Georgia Stone, owner of the Ceramic Gallery in Largo, stands in her shop. Stone plans to close the doors in February.
LARGO – It can be a shock to pull up to a place where you are used to doing business only to have it closed, shut up tight, with no explanation.
But that’s what happened recently to Largo residents Jerry and Marie Conway when they went to eat at Rocky’s Diner at 14400 Walsingham Road.
“We had been there on the 26th of October, and two days later we drive by again, and no lights were on. There was nobody in the parking lot,” Jerry Conway said. “So we checked and realized it was closed, and that’s when we started asking questions.”
The only person who could answer those questions was Tony Houvardas, the owner. The decision to close wasn’t an easy one, he said, but it had to happen because of his health.
“I apologize to my clientele for the sudden decision to close and I want to thank the people of Largo for their support,” he said. “I had been in the hospital a couple of times and I just couldn’t work the way I should have with my physical problems. It was way too demanding, and my wife and I decided to shut it down.”
Houvardas is no stranger to the restaurant business. He comes from a long line of restaurateurs.
“I’m a third generation restaurant operator,” he said. “This business has a soft spot in my heart. I operated it for over three years. Of course, I’ll miss the business. It is my little baby.”
Houvardas says he also will miss the customers, especially the regulars.
“You become very friendly, of course. I understand why people do want to know what is going on,” he said.
For Jerry Conway and his wife, their questions have been answered, but they will miss the place.
“We don’t eat out a lot, but when we did, we enjoyed going there,” he said. “The first time we went in there was after church one Sunday morning, and we were pleasantly surprised. Everybody was very friendly.”
Conway said it wasn’t just them; others enjoyed Rocky’s as well.
“We have friends who come down from Philadelphia, and every time they come they always ask, ‘Are we going to eat at Rocky’s?’”
Rocky is the nickname of Houvardas’s wife, Raquel.
Houvardas said a deal is in place to sell the property to another restaurant operator and it should be finalized by the end of December. But will Rocky’s loyal customers go back?
“We’ll probably try the new place,” Conway said. “But we are definitely disappointed that Rocky’s is closed. It is something we were comfortable with. We liked that place, the price was right, and it was very friendly.”
Ceramic Gallery to close
Just a few blocks to the east of Rocky’s Diner another long established business is at its end. The Ceramic Gallery at 13836 Walsingham will be closing its doors in February. Owner and operator Georgia Stone said it was just time for her to retire.
“Long hours over a couple of careers have taken their toll,” she said. “Now I need some time for Georgia. You just know in your gut that it is time to stop working.”
Stone, who said she is beyond retirement age, has owned the gallery for the past 17 years. It occupies a space in a strip mall and has been there a lot longer than she’s been involved.
“I’m the third owner. This has been here for nearly 40 years,” she said. “Closing the studio is very bittersweet because I enjoy doing it. I have met so many nice people who have become regular customers.”
Stone says the ceramic business has changed considerably over the past several years.
“In the late ’70s and ’80s, there were ceramic businesses on nearly every corner,” she said. “By the time I took over in 1997, the studios were dropping like flies. People could go into the big stores and buy finished ceramics cheaper than they could make it on their own.”
For the past year, the Ceramic Gallery has been listed for sale. Stone said any prospective buyer could purchase the business with all its contents, and she would stay on to help in the transition. But time is running out.
“Come January, I’ll begin a liquidation sale,” she said. “There will be no more painting on the premises, and on Feb. 22, I’m closing the doors and walking away.”
Stone said she’ll spend her retirement time on the weekends going to flea markets and events, or just catching up doing things around the house. In her words, “Doing what normal people do.”