9/9/2009 3:16:00 PM A Retrospective Look at Businesses in Our Community Portraits of Progress in Englewood
The original downtown was Wentworth Street.
In 1897 the Nichol's Brothers' business on Yale Street near Lemon Bay.
Ken Kocab Contributing Writer
Editor's Note: The following article was originally published in The Englewood REVIEW in August 2007.
As Englewood has grown in size and area, our business community has also grown and changed to meet the needs of the people who live and play here. We are still primarily a community of locally owned businesses that have worked hard to serve the area. We salute those who have worked hard and celebrate those who have had the staying power to be here for decades as well as the new businesses who are starting on their journey. Each one has its unique place within the make up of Englewood's unique business family.
Englewood's first true businessmen were the Nichols Brothers. While at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, the two brothers were entranced by a booth sponsored by Grove City in the Florida exhibition building. This exhibit depicted southwest Florida as a land of opportunity, where fish, wild game, and pleasant weather were always present.
In 1894 the brothers decided to buy 2000 acres of land on the coast near Grove City. They planned to establish Englewood, a new city to be named after their hometown of Englewood Illinois, just outside of Chicago. They wanted Englewood to rival its neighbor Grove City and developed a master plan to do just that. Lemons were in great demand in America at this time, but were only grown in Spain and were quite expensive. The brothers planned for Englewood to become the lemon capitol of America.
The city plats for Englewood were recorded in 1896 and featured central city lots for residences, and outlying areas for lemon groves. The plan was for people to buy a lot for $30 in one of the 24 city blocks and agree to grow lemons on an outlying 10-acre lot. The city streets were all named after the streets of Englewood, Illinois, while the outlying streets were named later. During the summer and fall of 1894, people scrambled to buy these lots. The fishing, wild game, and beautiful weather were just as the Nichols Brothers promised. However, in the winter of 1894-5 a terrible freeze with temperatures dipping all the way down to 14 degrees wiped out every lemon in southwest Florida. The brothers did not give up on their dream and decided to market Englewood in another direction by advertising this area as a prime tourist destination.
In order to make Englewood seem like a real city, in 1897 the Nichols Brothers opened a combination post office and general store called the Lemon Bay Trading Company on Yale Street. Groceries and other supplies were shipped in by schooner from Tampa, since no real roads existed at this time.
To bolster tourism and to attract prominent visitors from Chicago, the brothers built a large hotel on Perry Street in 1898 called the Englewood Inn. The hotel featured 16 comfortable rooms, a large dining room, and a 250-foot dock leading out into Lemon Bay. The hotel was very popular, but unfortunately it burned to the ground in 1909. All wooden buildings at this time were fire traps due to the large amount of dry wood in the area. The nearest fire department at this time was in Venice, 25 miles away.
In 1902, Peter Buchan arrived in town and would eventually become one of the cornerstones of the Englewood business community. He initially took a job with the Chadwick Brothers at their fish house. After six years he decided to leave and took a position with the Nichols Brothers at their store, post office, and hotel. Buchan decided to leave the area for two years in 1910 to explore other opportunities, and when he returned in 1912 was offered ownership of the Nichols Brothers store and post office for the sum of only $315. Buchan did not own the land however, only the store and its contents. By 1916 he decided to buy his own piece of land and construct his new store and home there. A dock was also built by Buchan to handle shipping from Tampa and other ports. The building, still in family hands today, sits at what is now called Buchan's Landing at the end of Dearborn Street.
In 1907 the first railroad connection was finished to Boca Grande. This meant local businessmen could now begin to ship and receive products either by rail for the first time, even if they had to travel to Punta Gorda to do this.
Towards the end of World War I northern investors looked into the possibility of establishing a lumber company in the Englewood area. Lumber was needed for the war effort and for the booming housing market. The Manasota Lumber Company opened in 1918 on a 240-acre site near Englewood known as Woodmere, and quickly became south Florida's largest company with over 1500 employees. Unfortunately by 1923 the demand for housing lumber had declined, and the available sources for trees had been depleted. No one had heard of reforestation at that time.
The 1920's saw a tremendous land boom in south Florida, with lots selling at astronomical prices. This boom brought with it many related businesses that catered to the new influx of visitors. In 1925, the Walter H. Green Company was the largest land developer in this area. Green sent a large Studebaker bus up to Sarasota daily to bring prospective land buyers to Englewood.
The hottest business in town during the "Roaring Twenties" was the Royal Casino. Built in 1924, offshore from Buchan's Landing, one could find illegal alcohol, dancing, gambling, and good food. Rich patrons would come from as far away as Boca Grande and Punta Gorda. The Casino could hold 150 people and was even used for Chamber of Commerce meetings. It was eventually closed in 1927 and later used by Stuart Anderson for his fishing business. Eventually the building was dismantled and rebuilt on Dearborn Street as a private residence.
A few of the businesses that opened in Englewood in the twenties included Pearson's Bait House on Beach Road, where a condominium development is today, and Black's Store located on Old Englewood Road and Artist Avenue. This was one of the area's first restaurants and gas station. The hardware store on Dearborn Street was also opened during this time. The governor of Florida once made a speech from the front steps of the hardware store, promising in 1925 that the Tamiami Trail would go right through the center of Englewood. When the first bridge was constructed across Lemon Bay in 1927, Chadwick's Pavilion was built and contained a shower and changing room (for 10 cents), a grocery store, and a gas station. Unfortunately the pavilion burned down in 1945, and was later rebuilt as the Captains Club.
During the 1920's Yale Street was considered as the heart of the Englewood business district. As time went on however, new businesses shifted over to Dearborn Street now known as the center of Englewood. Yale Street became a sleepy residential area, showing little resemblance to its early days.
Another important business development of the twenties was the founding of the Englewood Bank in 1925 at the corner of Perry Street and Old Englewood Road. Englewood had just incorporated as a city, and would need a bank for local business development. Unfortunately in 1928, a bank employee named Abner Silkey embezzled over $15,000 in bank funds. The bank had to close and local businesses were devastated. Many residents also had their life savings in the bank and faced a bleak future.
Besides the bank failing, the land boom had also begun to fizzle by 1926. Most of the large investors pulled out of town and the visitors that they brought with them disappeared also. The city of Englewood could not pay its bills and was eventually forced to disincorporate in 1928. The final blow to strike Englewood was the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. By this time Englewood was virtually broke. The only money coming in was the pension checks that two residents were getting in the mail. The future of business looked bad for Englewood as residents were barely able to survive. For the next 20 years Englewood would "go to sleep", needing a new economic shot in the arm to revive itself.
Stuart Anderson, who had just started his fishing business, Lemon Bay Fisheries in 1928, organized the town's fishermen together in 1930 to join into a community cooperative. All fish that would be caught would be taken by iced trucks to Georgia where they would be traded for other supplies that townspeople needed. The community didn't starve, and managed to survive the worst of the depression.
In 1929, Anderson moved his fishing business to the Royal Casino which had been vacant for two years. For the next eight years, he was one of Englewood's largest employers. Because the Casino building was partially destroyed in the 1936 hurricane, Anderson built a brand new facility at the end of Wentworth Street. He eventually became Englewood's largest business by 1946, with over 46 employees.
Not all businesses dried up in the 1930's as two grocery stores were opened in Englewood in 1931 and 1933. In 1931 L.A. Ainger Sr. moved into Englewood and decided to build a new home with a small grocery store and gas station next to it. The store was located on 776 where True Value Hardware is located today.
In 1933, J.D. "Jack" Tate opened a general store at Buchan's Landing. Before Tate opened his store, the E.B. Freeze garage occupied the site. This garage was moved to Yale Ave., so the Tate building could be erected. Lemon Bay Funeral Home occupies this site today. Even though they were competitors Both Tate and Ainger respected each other. When Ainger's store burned down in 1949, Tate helped him restock his store by giving Ainger part of his inventory.
In the mid thirties, Lou Woods, better known as the "Carny Man", built Wood's Lounge which also became to be called "Whiskey Corners" located at the corner of Placida and 776. This became the only nice place where area residents could go out and dance and have a glass of whiskey on a Saturday night. This building was eventually demolished in 1989 to make way for the Merchant's Crossing Shopping Center.
With the start of WWII business development was put on hold due to various wartime shortages. In 1941, the Englewood Chamber of Commerce was formed and formulated big plans for the city once the war was won. As the war drew to a close a local fishing co-op involving 22 local fishermen was started in Englewood by Jack Pearson. That same year however a hurricane wiped out all 22 fishing boats.
Once the war ended, numerous new businesses sprouted up. A few of these included Smitty's Garage on Dearborn Street where Joe's Tire and Service Center is located today. Dixon's Pool Hall also opened on Dearborn Street and provided needed recreation for local residents. A new motel, the Englewood Inn was built at this time at the corner of Harvard and Old Englewood Roads.
By the 1950's Englewood business development was in full swing. Real estate companies offered lots for $660 with $160 down. Besides local businesses, nationally franchised operations such as Western Auto and IGA Supermarkets opened stores. Dearborn Street quickly began to fill up with variety stores, gas stations, restaurants, and gas stations.
Stores that opened in Englewood in the 1950's and 1960's included:
*Audrey and Nathaniel Alston's electric store on Dearborn St.
* Key Realty with Jack Sanford as a broker and Shorty Nelson as a salesman.
*Irene Scott opened Englewood's first children's store, "The Junior Style Shop" on Dearborn Street.
*Shell's Patio Restaurant started serving on Dearborn Street where the main branch and Super Liquors are today.
*Chadwick's Shell Station at the corner of Dearborn and McCall.
*Bob Scott opened Englewood's first outboard motor sales and service shop on Dearborn St.
*Eveland's Pastry Shop started serving in 1958. It became The Englewood Bakery and was located on McCall Rd.
*Spargur's Garage at Langsner and McCall Rd.
*Chidori Japanese Restaurant on Placida Road. Angelo's Restaurant is there today.
*Englewood Bank on Dearborn Street where the Lemon Bay Playhouse is located today.
*Humble Garage on Dearborn Street where Joe's Tire and Service Center is located today.
*Veator's Gift Shop opened in 1964, and sold knick-knacks and oranges on McCall Rd.
* Englewood Savings and Loan on McCall. Radio Shack is there today.
The 1960's saw a continuation in the growth of business in Englewood. Originally advertised as a tourist location, our area was beginning to see the development of permanent housing units. Developments in Port Charlotte, Northport, Venice, and Manasota Key would all bring year round business to Englewood. Beginning in the early seventies the building of the Rotonda West complex would further heighten business development.
McCall Road was finally paved in 1968, bringing with it increased traffic from outlying areas. No longer would local businessmen be dependent on Englewood residents for their sales. With the construction of Interstate 75, and later River Road, Englewood could be easily reached from practically anywhere. Business development in our area today is vibrant and contains a wide variety of stores that appeals to many needs and tastes. Englewood is definitely not the sleepy little town on Lemon Bay anymore.