VENICE – Paul Kaldy took a daring step last Oct. 15 when he opened a third Tri-Healthy store – to go along with two in Ohio – in the San Marco Building on Tampa Avenue in Venice.
“We had no plans of coming to Florida, we visited and never left,” Kaldy said. “We mention that story and I’d say at least 50% to 60% of the people they have a similar story. The come down and they visit Venice and they don’t ever leave.”
The Kaldys are among several business owners who decided to open new ventures on the island of Venice in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Venice MainStreet CEO Kara Morgan said more than six new places opened on Miami Avenue in 2020, while turnover wasn’t as high on Venice Avenue because of lack of space availability.
“It’s certainly been challenging but I fully believe the businesses that did open up during the pandemic, they knew what they were getting themselves into,” Morgan said. “How could you not anticipate a slow start?”
The pandemic related slowdown in Ohio led the Kaldys to consider options outside of their home state. Stores were open at 25% capacity and that created a marketing problem.
“You can’t run events – we almost felt shamed for running a special at the mall in Ohio, because you’re putting people at risk,” Paul Kaldy said.
“Florida was different when we came down here in August,” he added. “Down here, just masks and social distancing. We went to restaurants with our family. Ohio, I didn’t want to go to the garage without a hazmat suit on.”
By day three of their vacation, the Kaldys started exploring whether they could have a viable business in Venice, even as the economy was still opening up.
“When we looked back at all of our decisions, and every business book you would look at, it doesn’t make any sense of what we did – other than we really enjoy sunsets,” he said.
A move in search of customers
For Susan and Michael McFarland, who operate Gulf Soles at 209 Miami Ave. West – and a sister store in Englewood at 445 West Dearborn Street – the COVID-19 pandemic started ominously.
Michael McFarland had built a business and brand awareness by selling therapeutic footwear – primarily Oofos – at area farmers markets for four years, then transitioned to a brick-and-mortar store in South Venice near Bill Buck Chevrolet. Oofos pushed the transition too, since the company didn’t want their sandals sold in farmers markets anymore.
“It was destination only, it was a terrible location, ” Susan McFarland said.
But the customer base from the farmers markets followed them. Still, they saw a better opportunity in a shopping center on State Road 776 and opened two weeks before the COVID-19 shutdown.
“We had two weeks of good business before COVID hit,” Michael McFarland said.
The store could remain open during the initial COVID-19 closure because of the health benefits of their footwear, but traffic barely trickled in.
Susan McFarland, a PRN nurse, ran the business, while her husband went back to Minnesota for the summer, to sell footwear at a little water park his family owned.
He later expanded into selling shoes at private BBQ competitions.
“It was a great way for people to get together and do some stuff without the state coming in and telling them they couldn’t,” he said.
At one competition, McFarland sold 32 pairs of shoes.
“It worked out and it kept us going. Of course we got a little help here and there,” Susan McFarland said, then added that they used PPP funds too.
Meanwhile, they also kept an eye on the Miami Avenue storefront they now occupy.
Once he saw it listed as available in a Venice MainStreet newsletter, he asked Susan to look into it.
“Our business was already pretty much solid, “McFarland said “What it needed was great retail locations.
“I felt like there was a very limited window of opportunity for a good retail location.”
Michael McFarland returned to Florida and still sold two of his brands, Telic and Nuusol, at farmers markets.
On Sept. 23, they opened the Venice storefront and then on April 1, decided to open a store in Englewood on Dearborn Street, even though that area is bracing for a road resurfacing program not unlike the one downtown Venice business owners endured two summers ago.
“It’s an investment for the future,” he said. “It was always my plan to have a Venice store and Englewood store.”
Foot traffic in the shopping districts means that sales have been better than what they were accustomed to in the popular South Venice location, Susan McFarland noted.
Michael McFarland added that the biggest challenge now is getting product. Only Nuusol, which is made in the United States, is shipping properly.
It used to take six days to get an Oofos from a warehouse in Georgia but now they’ve got three orders backed up because of shipping problems from production facilities in Korea and Vietnam.
A long-coveted storefront opened up
Tricia and Jeff Mangrum knew all about the foot traffic by 237 W. Venice Avenue – adjacent to the breezeway that connects Venice Avenue with the Miami Avenue parking lot, and relatively near T.J. Carneys.
They’d frequented the previous store in the spot, Sirene Coastal Interiors, and envisioned running a business there even before they opened The Boutique by the Beach as a pop-up shop adjacent to Sharky’s on the Pier in 2008.
“She’s had her eye on this area ever since I’ve known her, and we’ve been married 25 years,” Jeff Mangrum said. “So, we used to stop in here all the time she got to know the ladies and said if you ever want to sell, keep us in mind.”
That finally happened during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mangrums moved from Sharky’s to Venice Avenue, along with store manager Shanequa Mathis, and opened the same day last May that Gov. Ron DeSantis enacted his Phase One reopening plan.
it’s been really good, we’ve been really blessed,” Tricia Mangrum said. “We didn’t do any extra advertising, we just kind of let it ride and we’ve been very blessed with customers and sales have been good.”
She noted that the foot traffic along Venice Avenue is solid and Venice MainStreet has done a good job promoting the area and bringing people down to the avenues.
“Once the events start back up, that’ll bring a lot of traffic our way,” Mangrum said. “There’s good restaurants down here, there’s lots to look at.”
Large special events are set to resume in downtown Venice in June, when Howard Alan Events sponsors the 28th Annual Downtown Crafts Festival, June 19-20.
The Mangrums kept the clothing and jewelry from the store by the Venice Pier and added more home goods and pieces by local artists – including lacquered tables with beach themes or a map of Venice that the Mangrums make.
“We’ve been very blessed,” Jeff Mangrum said. “God takes care of us.
“We’re blowing their sales away with no pandemic,” he added, noting that there was no fear or hesitation about opening up last year.
Newcomers rely on neighboring businesses
As newcomers to the area, Paul and Stacie Kaldy – who operate the only retail business in the San Marco Building – have relied heavily on referrals from their neighbors.
That’s how they found the location. Both Stacy Kaldy’s sister Alex Adams and dad Lou Ciferno were hunting for possible locations.
Dad, who was seeing a massage therapist in the building, saw the vacancy, got the contact number to lease the space, and gets credit for finding the opening.
Tri-Healthy CBD is the only business in San Marco that uses a sidewalk display to draw attention to the business – including the fact that Paul Kaldy is a veteran.
He served nine years in the Navy and crossed the equator and international dateline in 2000 and 2001, while serving as a mechanic on the USS Boxer, a helicopter carrier.
That accomplishment, even though he was asleep in his bunk the first time, qualified him as a “Golden Shellback,” transitioning from a Pollywog.
A Shellback crosses the equator.
Kaldy plans to market a Shellback CBD product line. He figures that will have more meaning in a beach town than in the Youngstown area, where they promote Steel Valley CBD.
For all three businesses, the Kaldys have built a social media presence and Paul regularly answers questions on a Facebook Live post.
More recently they’ve created 100 videos on YouTube, to help increase their exposure.
But they credit both the hospitality of their neighbors in the San Marco and the marketing of Venice MainStreet with helping get the business off the ground.
“They referred a lot of customers,” Stacie Kaldy said of their neighbors.
Paul Kaldy chimed in, “that’s a lot of our success – their opening their book of business to us.”
“Everybody in this building has been very helpful, she added.
And yes, the Kaldys frequently finish each other’s thoughts.
Paul Kaldy called joining Venice MainStreet a minimal investment from their marketing budget, “but it changed our business down here.”
Stacie Kaldy called the business growth, “Slow but steady.”
“We got a few locals in here,” Paul Kaldy continued. “Then we started building our social media and we started doing our videos – that’s one of our pivots, is we focused on doing more videos.”
“That’s helped with the communication and the education process.”
Meanwhile the customer base went from locals to snowbirds, with several still ordering online since returning north. Like many downtown businesses, they eagerly await their return.
“We’ve got a couple customers we still keep in contact with, we’ve got a lot of personal relationships going,” Paul Kaldy said. “We miss our January people.”
Earle Kimel primarily covers south Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be reached at [email protected] Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Herald-Tribune.