxe bacon double cheeseburgers, Gyrene Burger now offers Miss Vickie's kettle-cooked potato chips and half-liter bottles of Coke and Diet Coke, said manager Adrian Martinez.
I can’t help but noticing how much the Gyrene menu now resembles the old “Saturday Night Live” skit about the diner that basically serves cheeseburgers, “cheeps” and Pepsi. Of course, Gyrene Burger has Coke, no Pepsi, as does the Billy Goat Tavern & Grill, the Chicago venue which sparked the popular recurring “SNL” skit in 1978.
Gyrene’s second store is in the works in Naples Park Plaza, 9331 U.S. 41 N. The former computer store location is near Joe's Diner in the North Naples strip center.
Gyrene intends to open its second “better burger” takeout and delivery location at the end of March, but it is still in the permitting process because of a redesign, Martinez said.
“We want to get it open during the season, if possible,” he said.
A third location may be in the Park Shore area to fill the gap left between the 1.5-mile delivery stretches of the first two stores, but that depends on what is learned from the first stores. The plan is to have locations fronting busy U.S. 41, Martinez said.
Saluting “soldiers” in camouflage uniforms scramble to deliver the burgers in 15 minutes or less, but the average delivery time is down to less than 10 minutes, Martinez said.
The comparison to Domino’s early days of promising pizza delivery within 30 minutes or less is not coincidental. Fast delivery is a strategic selling point for Tom Monaghan, the founder of both Domino’s and Gyrene Burger.
■ Artisan Gelato by Norman Love opened mid-month next door to the Norman Love Confections chocolate salon and company headquarters in south Fort Myers. Norman Love began serving gelato at the Naples Chocolate Salon in 2011, but the new store is his first dedicated gelateria. In addition, the gelateria at 11300 Lindbergh Blvd., offers handmade French crepes, Belgium waffles, artisan pastries and many other sweet treats.
■ Outback Steakhouse will reopen its rebuilt restaurant in Fort Myers on Monday after a March 2011 fire destroyed the building at 12995 S. Cleveland Ave. The new restaurant’s design inside and out focuses on the natural beauty of Australia’s diverse landscape and introduces a number of authentic elements, such as grasses and unfinished wood, to bring the feeling of the Outback indoors, according to a news release from Outback. The reopened steakhouse will be open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.
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