“My run is done,” Doug Ganson said Monday morning as he stood behind the cash register during the going-out-of-business sale at Sundrez at the Jacksonville Landing.
Ganson is perhaps Downtown’s longest-tenured independent business owner.
After graduating from college in 1983, he learned the retail store business from his parents, who operated a drugstore Downtown along West Adams Street.
In 1987, Ganson struck out on his own and opened For All Seasons, a convenience store at BellSouth Tower, now EverBank Center. Six years later, he was asked by the Rouse Co., original developers of the Landing, to open a store at the riverfront retail and entertainment facility.
His first venture in the Landing was a 200-square-foot store on the second floor near the former game room. In 2004, he moved into a larger space on the ground floor and then later into an even larger space.
In 2006, Ganson moved Sundrez into the 1,875-square-foot anchor location near the escalators. It’s where the business will come to its end.
“It’s like the death of a child,” Ganson said.
In addition to operating the card and gift store, Ganson has taken on other ventures at the Landing. When the Ice Cream Churn closed in 2007, Ganson took over the location near the doors to the courtyard and renamed it Dipper Dan’s.
In 2008, he cut the ribbon on a full-service U.S. Postal Service Contract Unit inside Sundrez. The next year, Ganson and his brother, Rick, opened Karlene’s Deli & Bakery in the space now occupied by Village Bread Café.
Ganson is a longtime Downtown advocate who was selected by the Downtown Council of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce as its Small Business Leader of the Year in 2006.
Ganson always credited his success to being able to adapt to changing conditions, especially when a business left the Landing.
“When the Sunglass Hut closed, we started selling sunglasses. When the card shop left, we started selling greeting cards. We took over the ice cream shop when it closed. We adapted and we went out for business,” he said.
After rolling with the vagaries of urban-core retail for more than 30 years, Ganson said the lack of progress for Downtown and the sluggish retail environment contributed to making the most difficult business decision of his life –– to close his store.
“No one is more passionate about Downtown than I am,” he said. “But there has been an inability for the political leadership to move Downtown forward. Every administration has failed to achieve their goals. It’s been years of promises, but nothing delivered.”
Ganson also said the recent publicity about the possibility of tearing down the Landing and replacing it with a new retail and residential development has caused many potential customers to stay home.
Sherry Lyford, owner of River City Gourmet Shoppe & Dips2go, agreed the uncertainty over the Landing’s future has affected foot traffic.
“Since the talk of renovation started, business has decreased and the water taxi fiasco didn’t help,” Lyford said, referring to the recent temporary suspension of river shuttle service. “It’s been one thing after another.”
Losing the store at the Landing where customers could find everything from antacid tablets to Zippo lighters probably won’t help the foot traffic.
“It’s going to affect all of us,” Lyford said.
Landing partner Toney Sleiman did not return a phone call for comment, but General Manager Janice Lowe, who has worked at the Landing since Ganson opened his first store, said the store leaving has meaning for her beyond the loss of a longtime tenant.
“I hate losing Doug. He’s a friend,” she said.
On the other hand, losing tenants and gaining tenants is part of the shopping center business.
Cherish Couture, a women’s fashion store, recently relocated to Regency Square Mall.
Koja Sushi, which had been a popular restaurant for 11 years on the second floor along the St. Johns River, closed in August. Lowe said a new operator, Sushi House, is scheduled to open this week in the space.
Vito’s Italian restaurant also has closed its doors near the courtyard and fountain.
The Landing food court, which has not been fully leased for years, has adopted a six-day schedule, closing on Sundays unless there is an event Downtown.
The food court will be open Sunday in anticipation of customers coming Downtown for the Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Indianapolis Colts game at EverBank Field.
Lowe said “locations go through cycles.” A card, gift and convenience store and an ice cream vendor are “definite needs.” Potential tenants already have expressed interest in the Sundrez space, she said.
Even though he won’t be opening his store next week as he has each day for decades, Ganson said he’s proud of what he was able to accomplish.
“Sundrez did more to attract people to the Landing than any other business,” he said. “It’s been a great experience. I had fun.”
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