Road open: Smallwood Store back in business after six months

Tourists found the road less traveled Sunday on their way to the historic Ted Smallwood Store and Museum in Chokoloskee. It had been six months since anyone could enter the store.

Mamie Street, which runs through a residential area and ends at the historic waterfront Smallwood Store, was abruptly closed to the public six months ago by Florida-Georgia Grove LLP. The store was forced to close after the developer bulldozed a section of the paved road and left a crater in the road. Since then, residents have been driving by, waiting to see what would happen.

The road reopened Wednesday following a lawsuit filed by Collier County and the store.

Alice Morrow unlocked the doors for the first time in six months shortly before 10 a.m. Sunday.

“This was a long time coming,” Morrow said.

She greeted the first customers and museum visitors, Hynek Vyoral and Dana Splechtova of the Czech Republic.

The pair had camped the night before at Collier Seminole State Park and saw information about the Smallwood Store and Museum in the park’s brochure.

“I’m so glad we pulled off the street,” said Splechtova. “You don’t want to find where all the people are. You want to get off the beaten path.”

Splechtova and Vyoral pulled out their fishing poles, preparing to cast their lines behind the museum after soaking in more than an hour of history about the Florida Everglades, including information about area development, fishing, Seminole Indians, alligators, as well as the area’s famous and infamous characters.

The experience at the Smallwood Store and Museum led them to decide to camp for another night, this time in the small village of Chokoloskee.

“When you visit Florida, everywhere is so commercial. This feels so untouched still,” Splechtova said.

Chokoloskee area residents were just as pleased with the reopening.

“Hi, Alice,” said Chokoloskee resident Susan Langner, waving toward the stilted 1906 building as she and her husband Dennis Langner pulled into the store’s parking lot on their bicycles.

“We’re just happy to see the place open again. It’s great to see Alice’s face sticking out the window,” Susan Langner said.

The couple had missed their bike rides down Mamie Street to watch the sunset.

“For the last month, we rode by everyday to see if the (Smallwood Store and Museum temporarily closed) sign was down and if the road was open, if there was any progress,” Susan Langner said.

That sign finally came down at about 10 a.m. Sunday.

“This was devastating,” said Lynn Smallwood-McMillin, executive director of the Smallwood Store and granddaughter of C.S. “Ted” Smallwood, the former postmaster and trading post store owner.

“It was six months yesterday without a paycheck for everyone employed at the store,” said Smallwood-McMillin, who is one of four such employees.

The developers were a few days ahead of their deadline to reopen the road by Saturday. However, the condition of the road is as rocky as the relationship between Florida-Georgia Grove LLP and the community.

“We’re thinking this road probably looked better 100 years ago than it does right now,” said Smallwood-McMillin. “It was a better cow trail and that’s how it started.”

Chokoloskee resident Donna Orner’s head bobbed up and down as she drove a golf cart to her friend’s home on Mamie Street. It was the first time in months she could take the more direct route to the home where she went regularly to walk the dog.

The condition of the road is terrible, Orner said.

“Hopefully, we’ll get a decent road again. It’s still easier than going around the long way though.”

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