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St. Pete Pier businesses soak up final weekend

6:33 PM, May 26, 2013   |    comments
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The St. Petersburg Pier's current "inverted pyramid" design.
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- "I'm soaking it in as much as I can," says John McKinley.

He's soaking in the sun and the unimaginable idea of the St. Petersburg Pier disappearing. As the inverted pyramid closes on Friday night, so will McKinley's business, Wheel Fun Rentals, which sits just outside the pier's doors.

"This is just such a great place to come to work every day, looking back at the city, sitting here on the water," McKinley says. "It's going to be a sad time."

He's pedaling forward with plans to open up elsewhere, and is working with the city to find another place to call home. He says he's confident he'll be somewhere on the waterfront soon.

But without the appeal of the pier, some businesses fear losing customers, especially tourists from around the world.

"First time that I wore one of these signs that said it was my birthday, I got happy birthday sung to me in five different languages in the same day," says Rebecca Johnson, a candlemaker at Global Candle Gallery.

As Johnson celebrates her birthday, she also faces the possibility of losing her job. She'll try to transfer to another location once the pier closes, but there are no guarantees.

"I met my fiance here. I've worked here 10 years," she says. "Where else are you going to be a quarter mile out in the water in an upside down five story pyramid? It's just a crazy place."

But the end is already in sight. MJToons, a store that sold t-shirts, toys, and novelties, has gone dark. A sign on the door says there are no plans to re-open in the area.

And after 37 years, today is the last day for the Pier Bait House. Instead of relocating, a handwritten sign at the entrance says the owner is moving to Georgia. It also says, "There will be no Lens," referring to the design set to replace the pier.

"Stop the Lens" signs can also be seen placed in windows and hung on walls at businesses across the pier.

"When I see the sun go down on that Friday," Johnson says, "I'm going to start crying. It's going to be very sad."

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