PANAMA CITY BEACH-- On the corner of Hutchison and R. Jackson Boulevards, you'll find Panama City Beach's ghost town. Tumbleweeds may not be rolling where the old Publix supermarket once sat, but you will hear the sounds of crickets. Every store remains vacant… except one.
"We know it's not busy like before," said Andy Nguyen, owner of the nail salon.
"I was afraid they were going to have to leave," said customer Dianne Allen. "(But) they're still here, and so are we."
Publix abandoned ship in 2009 and soon everyone else followed suit, except for the salon.
"I like it here, the location here," said Katie Phan, Andy's wife and part owner. "I have regular customers come back."
Andy and Katie have survived the mass exodus. Their nail shop may not have any company…
"Oh, before it was very busy," said Katie.
But the company they do have, its customers, keeps the business gods from putting the final "nails" in their coffin.
"Sometimes it's OK. Sometimes it's slow," said Katie.
"I've looked around and I still think here's a good location," said Andy. "I hope one day somebody will come and open new business. It'd be helpful to my business too."
"In the past like six years I think business has been steady," said daughter Minh Nguyen. "It's always been locals keeping this place alive."
"We want them to stay in business," said Allen. "It's just hard to find somebody else that knows what you want when you come in the door."
Since Publix left, business has been hard to nail down at times for the family.
"My parents are old fashioned and they're like, 'no, we don't want to move. We're good,'" said Minh.
But they say they do OK. They say they look forward to the day when the center will bustle again.
"Yes, I'd really like it if people come and open shops," said Katie. "I need the neighborhood (neighbors.)"
"My wife is confident because we've worked here a long time; we still have some customers," said Andy.
"This is it," said Minh. "My parents don't want to deal with any more contracts or looking for places, advertising. They've put a lot of improvements into the store since they bought it and this is their investment."
NewsChannel 7 spoke to Fred McLaughlin whose company owns the shopping center. He says even though Publix left six years ago, they were still paying $50,000 a month in rent up until recently. He says part of that contract stated the owners of the center could not put any shops in that sold anything Publix on Back Beach Road sold, which is just about everything. He says now that the lease has ended, he hopes to breathe new life into the center.
"I hope it will help my parents in the long run," said Minh. "Anything to help them really."
"Oh yea, I hope every day," said a laughing Katie.
"And it would be nice to see kind of life going on again and maybe get the parking lot fixed," said Allen.
But in the meantime, they'll have to count on their regulars, who so far haven't let them down.
"I very (much) appreciate our customers," said Andy. "They love us and come back to us."
"They really take care of me," said Allen. "They do a good job. They're wonderful to visit with. You can just tell they're good people."
"I so love my job," said Andy.
Andy and Katie also do alterations at the shop. They're open six days a week. They're closed on Sundays.