BY MARCY SHORTUSE – Just over the bridge and to your right there is a historic little piece of old Florida where you can find treasures all year long. It is one of the oldest inhabited points along the Charlotte Harbor Coast, and if you concentrate hard you can start to understand just how it used to be here to live here prior to the booming tourism trade.
Several shops line the streets of the tiny, unique fishing village roads. The Albritton Gallery is one of them, owned by Garry and Margaret Albritton. Many people who make the trek to Southwest Florida every year for vacation insist on stopping at the gallery, where you can find everything from tropical, bold paintings and feathery, full-dressed flamingo ornaments created by Garry, to etchings and more classic artwork by Margaret.
The couple has been blessed to be in the same location since the 1988-89 season, which is when the restaurant called The Fishery opened. Garry ran the old commercial fishery, which his grandfather started, called The Gasparilla Fishery.
Eventually the commercial fishing operation shut down when the net ban went into effect, but they kept the restaurant going and it’s been there ever since. It is now under different ownership and it is the only business in the little area of shops that is closed for the summer.
“Years ago our gallery was across the street and this building used to be the post office,” Margaret said. “When the post office moved up by Publix we took over this space.”
What used to be the gallery is now Placida Cove Gift Shop, run by Elaine Albritton. They are open Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until October, and carry a unique mix of Greg Albritton’s woodworking projects, gift ideas and an eclectic inventory of items in general. Margaret said if a customer comes by the gallery and the door is locked, it’s usually because of a quick run to a store, or a note will be left saying they’ll be back the next day.
“I live here all year round, I’m not a seasonal person,” she said. “I don’t rely on tourist business here, we’ve always been open all year. There are thousands of people in this area that stay all year. During the summer the local people can get out and shop and eat at restaurants, even go to the grocery store. And this year we were doing very well, until the restaurant closed.”
The Fishery announced on Facebook that they were closed for the season, but of course the rumors were flying. Some have said they won’t open back up at all, others have said they will re-open with a different theme.
The way it officially stands the restaurant will re-open in October and that’s according to the owner, Dr. Mark Asperilla.
One of the reasons the little point of land surrounded by Gasparilla Sound has become famous is because of the Placida Art Market, founded by Margaret and a jury of her peers six years ago. Last year 300 artists participated in numerous shows that were held October through April, with approximately 60 to 80 artists at each show.
You will find anything from handmade soap to original metal art at the shows, which take place on Saturdays. Some of the artists are seasoned professionals; others are just starting out and getting their feet wet in the art show business. Margaret told the story of one man who did recycled metal work, and from the minute she saw what he could do she knew he needed to participate in the show. He was nervous about being around people and being critiqued, but that was short-lived. A gallery south of us had a representative at the show, and they bought 17 pieces from the man on the spot.
Margaret said each year tourism tradespeople come to Placida from all over the world. Travel bloggers, writers, chamber of commerce liaisons and others filled the gallery last month, making clay ornaments with Garry and experiencing Old Florida.
They come every year, they write, and they bring more people to our piece of paradise. Margaret said she is doing less shows away from home and both she and Garry are concentrating on getting more of their original art in the gallery. Right now she said it’s about 50/50. While she started out doing etchings (and still does them) she has since converted to doing a lot of digital artwork. Her sons, Chris and Garret, are partially responsible for that move.
“Both of my sons work in computer design and graphics engineering,” she said. “One day Chris came in and saw me at the printer and said, ‘You know, you can make more than labels with this thing.’ After trying for awhile I smacked myself on the forehead and realized he was right.”
Much of the artwork she sells now, such as shirts and cards, is hand-drawn with a mouse at her computer. It doesn’t sound easy, and it probably isn’t. But having a fierce artistic talent, Margaret learned her craft quickly and well.
Garry isn’t much different. He and Margaret actually met in college, and while she was taking art classes he was getting a business degree. He tried some of her art classes, and found out he was actually pretty good.
“It was only about one-and-a-half years ago that he took a clay class from Pam Cox , and now he absolutely loves it,” Margaret said. “For our last open house we had about 250 people here to make free clay ornaments, with the help of Garry and some people from the Cultural Center. We do that every year, too.”
“It’s good to do things like that, as an artist you want to fill your soul. And helping others to create art is fulfilling, because it helps you realize there are still people who want to make things.”
Just next door is the Placida Fish Market. Audley Slad, who bought the business from Cindy BanPetten four years ago, runs it. Audley used to work for Ms. Cindy, but now runs the operation herself. They are open every day except for Wednesday, with 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours with the exception of Sunday, which is 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“We’ve had a pretty good summer so far,” Audley said.
Across the street is a kayak rental business, Patti’s bait shop, a charter fishing business and Ken’s Orchids. Ken is out and about until October, but he does come into the store on Saturdays and is always available by phone to answer any orchid-related questions.
There is also the Hatch Gallery, run by Jon Hatch. He is there every day, all day, working on his creations and chatting with the locals. He opened in 2003, and has dedicated his life as an artist to making unusual creations out of wood, primarily driftwood. He also carries other artistic pieces, collectible art and some furniture.
“I couldn’t have done all of this without the help of my parents,” he said. “I’m here every day, just trying to make it to October.”
Hatch and others who work in the small shops have been busy this summer, painting and sprucing up the buildings. Bright and colorful, the unique little stores stand out against the deep green of the old-growth trees and the blue of the sky and the water.
They are open and ready for business – anytime.