In the Know: Who's the new guy? And what's up with Lucky's?
I’m proud to have grown up in Southwest Florida. And now I’m definitely proud of serving as your In the Know columnist.
This column is supposed to be about you, and I hate talking about myself, but the bosses said an introduction was in order. They think you might be interested.
So here I am:
Unforeseen circumstances set the foundation
I grew up in the Edison Park neighborhood of Fort Myers and often wandered next door to the property of Thomas Edison's winter home with a buddy of mine whose dad worked on the grounds.
With a little mischief here and there, I also learned a lot about problem-solving and kind of latched onto the great inventor’s formula for creativity and success: “There’s a better way to do it. Find it.”
Later, as a reporter and editor here in Southwest Florida and elsewhere covering topics such as growth and development, that translated into challenging the status quo. Making the community better. Asking questions. Is this the best leaders can do for our residents? Is this the right thing? Pretty simple. Not enemy of the people, but advocate for the people. This is my home, too.
I’m not afraid to experiment. I look at every breath as an opportunity to learn or teach or fail, realizing that if a concept at a particular moment doesn’t pan out, you cut bait and move on because there are 364 more days to test something else. That’s probably why my clothes don’t match sometimes.
The son of immigrants, I treasure the freedoms that come with living in the United States including the Freedom of the Press. Passionate about that one, about preserving our democracy. Thank you, Mom and Dad.
Somehow, as a teenager, I ended up working weekends in a narrow back room of the customer service department answering phones at our sister paper, The News-Press. Somehow, that teenager got pulled into a story assignment with a newsroom guy he didn’t know named Allen Bartlett, who was looking for a Spanish speaker in the building to help him seek and interview a woman who had sold her child. Somehow, that teenager ended up eventually becoming a writer for Allen, who later was a key editor here for the Naples Daily News before retiring last year. He is the most talented and knowledgeable leader and journalist I know.
Inspired by Allen, I went on to provide leadership at The Orlando Sentinel and Atlanta Journal-Constitution and serve as the editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times and other publications in the southern Appalachian Mountains.
My path brought me back to Florida in recent years when former Sun Coast Media Group Owner David Dunn-Rankin was looking to shake up his otherwise outstanding Sarasota and Charlotte County community newspapers. They were lacking something.
He wanted watchdog journalism. He got it.
For unexplained reasons, prisoners were dying in state prison. Seemingly no one was being held culpable. Ace reporter Adam Kreger and I wanted to know why, and shed light on conditions that would allow an inmate, for example, to get beaten to death by a dozen or so guards, and no charges be filed. Our opinion writers, largely John Hackworth, took our stories and coverage, and spun editorials, and the Pulitzer Prize went to the Sun — one of the smallest organizations to ever win one. And changes have occurred in the prison system. Just not nearly enough, and journalists continue to probe.
Now, I’m home, and I’m so excited to serve you. But enough about me.
This column, as I said, is about you. By subscribing to the newspaper and the website, you are constituents. My goal is to give you as much of a voice as I can. It won’t be easy as our population in Collier County approaches 400,000 residents, not to mention another nearly 100,000 in south Lee.
Every new business, every new project, every new development potentially affects you. Maybe it’s traffic. Environment. Jobs. Taxes. Quality of life.
And that’s why you have questions. My job is to get the answers to them.
Many of you are seeing the changes in the Bayshore Drive corridor, the Waterside Shops and downtown Naples. We have grocery stores, hotels and restaurants coming or evolving and occasionally closing from Marco Island to Immokalee.
And trust me, we all want to know more about the Rural Fringe, a moniker that sounds like it’s a forbidden land controlled by dinosaurs. Turns out I was somewhat right. Gators are in charge.
All right. Let's get started. Let's have fun.
No luck with Lucky's
Sue Terry of Estero had this inquiry:
“Is Lucky's unlucky or something? Seems like the location in North Naples should be completed. Any info on progress?”
As I touched on in a recent web update, there is no progress on this one and on spots planned in Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Port Charlotte and Venice. The future North Naples Lucky’s Market, located at Gateway Shoppes near Wiggins Pass Road, looks ready to go with its familiar logo and other trimmings but remains empty. The fast-growing grocery chain of about 40 stores delayed opening it this year.
The organization wants to get its new Lucky’s distribution center in Orlando, meant to streamline produce faster to the 21 Florida locations, up and operating before opening a few additional locations.
"Our goal is to open these stores with distribution through our new local distribution center," said Krista Torvik, a spokeswoman for the Colorado-based grocery chain,
The changing of gears caused some skepticism, and the chain has had a hiccup or two along the way, with closings in Kentucky this year and Iowa in 2018. But Torvik said not to worry. Florida is for Lucky's lovers.
"We are absolutely still moving forward with opening many new stores and are working to open Wiggins Pass and Port Charlotte early next year," said Torvik, noting a goal of the first three months of 2020. "People in Florida really like our concept of healthy eating, healthy lifestyles and good food at great prices."
For Cape Coral, Fort Myers and south Sarasota County, the plan is not as clear.
"We do have plans to open additional stores in Venice, Fort Myers and Cape Coral in 2020, but I don’t have a firm timeline to share with you on those stores," she said. "We are excited to keep opening more stores in Florida."
There are a pair of other area options for Collier although they require a little bit of driving for Lee Countians.
Collier's market in East Naples and the other on Naples Boulevard, which opened this year, are your closest Lucky's stops in Southwest Florida for beer drinking while shopping.
Yes, beer, or some other beverage that can make your day.
Known as the “Sip & Stroll” program, customers can purchase a $2 pint of beer or $3 glass of wine or fresh-pressed juice, “Nitro” coffee or Kombucha tea to savor while shopping. You can add a special beer holder or two for your cart.
I asked Torvik how business was going at those stores, and how they rank in the chain in terms of sales.
"Both of our Naples stores have been doing really well and have a loyal following," Torvik said, not providing specifics. "They’ve been positively received by the Naples community."
The company said it signed a lease for the 120,000-square-foot shopping center in early July.
Not cutting to the chase
Never have been a big fan of the word "shave".
Something about placing a sharp instrument near one's own throat. So sometimes I skip a day or two or three, for my own personal safety, of course.
My wife says quit complaining. Tougher for women to shave than men, she says.
But I digress. A debate or poll for another day.
These days, the word doesn't bother me as much as it used to, ever since the popularizing of the term, shaved ice. Things that make you go Hmmmm. Things that make you go Yummmm. Didn't we used to call these snow cones?
Certainly, The Shaved Ice Bar's Shave Shack digs the word. I mean, the word, shave, twice in the name of the new place that's going to roll into the East Naples food truck mecca known as Celebration Park off Bayshore Drive on Oct. 1. Hours will be noon to 10 p.m. Tuesday though Sunday.
Now, there is already a Shaved Ice Bar that founder Hy Brownstein opened in University Village in Estero last year if you can't wait another month to sample one of his funky concoctions.
This will be the mad scientist's second location where you might find innovations like his Maryelin’s Mystical Merry-Go Round that involves the fusion of cotton candy with all types of sweet evil, or The Grand Maradiaga, which features something called Tigers Blood. Yeah, good luck with that one.
Treat yourself:Five places to get shaved ice in Southwest Florida
Crumblin' down at the Coastland Center
HONC Destruction, a well-known name in the region, has demolished thousands of commercial and residential buildings the past 17 years in Southwest Florida.
But none of them compare to its ongoing obliteration of the old Sears at Coastland Center in Naples.
The 165,000-plus-square-foot project is the Lee County-based company’s largest to date, and it may be October before it's completely done wrecking the place.
The removal is in preparation for construction of a planned luxury six-screen movie theater and 354 additional parking spaces, among other amenities. If constructed, CMX Cinébistro would be the first cinema at Coastland in decades.
“We are excited to be a part of a project of this magnitude,“ said David Mulicka, President of HONC Destruction.
To Mulikca, it's not knocking down. The work of his crew clears the path for new life.
“Transforming the site is key to help revitalize the space, and we look forward to witnessing the growth and opportunity it will bring to Naples and the surrounding community,” he said.
Demolition debris will be sorted into wood, concrete, metal, rock, cardboard and fill material at HONC’s recycling facility, where more than 80% of it will be recycled, repurposed or sold.
Among other projects, Honc has been involved in demolition ahead of the Margaritaville project on Fort Myers Beach.
Founded in 2002, the family-owned business is one of several separately owned companies started by schoolmates of mine and their parents on Pine Island that carry the HONC family name.
They've evidently taken over the world while I was away. The brand seems to materialize at just about every bus bench, billboard and baseball game. HONC expanded operations in 2015 to include the recycling center, which quickly has become the largest by capacity in Southwest Florida.
With a goal of recycling more than 90% of its construction and demolition debris by the end of 2019, the company wants to operate the most efficient recycling facility in Lee County.
Demolition is big business, and it's growing.
As the construction industry continues to see growth, Big Rentz, a company specializing in large equipment, projects demolition work to grow at a rate of 3.3% through 2022 in the U.S.
More than 26,000 are employed by 4,500 demolition companies nationally, according to Ibis World research.
Figuring Coastland's relatively new owners would be excited about the future, I reached out several times to them the past two weeks or so including stopping by their office on a Wednesday afternoon, but to an avail. Even emailed them the questions so there would be no surprises for them. Also, security did not welcome attempts to visually capture the work from the mall parking garage, but innovative photographer Alex Driehaus figured out a way above the green-covered fences from public areas like the sidewalks.
Not making public comments has been the practice for a tiny number of the nation's mall operators, who have had a tough time of it as consumers' habits have changed.
Doesn't seem like a lack of transparency would help the situation or in representing their store owners, who in some locales fork over hundreds of dollars per square foot to lease.
Curiously, a personal favorite, Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" blared overhead as I made the rather lonely walk that Wednesday toward the mall exits. Seems like an odd selection for a shopping melody rotation, but that kind of covers it all.
Brief break for Inn on Fifth, but not for the boss
Nothing silent about latest upgrade at The Inn on Fifth & Club Level Suites in downtown Naples. On Tuesday, the inn closed the doors to its main landmark building but just for a little while, and there's plenty abuzz.
"Major" renovation is ongoing, with completion in early October, according to Phil McCabe, owner of the hotel, who has been very generous with his time and very open.
Look for more on the project and other doings (he always has something going) in a future column and beyond. The $5 million project targets all 119 guest rooms and includes a complete redo of the hotel’s rooftop pool deck and courtyard. Even with the work, the hotel’s 32 Club Level Suites, located directly across the avenue, will remain open.
Disney stores are opening later this year inside 25 Targets around the nation, but Collier and Lee counties did not make the initial list. Your best shot will be driving up to Clearwater in October when it debuts.
But you Mickey Mouse, Elsa and Kim Possible fans (you know who you are) don't despair. Forty more locations are to be announced for October 2020 premieres.
Besides lots of Magic Kingdom love, what else does Target get out of it? Locating a department store just outside the gates of Walt Disney World in Orlando in 2021.
Popeyes is poppin'
Perhaps not as extensive after last month's launch, but the lines continue at the new Popeyes in the Naples area.
Fortunately, the madness doesn't appear to have risen to the level seen at a Texas Popeyes a few days ago when a man pulled a gun after being told the restaurant had run out of its insanely popular chicken sandwich. No was hurt thankfully,
As it turned out, Popeyes has sold out of the chicken sandwich nationwide, and no new date has been set for its return.
So how interested are you in Popeyes? Other than Hurricane Dorian, air travel and yeah, pythons, Popeyes was August's most popular news subject on https://www.naplesnews.com and https://www.news-press.com, based on new data I received Friday.
Tyler Hellriegel is among the Popeyes devotees. He missed out on the first day of the Naples area restaurant, but longed to address his spicy chicken fix.
So there he was, first in line, almost 45 minutes before opening time on the restaurant chain's second day.
The 18-year-old Naples resident's plan for Day 1 didn't work out. A friend who lives across from the restaurant was keeping watch as to when the eatery was going to open because there was a little bit of mystery as to what hour the doors would be unlocked. By the time Hellriegel got the 10:30 a.m. call, it was wayyyyyy too late.
"He said, 'They're open, but it's bad,'" Hellriegel said.
Michael Wieland, regional director for the Popeyes franchisee, said customers waited as long as two and a half hours in lines that jammed traffic around the 11899 Collier Blvd. location. Two and a half hours! Vehicles almost reached the front of the Kentucky Fried Chicken, just under a half-mile away.
"I could have easily have gone to Immokalee and back," said Hellriegel, who once or twice a month has been making what's normally a 90-minute road trip to that community's Popeyes. "I drove by. There was no way I was going to wait."
About 1,200 chicken enthusiasts did hang in there on that initial Monday, a weekday that's normally the chain's slowest day, said Wieland, who works for Sun Holdings Inc., which owns and operates hundreds of restaurant franchises, including more than 100 Popeyes locations. A typical day might be in the range of 300 folks.
Wieland said he expects the lines to continue for awhile, and Linda Guzman, 26, of Naples expects to be among them.
Guzman had been the second day's first drive-through patron, buying enough for both lunch and dinner for her family of five. She was planning twice-a-week jaunts.
"I was so happy, so excited," Guzman said. "Popeyes is the bomb.com."
Phil Fernandez writes the In the Know column, focusing on growth and development. Contact him at email@example.com. You can also send tips to NDN-InTheKnow@gannett.com.