Businesses open in downtown Ocoee

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  • | 10:44 a.m. March 12, 2015
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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OCOEE — Business owners, Matthew’s Hope representatives and area residents, including Commissioner Rusty Johnson, gathered March 6 on McKey Street in historic downtown Ocoee for ribbon-cuttings, with owners hoping to jump-start the restoration and revitalization of the area.

Connie Dean held a grand reopening of her bookstore, The Book Rack, and Denna LeVan hosted the official grand opening of West Side Mercantile & Brocante, her home decor, women’s clothing and furniture store, across the street from Dean. 

Brand Exchange was unable to host a grand opening, but there are plans for it to coincide with Ocoee’s Spring Fling and a McKey Street sidewalk sale March 14. 

The joint March 6 event included drinks, hot dogs and chips, free to the community for helping them to celebrate this occasion.

“In 2001, I retired from Verizon after 30 years of service, and I knew that I’m not a person that can just sit still, so I opened a bookstore,” Dean said. “I bought a bookstore in Maryland, took it to Lakeland and went in partners with a lady, and that went to Hell in a hand-basket real quick.”

Dean came to Ocoee and opened another bookstore at Clarke and Silver Star roads. She was there 15 months before moving to McKey Street in 2004. In 2012, she sold her bookstore and then bought it back this January.

The previous owner had turned the store around, but Dean had lost a once-strong rapport with her customers, which dropped in number from 1,500 to 600, she said. Many do not know she is back from volunteering with Matthew’s Hope and working for Meals on Wheels, but additions such as the merchants’ Facebook page that LeVan runs could help draw customers back, she said.

“We formed a little merchants group, and we’re hoping somewhere in the very near future to have an antique fair and also an art fair,” Dean said. “Just work on some little things to get us started and get our feet off the ground.”

That merchants association, which meets in West Side Mercantile & Brocante, has adopted the name McKey Street Downtown Ocoee Shopping District, composed of 30 locations along McKey Street. Some of the businesses have been on McKey Street for 16 years or more, such as Expressions, a hair salon, and Antiques & Uniques.

Terry Lea Ivy, of Ivy Associates, is the woman Dean and other merchants credit with spearheading the campaign for the merchants to organize.

“We need to kick some fannies and get things going,” Ivy said. “Everything’s going to be ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow.’”

Johnson mentioned that a tie to the West Orange Trail, an appraisal and a property purchase, could be the only things keeping Ocoee officials from moving City Hall to downtown as part of the project to improve the area around State Road 429.

Ivy and the merchants are among many in Ocoee who are discontent with the rate of progress downtown, slow to them compared with neighbors such as Winter Garden. Some lifelong Ocoee residents do not even know the historic downtown exists.

“It’s wonderful for you all to be here and try,” Ivy said to the merchants. “I’ve been hearing promises for 50-some years that I’ve owned that corner, and my family’s owned it before that. It’s still saying, ‘We’re going to do it.’ Well, Winter Garden put that beautiful thing in; what are they going to put down here? If they start putting in some two-bit thing here, I will absolutely have a conniption.”

Ivy lamented how people were able to tear down old wooden homes in that area, citing progress, but she sees history as something to build on, not break down.

“Commissioners have told me, ‘We’re not interested in history — we’re interested in moving forward,’” she said. “And I don’t agree with that. I’m still for the old oak trees in the middle of the road. That’s authentic. The new stuff isn’t authentic.”

But if McKey Street could attract some new local restaurants instead of chains and entertainment venues like art galleries, those could add to authenticity and give people options they usually travel elsewhere for.

For more on the shopping district, including a map created at resident business Portraits Now, visit

Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].


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