Gelato? What’s that? Well, gelato is a dense Italian version of ice cream. Gelato contains far less butterfat and lower fat content than American ice cream and is churned slowly thus, making it less airy and because of this its flavors can be more intense than that of ordinary ice cream. There are some more technical differences as well, such as storage temperatures, which is generally stored and served at a warmer temperature than the traditional ice creams.
Ahiskell Delgado is no stranger to the art of creating perfect and delicious gelato. A retired MRI tech dealing mostly with cancer patients, opened her first gelato shop in Mahwah, NJ almost seven years ago. Offering free samples, an infectious smile, and fresh fruits from local markets, she gained quite a fan following serving up almost 1,000 cups of gelato on any given Friday night. Delgado says despite the success of her existing business in Jersey, she just fell in love with Ulmer Park and decided to relocate to Largo. “I could imagine families eating gelato in the gazebo in the park, couples on a date enjoying an evening stroll through the downtown area. I just never thought it would be this empty.”
Dolcini’s Gelato opened in October 2013 as a family venture. Ahiskell along with her father, mother, sister and brother, put everything they had into opening their dream location. They were offered incentives by nearby towns to open their business within their jurisdiction. However, they were excited to be a part of an area that had so much potential for redevelopment; chose 325 West Bay Drive, Downtown Largo. October 14th they celebrated their official grand opening at the Largo 2nd Saturday Market at Ulmer Park. Since the grand opening, it has been a struggle, even with the approximate 40,000 cars that pass by traveling at speeds on average of 45-50 mph, far too fast for anyone to pay any attention to an area trying to ‘redevelop’ and create their own sense of identity. With the closing of Thristy Marlin only a few weeks after Dolcini’s opening, they have seen far less foot traffic and that was one of the driving forces to their business.
I met with Ahiskell last week and was saddened to hear the struggles were so great, they were likely unable to remain open through the end of the month. I was far too familiar with what she was going through. It was enough to worry about the power and water, let alone the rent and materials to make your product to sell. Ahiskell put everything she had into opening Dolcini’s Gelato in Downtown Largo simply because the vision was clear, the potential is there. Sometimes when you see the potential of something so great, you are willing to sacrifice practically everything you have to make it shine at all cost.
We had conversations about how to work together and help fill the vacancies in the West Bay Village as well as other vacancies along West Bay Drive. With Tri-City Plaza being redeveloped, there are several merchants who will need to relocate. What a great opportunity for the existing businesses downtown to show off why Downtown Largo is amazing, to potentially fill the vacancies along West Bay which will add immediate value to the area with tax revenue, in addition to the community value of conveniences the residents wish for. Makes sense, right?
As I took a stroll tonight to go see Ms. Delgado, I stopped into the local hotels in the Downtown corridor and asked what local places they recommended for casual dining, deserts, recreation, a damn good sandwich and a place to get a brew. I was directed to Clearwater Beach for dinner, Dunedin for beer, St. Pete for a sandwich. I completely support the cross marketing of the neighbors and fellow businesses, however, when I was directed out of Largo all together, that bothered me. I asked where I could get ice cream, and I was sent 5 miles out of my way in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, Dolcini’s was within view.
Businesses need to take responsibility for marketing their product for sure, but we as citizens should open our eyes to what surrounds us. Let us pay closer attention to the small businesses in our own neighborhoods and patronize these places. This is what will keep our economy thriving. It does nothing for our local economy to let these small mom and pop shops go out of business. What do you do when there is nothing left to sacrifice?
It is with sadness that I write tonight’s blog knowing that Dolcini’s Gelato has closed it’s doors. The lack of foot traffic in the Downtown district was the driving force for the closure. Ahiskell says the City of Largo’s Scavenger Hunt was a great idea to get people in the door, but it didn’t get people buying their product because everyone was speeding through. She is still hopeful for some kind of miracle, but as of today the doors to Dolcini’s Gelato are closed. A vision of potential does not cause change, it takes action to cause change. Largo has some great things to offer, just as St. Pete, Dunedin and Tampa, we should all share the light upon each other in order to shine the brightest.
I apologize this wasn’t the happy story you were likely expecting. It is reality. It is tough for small businesses to thrive here. Most mom and pop’s don’t always have the financial resources for proper marketing, resources, but most of all the time. Think about this the next time you are zooming around town, anywhere. Stop to take a look at what is around you. Make it a routine to learn about a new local business at least once a week. You are not only helping our local economy, but you are giving the dreamers a chance to shine!
As of today….