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Sun Sentinel 10/10/04
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From north to south U.S. 441/S.R.
7 is a route of contrasts
By Robert Nolin
Up Broward County's spine it runs arrow-straight, an untamed asphalt river. But
no name dignifies what is arguably the county's most important surface street, only
a number. Two actually:
State Road 7. U.S. 441.
But any of those frustrated drivers making up to 55,000 trips a day along 441 may
have more choice names for the rough-and-tumble workaday street. And those names,
like the road itself, ain't pretty. Decades of neglect among the 14 local governments
through which State Road 7 flows have resulted in a thoroughfare that's more like
the Star Wars cantina scene than any cohesive run of highway.
The 26-mile-long street is a teeming, yeasty reflection of the county it spans.
A victim of lax planning and fruit salad zoning. A rocky road of transmission shops,
used-car marts, ghost-town malls and adult bookstores fringed by dusty gravel parking
lots. Pawnshops, open-air markets, casinos and cheap smoke shops beckon to passing
Like Broward, State Road 7 is a place of clashing contrast: old and new, rich and
poor, pretty and not-so-pretty. Its northern reaches are graced with new construction,
all skirted with elegant landscaping. Its southern end is aged and whimsy-free,
all grit and serious business.
But from the Palm Beach County line to the chaotic Miami-Dade border in the south,
what characterizes State Road 7 most is its thriving commercialism.
And far from loathing their sometimes seedy locale, many merchants love -- and profit
from -- being here. State Road 7, they say, serves a much-needed purpose: It's a
Main Street for the 20 percent of the county's population that lives within a mile
of this vibrant money stream.
"People flock to 441," one restaurant manager says, "because no matter
where they go on 441, they're going to find what they need."
To fully appreciate a windshield tour of State Road 7, cut off the A/C, crank down
the glass and savor the sights, sounds and diesel-perfumed air.
Journeying north from the Miami-Dade line, the street's dichotomy is at once apparent.
To the east, an upscale Lexus dealership (site of a long-gone community pool), across
the street, a small "cash deal, pay here" used car lot. It's the start
of a long procession of such lots, many sprouting tricolor gardens of American flags.
In one five-mile stretch along 441's lower end, there are more than 150 auto-related
businesses: outlets for tires, body work, air conditioning, stereos or washes.
At Hub Cap Heaven in unincorporated Broward, less than a mile north of County Line
Road, Carolyn Sampson, along with her brother John Shale, runs the business started
34 years ago by their father, John P. Shale.
She has witnessed the changes from two rural lanes with cows roaming nearby to the
crowded, four-lane entity 441 is today.
"441 was out in the boondocks," Sampson says. "There were no car
stores, I know that."
But the street changed, and is changing still.
Sampson recently, at the county's demand, spent more than $50,000 to landscape her
lot even though some of that greenery will be lost when the road is widened to six
lanes next year.
"When they widen the street, it's going to look better," she says.
Whatever your tastes
But looks aren't everything on State Road 7. Culinary options abound.
You can sample Haitian or Peruvian fast food, Cuban black beans, Thai curry or Jamaican
jerk chicken. There are open-air fruit and vegetable markets, ice cream parlors,
hot dog stands, Oriental and West Indian groceries.
For appetites less physical, there are storefront psychics, churches, 10-cent bingo
and adult bookstores. You can get tattooed, tinted, insured, braided, beepered,
pedicured, and even recruited into the military.
Along Hollywood Boulevard is a veritable cornucopia of any and every good you may
never need at the Millennium Super Mall. The cavernous structure with brick pavers
and modern facade opened a year ago. Dozens of kiosk operators vend their wares
in flea-market fashion. Finding a parking spot by the entrance is easy; the mall
is echoingly empty during the week.
Salespeople watch Spanish-language TV or beckon passers-by to counters full of inexpensive
perfume, costume jewelry, discount luggage or plastic flowers. Sylvia Dougall makes
do peddling bargain shoes and summery dresses from a humble booth, netting as much
as $200 a day during busy weekends. Common folk are her clientele.
"Expensive things, they're not going to sell," she says.
Protected turtle trade
At Stirling Road, where the street's flow broadens to six spanking new lanes, past
the Tepee Western Wear and Delaware Chicken Farm & Seafood Market, just beyond
the "Live Turtles" sign, you'll find Jim Archer. Beneath a chickee hut,
with straw hat and cigarillo, Archer presides over several water-filled bins crawling
with tiny pet turtles.
Among the 17 species for sale are red-eared sliders, snappers, cooters and yellow
bellies. Twenty-five dollars gets you two turtles, a plastic pool, gravel and six
weeks worth of food. Archer sells about 200 a week and boasts a steady clientele
of homeowners who stock backyard ponds with his reptiles.
While sale of the little slowpokes is prohibited for health reasons in nearly every
state, Archer says, he can ply his trade with impunity here -- he's on sovereign
territory: the Seminole Indian Reservation. An old friend of the tribe, Archer sets
up by the Anhinga Indian Trading Post. But the 65-year-old turtlemonger is no fan
of current efforts to "civilize" the old State Road 7 he loves.
"I hated to see it developed," he says, pointing across the street to
where the new $279 million Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino rises white against
the sky. "We had about 100 chickee huts back there."
"Back there" includes the site of the majestic oak where tribal leaders
once met in council. It's now surrounded by a parking lot, spreading lonely limbs
between the bingo hall and smoke shop.
a kinder, gentler road
State Road 7 does have its pastoral pockets. North of Griffin, by Orange Drive,
the Dania Canal cutoff slips under the road in lazy Huck Finn fashion, unnoticed
by motorists above. Nearby, a couple dozen vessels are berthed at a nameless marina
by a shaded, sleepy trailer park. Flies buzz. A man casts a bait net from the banks
of the canal that moseys seven miles to the Intracoastal Waterway.
Toward the confluence of Interstate 595, the street's commercialism gives way to
a torrent of speeding cars. It's also where the mechanisms of modern infrastructure
seem to converge. On the east side squats a landfill, a pungent earthen pyramid.
On the west, the parking lot of a heavy equipment firm is filled with cranes, arms
uplifted like a hallelujah chorus. There's a waste processing center, and farther
up the road an architecturally curious water treatment plant that looks like a cross
between a Swiss chalet and southwestern mission.
State Road 7 becomes benevolent in Plantation. Precious shade is found on leafy
medians and tree-lined sidewalks. Palms mark the entrances to subdivisions that,
instead of businesses, now belly up to the street. Modest motels appear, a rarity
on 441. Another rarity: bus stop shelters, here in old-fashioned brick and wood.
There are actual curbs and sidewalks. Storefronts sit back from the street. Past
Oakland Park Boulevard is another indicator of change: the St. Croix project, a
$23 million complex of affordable housing and retail shops, now under construction
in eye-catching colors.
"I personally think that 441 is a great investment," says Juleana Anaganstopoulos,
co-owner of the News Diner in Tamarac, a 20-year-old institution where the waitresses
really do call you honey and the pies really are fresh.
Like other merchants, Anaganstopoulos sees State Road 7's traffic as a big plus.
Many of her customers are commuters. "You have to take 441 to get wherever
you're going," she says. "This area is always full."
Also in Tamarac is a small enclave of Chinese businesses nestled in a nondescript
plaza. There is a grocery, restaurant, seafood store, and acupuncture and herb shop.
Dozens meet here annually to celebrate the Chinese new year.
"The Chinese people, they gather in this area," said Diana Wong, who started
it all 15 years ago when she opened the Hong Kong Market, where customers from as
far away as Key West and West Palm Beach to buy Chinese videos, medicine or magazines.
Other Chinese merchants gravitated to the plaza and opened their own businesses.
"This 441 seems like it's in the middle. It's easy to get here," Wong
a swanky cruise
Indeed, the northern stretches of State Road 7 are a different incarnation from
its southern half. In Coconut Creek, Margate and Coral Springs the road opens up.
Cow pastures are fertile fields for development, where townhouses with names such
as "The Preserve" spring up. Development being new here, the cities make
sure it's done with landscaping, setbacks and strict zoning.
Businesses reflect the area's suburban nature. The used car lots have become high-end,
modern dealerships. There are karate schools, dance classes, bowling alleys, upscale
restaurants, medical clinics and office parks.
Past the Sawgrass Expressway is a plaza called Coral Creek Shops, the antithesis
of the ramshackle strip malls at State Road 7's bottom end. Here you can browse
in a pottery studio, order a gourmet sandwich, work out in an exclusive health center
or enjoy a manicure at a swanky spa.
"Everything's fresh," says Barbara Trubatch, owner of Crown Collectibles
& Gifts, where a Last Supper statuette goes for $125. "It's just a higher-income
customer base. It's trendy."
That customer base reaches its peak at Parkland's Millennium Plaza, the northernmost
plaza on the street. At the upscale Café Bella Sera, manager Tony Fausto
extols the virtues of State Road 7.
"441 has the most business power I can see," he says. "Nothing but
people making money, people providing the consumer with services."
Even the street's grittier southern end exists to fill a need, Fausto says.
"People think that a low-income area is a bad area, but it's not," he
says. "People gotta eat, people gotta buy clothes -- what better place to go
Robert Nolin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-385-7912.