Year in Review

Busy business highlights from 2012 in Lake Wylie

December 31, 2012 

Despite the economic slump causing some businesses to struggle or shut their doors, the Lake Wylie and Steele Creek areas continue to get down to business, as usual, with new business ventures, celebrations and plans for the future.

What the Lake Wylie Pilot named the No. 1 newsmaker of 2012 in last week’s edition was also a major business boom for Lake Wylie. As 2013 neared, Sherwin-Williams opened in mid-December at Lakeside West shopping center near the Buster Boyd Bridge off Charlotte Highway becoming neighbors with the YMCA Branch, which opened first in April; the center’s anchor, Bowl N’ Bounce; iColor Nail Bar; and the QuikTrip gas station and convenience store front the roadway. Opening next: Cherry, an Asian fusion restaurant, and Fuzzy Peach Frozen Yogurt Bar.

Cherry will offer a dining experience including Hibachi-style cooking.

“We’ll have Chinese, Japanese and Thai,” said manager Amy Nicholson.

Here are other business highlights from 2012:

At Lake Wylie Plaza

Nearby, the Bagel Boat opened in November in the former Bank of America building fronting Lake Wylie Plaza. The building at 4090 Charlotte Hwy. sat vacant since 2009, when the bank moved farther west to Highway 557, Mill Creek Commons.

“The first customer came in and bought a dozen bagels. Bagel Boat is open,” said restaurant owner Frank Keefe of Lake Wylie, sharing the story of his business’ “soft opening” on Nov. 20 with an afternoon customer.

Bagel Boat sells New York bagels, strudel and other goods, as well as frozen yogurt and coffee. There is seating for 30 in the main area near the counter, plus side rooms for small groups.

Hank Degiulio of River Hills said his breakfast group was already planning to start meeting at the new coffee shop.

“We’ve been looking forward to it and are very happy it’s here,” he said.

Behind Bagel Boat, Emily’s Garden and Gifts opened April 21.

“I just want to be a family flower shop,” said owner Terry Weaver, 42.

Along with being a full-service florist – offering local delivery, arrangements for weddings, funerals and special occasions, and every-day flowers – the shop sells garden accessories, like birdhouses and ceramic and wooden pots, as well as green plants, blooming plants and herbs.

Another business grew in the plaza. To celebrate three years in business, Q2U BBQ Pit doubled in size to 2,400 square feet expanding into the vacant corner space and allowing seating for 90. Now, the bar-style seating wraps around in a horseshoe, full-service bar and more tables have been added. Staff size also has grown.

Co-owners Brian Rich and Mark Cieslikowski also saw three of their barbecue sauces chosen to represent the Carolinas during the fall Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

Q2U, which also offers catering and has provided food for benefits and community events, was named Business of the Year by Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce..

“The community’s been good to us,” Rich said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be doing this.”

Plantation Square

At the next major plaza in Lake Wylie, Plantation Square, work has been under way renovating the former Japanese steak house, Sakura, that closed this year. The new “upscale Chinese” restaurant will include outdoor deck seating. It is expected to open this month, said Ken Bozeman, owner of the center.

“We’re excited,” said Pam Bare of nearby Magnolia House florist shop at 4052 Charlotte Hwy. “It’s going to bring more people who don’t normally come here and hopefully, they’ll see we’re here.”

Bozeman said more change is ahead.

“There are a lot of changes going on out there,” he said. “Hopefully, it will be good for the whole area.”

Lake Wylie’s only gift shop relocated from Executive Court next to the Lake Wylie Pilot to The Prosperity Cottage, off S.C. 49 near Plantation Square.

The gift shop, which carries popular brands such as Tervis tumblers along with locally-made products such as handbags, jewelry and hair accessories, opened in May 2011 at the Wilkerson Building and occupied two office spaces there – one for the shop, the other for its embroidery services and trophy work.

Sweetwater

Nearly across the street, Wylie Gators restaurant and bar name changed in early January to Sweetwater Sports Bar & Grill. It also included a nearly 1,000-square-foot dining room expansion.

Restaurant owner Steve Lorusso, who also owns the building and Mad Dog Custom Cycles next door, said the new dining are can seat about 44 more people. The area also includes 12 televisions.

Customer parking also has expanded into the former Checkers location.

River’s Edge Pavilion

Farther down the road on the same side of Charlotte Highway, River’s Edge Pavilion saw new growth with the opening of Hannon Orthodontics.

Dr. Steve Hannon, daughter Dr. Stephanie Hannon and his wife Susie, with their staff and family are celebrated the office opening Feb. 2.

Anchor Shops Place

A national chain restaurant became a neighbor in August. Waffle House in Lake Wylie at 5013 Charlotte Hwy. opened with a full restaurant of customers.

The Waffle House menu, of course, includes waffles, but also a variety of breakfast items, sandwiches, burgers, salads and steaks.

Rod Stover, area manager for the store, said at the time, it would employ about 55 people among all shifts.

Behind Waffle House, Tony and Kim Pennington became the new owners of Lake Wylie’s Anytime Fitness, on Jan. 1, at 131 Evergreen Road, suite 107, taking over for the Watkins family who started it three years ago.

They maintained much of the gym’s operations, including retaining managers Amy Rose and Kiera Bryant and continuing work with personal training company In Motion Fitness. The original center expanded in 2011 to include a virtual workout studio space. Other changes in 2012 included adding cardio equipment and live classes. The gym is open 24 hours a day, every day.

The center also saw a nail salon and dry cleaners open.

Shoppes at the Landing

A new pharmacy opened in January in Lake Wylie, but many residents already knew the pharmacist. Larry Meek and wife Michelle opened Lake Wylie Pharmacy at 221 Latitude Lane, suite, 109, in Shoppes at the Landing.

The 1,500-square-foot space includes a drive-through window and an admitted subtle USC Gamecock theme.

Larry Meek worked at the Lake Wylie CVS Pharmacy for almost 15 years. His wife worked for Revco in Clover for 10 years before staying home to raise their two children. She works at their store part time.

“I know from practicing here what people need, and that includes home delivery,” he said. “It’s going to be part of what we do.”

But restricted home delivery isn’t the only service setting “your hometown pharmacy” apart from local corporate pharmacies.

“We carry bed pans, crutches and different products,” he said, “and everything a ‘normal’ drug store has.”

Restaurateur Jose Ayala, owner of Rey Azteca, opened a second location, Azteca Grill, in May at Shoppes at the Landing.

Ayala expects a heavier lunch than dinner scene at Azteca Grill.

Ayala employs five to eight people at the former frozen custard shop and coffee shop location.

Bella Shoes opened in March nearby, but closed within months. Now a new business has moved in, Mel’s Consignment. A new neighbor is planning to move next door, and that business opened in May 2012.

Landing Station

Elite Taekwondo Academy opened in May near Bi-Lo. With more than 100 students within six months of opening, the academy made plans to open a second training facility nearby next door the post office. The new space will be for combat defense tactic classes, mainly for adults.

The move allows for more taekwondo programs and classes in the existing dojo and is close enough for parents who may drop off a child at the current space and head for a class at the new one.

“Not only is it self defense, it’s a great workout, great cardio,” said co-owner Josh Flamm.

Owners expect to open the new center in January.

Elite Taekwondo is a startup of Flamm and Fort Mill residents Chris Baker and Eric Schanno. The new space will mean one more instructor, Baker said. The group also will continue to hold regular community service events, having already partnered with food drives and other efforts.

Unique services

Lake Wylie also saw the entrepreneur spirit thrive in 2012. Here are some of the locally owned services that became available:

•  Your Neighborhood Produce. Christina Nelson, 36, of Clover, and a mother of four, started buying fresh produce at wholesale cost in 2008 with 17 friends. Within 10 months, her venture turned into a business called Your Neighborhood Produce — with 1,000 members.

“I had grown tired of spending an incredible amount of money on produce, and couldn’t justify the ridiculous prices of produce any longer,” she said. “I just thought it’d be me and friends meeting at local park. I never intended it to be a business.”

The neighborhood now stretches across South and North Carolina — including Fort Mill, Rock Hill, Steele Creek and Belmont — with 10 produce pickup locations and 3,800 participants. She distributes at least 50 baskets a week, and sometimes as many at 200 at one location.

She added Lake Wylie to the list of her “modern day produce co-op” with pickups the second and fourth Tuesday of every month starting Jan. 24 at Good Samaritan United Methodist Church, 5220 Crowders Cove Lane.

She already holds pickups at First United Methodist Church, 807 Southpoint Road, Belmont and Lakeview Church, 13925 Erwin Road, Steele Creek.

Archer Limousine. Mark Pfizenmaier, Mike Shea and Ted Bowman drew on their career experiences, mutual love for cars and friendships to form Archer Limousine service opening in May.

While Bowman, who also is shop foreman for Lake Wylie Auto Care where the limousine is parked, takes care of the mechanics for their white, 2009 Lincoln TownCar stretch limo with seating for eight, Pfizenmaier and Shea have the business know-how, having run a 20-vehicle limousine service with 30 drivers in Connecticut. All three can chauffer, though they do have drivers on call, as well.

Archer’s services are available throughout the Carolinas for events, including weddings, anniversaries and other special occasions, corporate accounts, trips out of town and special events, and any special request.

“It’s a fun and happy business,” Pfizenmaier said. “We enjoy sharing everyone’s experiences.”

RiverGate area

While some businesses struggled, others celebrated. Hillary Moulliet marked five years for Art Space Studio at RiverGate shopping center in Steele Creek.

“It was not by choice to open a store in the worst U.S. economy,” she said. “It just happened.”

March marked the milestone, with a celebration set later in the spring.

The studio began with Moulliet and three part-timers. It now employs a full-time manager, custom painter for finishing pottery, 10 part-time staff and a boss too busy to pick up a paintbrush.

Art Space employs nearly as many people now as the RiverGate shopping center had businesses when the shop arrived.

“It was very lonely at first,” Moulliet said of big box neighbors and a restaurant, initially. “The combination of not knowing anybody proved to be very challenging.”

Art Space sells paint-your-own pottery, fused glass and ornaments.

The center also saw Buffalo Wild Wings open Nov. 19. The restaurant has about 120 employees and 63 televisions or large screens. The other nearest locations are at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, Gastonia and Matthews, N.C.

Diagonally across from RiverGate and across from CMC-Steele Creek, a new urgent care facility opened.

CaroMont Health built a second Charlotte CLiC, CaroMont Health’s convenient, local, immediate care, for Lake Wylie and the Steele Creek community. The clinic is located at 14035 Grandiflora Drive in Charlotte, near two CaroMont family practices — CaroMont Family Medicine — 11010 S. Tryon St., suite 108, Steele Creek, and Village Harbor Drive, Lake Wylie.

The new facility has five exam rooms, a procedure room, an X-ray room, a laboratory draw station, a classroom, and separate sick- and well-waiting rooms. The hours of operation will be 8:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. seven days a week, without the need for an appointment.

Across the main highway from RiverGate at the Harris Teeter shopping center, the third Charlotte-area Nothing But Noodles opened the second week of January in Steele Creek. Kamlesh Shah opened the noodle-variety restaurant offering anything noodle, with prices at $10 or less. Menu items include American, Italian, Asian and specialty takes on noodle dishes. Food is fast and affordable, but not fast food, Shah said.

“It’s a semi-casual restaurant,” he said. “It’s not fast-food, but it’s also not trendy.”

Other changes

•  River Hills Country Club. The course at River Hills was quiet this summer, but hardly for a lack of activity. New general manager Jim Sutton took over in mid-July and, despite duties with tennis and dining along with other club offerings, is focusing “100 percent on the golf course.” Jason Bradley, golf course superintendent, expected a Labor Day weekend opening after one of the most significant upgrades in its history.

“Now, we’ve just got to watch the grass grow,” Sutton said.

The course closed in June to rework the greens and revamp the practice area. A little length was added to the course, but the main effort has been the greens where Bermuda replaces bent grass and 87,000 square feet of putting surface becomes 105,000. The move is designed to better tolerate summer heat and improve play, allowing in places for possibly five- or 10-hole placements compared to two before the switch.

“The putting surfaces are going to be more consistent year-round,” Bradley said. “There’s going to be some adjustment there. For most of our members – for all of our members, actually – it’s going to be a brand new golf course.”

Doug Shifflett, longtime general manager at River Hills, moved in the spring to accept a position at the Governors Club, also in Chapel Hill. Sutton came from his prior club in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The golf course upgrade, paid for by members, was a sign Sutton made the right choice, he said.

“The members believe in this facility,” he said. “They stepped up for this project.”

Sutton oversees a staff that can swell to 60 or 70 members depending on the season.

“The main goal is to have a facility the members can enjoy every day,” Sutton said.

•  Camp Thunderbird. For the second time in three years, Camp Thunderbird was looking for a new leader in September.

Bobby Harris was out as executive director, replaced by interim director Brad Rippetoe. Rippetoe has been with camp for more than a decade, serving most recently as director of operations. Molly Thompson, spokeswoman for YMCA of Greater Charlotte, said Harris resigned “to explore new opportunities.”

“Under Brad’s direction, the camp will run all services as usual,” Thompson said. “There will be no change in offerings.”

Rippetoe came 13 years ago from a Texas camp to lead the environmental education program at Camp Thunderbird. He spent five years there and another six as resident summer camp director prior to the past two as director of operations. Rippetoe sees his role as to “serve as a resource for each of our directors during this time of transition.”

During the past summer, Harris spoke of successes at the camp. Children came from 30 different states and 10 foreign countries. Day camp brought up to 125 children a day, many from the Lake Wylie area. Harris came to Camp Thunderbird in 2010 to replace outgoing director Andy Kane, who led the camp for 12 years.

Saying goodbye

Byrum’s General Store, opened in 1890, closed in Steele Creek.

When it opened, there wasn’t the extensive fishing gear selection catering to anglers on Lake Wylie. There wasn’t a Lake Wylie. The Catawba River hadn’t been dammed.

There wasn’t the constant overhead reminder of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport nearby. This side of balloons, manned flight hadn’t been achieved.

“It’s like losing a part of the family in the Steele Creek area,” said owner Robby Byrum.

Byrum’s closed the end of August. Locals spent the final days reminiscing over hot dog and barbecue plates, swapping old stories and waiting for Byrum to say he wouldn’t close after all. He never did.

“I could’ve stayed open, but I would have to reconfigure the business,” Byrum said. “Business from about 11 to 2:30 is good, but then it dies like the wind.”

Bright future

Bonnie Little, property manager at RiverGate, welcomed the addition of Buffalo Wild Wings at a time when the shopping center is planning to expand. A year ago, developer Childress Klein rezoned 33 acres near RiverGate to add room for retail, restaurant and office park uses. Little said retailers would be “complimentary to the existing stores” at RiverGate.

“It seems the shopping center is doing very well, or we wouldn’t be looking to expand it,” Little said. “We’ve certainly seen ups and downs for our tenants.”

The company said national brands and perhaps an apparel or department store, home fashions or arts and crafts stores could move in. Little expects the first openings by spring 2014.

Childress Klein also is developing the planned 350,000-square-foot outlet center at N.C. 160 and I-485 for Tanger Factory Outlet Centers. That center is slated to open in 2014. Little wasn’t aware of what businesses might go in there or how the facility might affect RiverGate.

Back on the Lake Wylie side of Buster Boyd Bridge, the former River Rat location on S.C. 57 has a new owner. The former restaurant building and 7-acre tract was sold Sept. 10 from TD Bank to Gray Family Properties out of Gastonia, N.C. According to county land records, the price was $800,000.

Gray Family Properties is a leasing company, though the property is being advertised for sale or lease.

Bill Gray said he’d like to see another restaurant in the River Rat building since it’s set up for that use.

For decades, The River Rat was one of the oldest and busiest restaurants in the area. It closed in 2010. In May 2011, it was conveyed to TD Bank.

On the banks of Lake Wylie in Belmont, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden announced a $6 million expansion project for a children’s area on three acres featuring a sunken pond, green roof amphitheater, garden maze, bird nest viewing platform and “magical” cave.

A $2 million gift from Dot and Duke Kimbrell will be matched by donations and naming opportunities, at which point construction should begin. Kara Newport, executive director of the garden, anticipates hitting the $4 million mark in 2013, with the new addition opening about a year later.

The children’s garden will be located just right of the existing canal garden. Lead designer W. Gary Smith wanted to create a unique experience, one that serves as a playground and exploratory space but maintains the feel of the overall garden.

“This is going to have his energy, his enthusiasm, his joy,” Smith said.

The entire garden is 380 acres and includes a visitor pavilion, orchid conservatory, numerous fountains and other features from its main entrance down to Lake Wylie’s shoreline.

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