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South Pasadena landmark Gigi's closing Saturday

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Published:   |   Updated: July 12, 2013 at 07:38 PM

SOUTH PASADENA - One of this city's "legacy" businesses is closing its doors Saturday.

The owners of Gigi's, an Italian restaurant that opened in 1967 at 6852 Gulfport Blvd., say the building's location and layout are why they're closing their flagship location instead of one of their three others.

"This old girl's tired, and Saturday night we're going to put her to bed and we're going to say 'Good night, Gracie,' " said Cyndi Shain, 53, who co-owns the chain with her brother, Steve Newberne.

"She's had a great run."

The restaurant, with its dim lighting and red tablecloths, hasn't changed much in the nearly 46 years it's been open. Times have, though.

Their father, Vergil Newberne, 82, opened the restaurant after moving the family down from Atlanta. He had just graduated from law school and had been remodeling kitchens, but the success of a restaurant a friend was running inspired him to abandon his career path, Shain said.

He set up shop at the Pasadena Shopping Center, a sprawling complex in a city wedged between west St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach, known as "the gateway to the beach."

At the time, the shopping center was doing well.

"It was booming, successful," Shain said. "There was a waiting list to get space in this shopping center."

Things are different now. Four years ago, Publix, the anchor tenant, moved to a standalone building across Pasadena Avenue. Other nearby tenants started moving, too.

"We just feel that the area has changed and that the restaurant industry has changed," Shain said. "And this is just a huge space. We have tried to figure and plan and see how we can chop it down, reduce it. There's no feasible way to make it work."

News of the restaurant's closings has been disappointing for Gigi's regulars.

"We've always come here. We're comfortable here," said Russell Artille, 52. "This is blowing me away."

Artille and his wife, Regina, 49, have been coming here for years, typically three or four times a month - usually for pizza and a beer or two at the bar. They have quite a few memories of the place.

"We were in here once, around Christmas time, when the kids were small," he said. "We ordered a big dinner, and our waitress came up and said 'A patron here, at another table, wants to buy your family dinner today.' "

Given the challenges neighboring businesses have faced, it's remarkable Gigi's was able to keep the South Pasadena location open for as long as it did, Artille said.

The Artilles will probably start going to the Gigi's St. Petersburg location, on Fourth Street North.

While Gigi's is leaving, things could soon be looking up for the Pasadena Shopping Center.

Mayor Dan Calabria has been pushing for a new anchor tenant: a Wal-mart Neighborhood Market grocery store.

"The last I heard, they expect to start the construction and remodeling later this month," he said.

Wal-mart officials did not return a request for comment, but Calabria said the store likely will be up and running before Thanksgiving. That should bring in more tenants, he said.

"Once that goes in, it's going to be a huge difference," he said. "I can't wait."

Calabria held his election night party at Gigi's in March and said he's sad to see it go. The restaurant is one of the few draws in South Pasadena that can get passing motorists to stop, he said.

"I don't know anyone who doesn't like it," he said. "The food and drinks were outstanding. That's what's so frustrating about losing it."

The Gig's restaurants in St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island and St. Petersburg will remain open. While the restaurant will live, on though, closing here isn't easy.

"To me, this is the grande dame, and it is her farewell," Shain said. "But this isn't the end of Gigi's."

kbradshaw@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7999

Twitter: @kbradshawTBO

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