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Chad Winters has a story that tells you all you need to know about the clientele that frequents the Rathbone Village shopping center.

Winters, who now co-owns Leon's Gourmet Grocer, was a manager there when the massive October 1997 snowstorm hit.

Power to the neighborhood was completely knocked out, and the day after the storm, Leon's wasn't open, the only time in his more than 30-year career that Winters can remember the store being closed.

He went down to check on the store that morning and noticed that an entire load of firewood, which had just arrived the day before, was gone.

His first thought was that it had been stolen, but when he opened the doors to the store, tucked inside he found cash in envelopes, loose bills on the floor and IOU notes from neighbors who had taken the firewood to heat their homes because they were without power.

"We literally accounted for every bundle of firewood," Winters said.

Leon's is the grand dame of the shopping center, having opened there in 1952, before any of the other buildings were built.

More buildings followed a few years later, and now the retail and office center stretches for more than two blocks south from the intersection of South Street and Winthrop Road, all the way to the back end of the playground at Sheridan Elementary School.

Like all neighborhood shopping centers, it's gone through tough times.

Winters recounted a time several years ago when buildings across the street were vacant for an extended period of time. He said he and his staff mowed the lawn and pulled weeds to keep the site from becoming an eyesore.

Now, the center is as full with tenants as it's been in a long time.

Among the new businesses populating the neighborhood shopping center over the past year are Cooper & Co., Stur 22, Fresh Salon, Wink Lash Studio, and 33rd Street Hair Studio.

They join a slew of longtime businesses that, in addition to Leon's, includes Dancewares Inc., Lincoln Yoga Center and Mail Plus.

Winters said it's "a big deal," to get new tenants. It helps keep the center vibrant and fresh, and it helps to draw in more potential customers for all the businesses.

One of those new businesses, Cooper & Co., found the "building of our dreams," at 2211 Winthrop Road.

The store, which sells home decor and furniture, got its start in College View in 2015, but the owners quickly realized that the space wasn't big enough for what they wanted to do, so they started looking for a new location.

Shane Olson, who owns the business along with her mom, Diane Cooper, and sister Natalie Cooper, said they had two criteria: a one-story building and lots of parking.

From being regular customers at Leon's, they knew the building across the street at 2211 Winthrop Road would fit the bill, but they doubted the owner wanted to sell.

"We approached the owner anyway and he said he would consider it," Olson said in an email. "Less than six months later, we found ourselves in the building of our dreams. It fulfills all of our needs to grow our business and more."

Since they opened there in May 2017, "we have been blown away by Lincoln's response," Olson said.

"So many neighbors, business owners and Sheridan Elementary staff have reached out to introduce themselves," she said. "Our neighbors at NewsLink next door have made an extreme effort to make us feel welcome. We feel so at home here and feel blessed to spend our days in such a cheerful and friendly environment."

Winters echoed that sentiment.

"We love the neighborhood. We love the people," he said.

"We're really lucky to be where we're at."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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