Miami-Dade

Longtime patrons abuzz as small mall at corner of Red and Bird roads prepares to close

 

hcohen@MiamiHerald.com

Time seemed to have stopped at the little strip mall with no name on the intersection of Bird Road and Red Road, just a block west of Coral Gables’ city limits. The little parcel of land, a shade over two acres, seems such a quaint slice of Americana it could serve as a movie lot for a film set in 1949 — the year this stretch of retail was built.

None-too-fancy, its shops, on two narrow, parched strips of asphalt that serve as a parking lot off the busy thoroughfare, place more emphasis on the services they provide over original names: Karate. Red Bird Shoe Repair and Dry Cleaning. Wholesale Antique Center. Optometrists.

Look closer and some names stand out: Beehive Natural Foods, Sweet Art by Lucila, 1909 Cafe. The most famous name isn’t officially a denizen here: Allen’s Drugs is smack on the corner of Red and Bird, a beacon for generations for its old-fashioned luncheon counter, shakes, watch repair and everyday supplies.

The clock, however, is moving on this mall and these shops.

By the end of January everyone, except Allen’s, which is separated from the strip mall by a narrow alleyway, will be out. A new CVS is to be the sole occupant of this land, along with a redesigned parking lot. The CVS will compete with a Walgreens across the street in the Red Bird Shopping Center — not to mention Allen’s and its distinct Back to the Future flavor.

The landlord, Carmen Batista has given the merchants until January “to get out of Dodge,” Diana Del Valle said last week after 32 years repairing shoes in this space.

(Batista would not return several phone calls over two days from the Herald. A representative from E.F. Alvarez and Company said the firm handles the accounting for Batista but would not comment on the coming changes.)

Del Valle is one of the lucky ones who has found a new home. Her shoe repair shop has relocated to 2248 SW 57th Ave., not too far away.

Lucila’s shop owner Katherine Leyva said a new storefront hasn’t been secured yet. Until then, the Website for Lucila’s lists other locations in Doral, The Falls and Pembroke Pines where the sweets can be found.

And, perhaps the homiest shop of them all, Beehive Natural Foods, the health-food store with overstuffed shelves crammed to the gills with dusty vitamin jars, Nag Champa incense, remedies and drugs is set to move by December to a new space at 6490 Bird Road.

Regulars fret over the future of the hole-in-the-wall Beehive Juice Bar and restaurant counter in the back of this ’70s time capsule. Chef Carlos Schicchi subleases space from Beehive owner Bob Penna, who has been here since 1980.

“I’m nervous. People are concerned [about] where he’s going to go and want to follow. I would like it to be around here,” said customer Ana Gloria who has lunched at the Beehive for six years. The tiny counter, manned by “juice king” Tom Neubert and Schicchi, “brings the community together in a healthy environment. They come because they like the ambience and the home cooking,” she said.

Penna and Schicchi hope to finalize a deal where their 23-year business arrangement can continue at the new location.

“We have our regular customers,” Penna said.

“Possibly,” Schicchi said hopefully of making the move in tandem. “It would be a good location right next to it and most likely we are going to keep that synergy with the health food store. We’ve been working with the community for many years, and now second- and third-generation kids from next-door at karate now bring their own kids.”

Dishes at the simple eight-stool food counter focus on whole grains, tofu, tempeh, lentils and split pea soup, and eschew dairy, eggs and animal products. The amiable Schicchi, a Sao Paulo native who rode the macrobiotic wave in Brazil in the 1980s and who opened his juice bar in 1993 after a Miami vacation turned into a permanent stay, “can charm a sample of lentil soup into the hands of the most devout beef lover,” his son Gabriel teased from his home in New York City.

“It’s the absolute best place in Miami for juices, organic food and vegan food. It’s amazing. Carlos and Tom are the best, and Carlos is an institution,” said regular Rhonda Rodriguez of West Miami, who has been coming nearly for at least 15 years.

“It’s like Cheers, a neighborhood hangout. It’s just a treat to come here almost every day, not only for the food but for the company,” she said.

Schicchi, 55, who previously operated vegetarian restaurants in London and Austria, says his counter draws clientele from as far north as Palm Beach and as far south as Key West. The Beehive bunch come for the Seitan whole wheat empanada or tofu picadillo, with soybean curd ladled into seasoned tomatoes sauce with peas and raisins. Or the whole wheat pita sandwiches festooned with sprouts and veggies.

“We have many customers who are not totally vegetarian but come mainly because the food is very rich, healthy and tastes phenomenal,” Schicchi said while on a quick break before the lunch rush turned the back of the store into a standing-room-only scene. Schicchi will serve anywhere from 60 to 180 meals daily. According to a 2011 poll conducted by Harris Interactive for the Vegetarian Resource Group, about 5 percent of Americans identify themselves as vegetarian. Vegetarian Times reported that year that 1 million Americans are vegans who will bypass all animal products.

The industry “has gone through many changes. Not so much on the looks of it but the industry has increased tremendously in the last 10 to 15 years. We’ve been through many phases — Argentine-style, the South Beach Diet. We always adjust. Now there’s gluten-free products to cater to their needs,” Schicchi said.

Still others swarm to the “Hive” for Neubert’s juices, such as the carrot beverage he concocted on a recent afternoon. Neubert goes through 100 cups a day of juices or smoothies in this small space.

“It’s a shame because a lot of businesses have been here 30, 40 years and it’s going to be replaced with one business,” Neubert, 45, said. “Some of the businesses are going far away. The karate people come here to have a smoothie or go down to the sandwich shop. Maybe they use the shoe repair or eye glass place. So now they will all be separated. I’ve been coming to the store since 1986.”

Del Valle encountered sticker shock when she learned this summer she had to move.

“What first went through my head was chaos, like, oh my God, now what? After being 32 years in one location I had no idea how the rents were out there and what was new in the business world. My initial thought was I would go across the street because they have several spots open but they want $5,000 to $6,000 for [monthly] rent. For shoe repair? Do you know how many shoes I’d have to repair? Quite. A. Few.”

Del Valle was paying about $1,800 monthly rent in the old location. “I was lucky to find something on 57th Avenue, just pure luck.”

For Rodriguez, she will miss the old-school charm of this dusty place time has passed by: “There are enough CVS’s in Miami but not enough Beehives and juice bars, so it’s sad this will take the place.”

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.

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