It takes a Village | New generation shapes future of Fishermen’s Village

It takes a Village

New generation shapes the future of Fishermen’s Village

By SUE WADE

At Fishermen’s Village, Punta Gorda’s waterfront dining and shopping destination, change has always been a way of life for the young merchant-tenants who now steer its future.  They literally grew up there.

 

Elissa Allen Banks, King Fisher Fleet

It was like your father owned a toy store, but for her, it was a fleet.

Now, at 31, Elissa Allen Banks is the general manager and heir to the Allen family’s eight-boat King Fisher Fleet.

In the early 1980s, Elissa’s grandparents, Bob, and Helen Allen founded King Fisher Fleet, among the first businesses in the new Fishermen’s Village. Three generations of the family still work the business. Elissa’s grandmother and father, Capt. Ralph Allen, are currently owners, but she’ll be one, too, someday.

The docks of Fishermen’s Village were once her playground, its merchants her neighbors, their children her friends.

“I spent all my afternoons after school on the docks,” she remembered. “My dad would pick me up at the bus stop, then we’d go down to the Village. All the store owners knew my older sister, Jan, and me.

“When I was eight, we’d ride around the Village on a trike, with her driving and me in a basket in the back. We’d pedal around the parking lot playing the license plate game, listing the different states on a clipboard.

“There was this restaurant called Bon Appetit, where the Village Fish Market bar is now. Us kids called the owner ‘Mike the Greek.’ We’d collect buckets of sea urchins for him because we knew he’d eat them as a delicacy. The tradeoff was that Mike prepared fish for us at his restaurant.”

“My sister and I loved watching Tony Lorini make candles in the front window of The Sand Pebble, right next to our ticket kiosk. We were friends with his daughter Pat.

“And it might seem weird because there’s such an age gap, but I’m probably closer to Nick and Sue Randall at the Village Fish Market than to anyone else at the Village. I grew up with their daughter, Vicki.

“But one of my favorite things to do when I was little was to visit the shrimp boats and listen to the crude language while the captains rigged their gear and prepared for a night’s shrimping.”

Her first job, at 12, was cleaning the boats with a scrub brush and Dawn dish soap. When she turned 16, things started looking up. She became a part-time tour-boat mate and Christmas canal cruise dock, attendant.

Today, as general manager, Elissa can still jump on a boat as needed but spends most of her time on dry land, in the office.

Equipped with a business management degree, she’s able to provide needed marketing, payroll, hiring and accounting support, working side by side with Capt. Ralph, an engineer by education, who keeps the boats running.

“My grandmother’s version of doing the books was lined steno pads, rulers, and adding-machine tape,” she said. “But our business had grown so much that it was time for a more sophisticated system. I redid our accounting system, point-of-sales, and website to bring our company into the 21st century. And I licensed the first bars on Charlotte County tour boats.”

Elissa has seen dramatic changes at Fishermen’s Village over the years, as the flood of visitors has swelled.

“Many facelifts,” she said. “The fuel dock moved; they added restrooms; there are bright, fresh colors, new pavers and landscaping; there’s a perfect mix of merchants.

“The Village’s current owner has done a lot to continue renovating for the long term. This place is around to stay and getting better all the time.”

So is Elissa.

 

Elissa and Jan Allen hoist snook of the day at King Fisher Fleet’s dock, circa 1995.

 

Elissa Allen Banks stands at the dock with the 56-foot Island Star.

 

John, Brittany and Millie Johnson, Trader Jack’s

Trader Jack’s coastal wear shop co-owner John Johnson, also 31, has called Fishermen’s Village home for most of his waking life. Not only did he grow up there. He married the yogurt shop owner’s daughter.

If his dad, a New Jersey policeman, hadn’t stopped for lunch at the Village Oyster Bar en route to Naples, John would have missed out on a life like no other.

As soon as his parents learned that the location of JJ’s Top End T-shirt shop was available in 1989, all other bets were off and they bought it. Now, they’re a three-store family dynasty. John Johnson Sr. still runs JJ’s; his wife, Bernadette, opened Island Fever in 2005; and John Jr. and wife Brittany co-own Trader Jack’s.

“Growing up, I knew Rick and Diane’s kids at The Caged Parrot. Chris Evans, too,” said John. “Chris was a little older, but we all used to hang out underneath the Village. Today that’s almost unthinkable, but it was different then and much, much slower, especially in the summer.

“I was in there at JJ’s all day, every day. I took my naps in the changing room. Dad nailed a plastic milk carton on one of the light posts, and we’d play basketball, wall ball, whatever we wanted, all day long.

“Sometimes I’d hang out in the mall manager’s office. I’d stop in the Flamingo yogurt shop, where they gave me strawberries. I met Brittany there after her mom bought it.”

Today, their 18-month-old daughter, Millie, already toddles around Trader Jack’s, Island Fever and the yogurt store.

“We keep a close eye on her, and everybody here takes care of her, too,” said Brittany.  A former kindergarten teacher at Peace River Elementary, she’s used to keeping tabs on little kids.

John’s first job, at 15, was busing tables at the Oyster Bar. After college at Florida State University and a cross-country trek, he returned home to work with his dad.

“I have a business administration and marketing degree, but I learned everything I know about business from my dad,” he said. “One day in 2010, Village GM Patti Allen came in and asked when I was going to open my own store. That’s when we jointly opened Trader Jack’s.”

John and wife Brittany bought it from John’s parents after the couple married five years ago.

“It’s a great lifestyle,” said John. “It lets you spend a lot of time with family and meet a lot of cool people. If Millie decided she wanted to join the family business as its third generation, I’d be over the moon.

“And the future with the new owner looks good. It’s an entirely new place, and still growing. The Village is all still independently owned, unique places, with the same charm and many of the same core owners who’ve been here as long as I can remember.

“The Village is a family, and we all care about each other.”

The Johnsons, Bernadette, John Sr. and John Jr., at JJ’s Top End in the mid-1990s.

 

Brittany and John Johnson, with daughter Millie, “pass it on” into a third-generation at Trader Jack’s.

 

 

Trent and Troy Young, Captain’s Landing

From 1980 until 2002, in the day when there actually were such establishments catering to older gentlemen, Bob Young owned and operated a Port Charlotte haberdashery: Tyson’s Menswear. His son Trent describes that era’s typical customers as “condo commandos” who wore ice-cream-colored sports jackets and slacks.

In the old days, Trent explained, they called those products—slacks, jackets, blazers—‘clothing’. Indicating all the racks of shorts, shirts, and accessories in Captain’s Landing, he stated a seeming paradox.

“We don’t carry any clothing now,” he said. “We used to have 700 jackets hanging in this store. Now we have a mix of resort and sportswear, in our stores and on our website.”

Among the oldest tenants of Fishermen’s Village, brothers Trent and Troy Young first opened Captain’s Landing in the fall of 1995 as a true resort wear store. About 10 years later, they opened a second Captain’s Landing in Venice, which Trent normally mans along with their online business, while Troy stays in Punta Gorda.

“It was a business we never intended for ourselves,” said Trent. “Who wants to get into what their father does for a living? But destiny just pulled us into it, and we haven’t looked back since.”

Shortly after graduating from the University of Mississippi, the 20-something brothers acquired an existing men’s store in Fishermen’s Village. Recognizing a growing generation gap in menswear, they began offering unique men’s resort wear to a more diverse range of customers.

“Since we’ve been here, we’ve seen a lot of change in the mix of stores and restaurants. The clientele back then was older, but today’s Village has a good mix of old and young. And even older folks today are younger than they used to be,” said Trent.

“The future of Fishermen’s Village is just awesome. We’ve had the same management—Patti Allen and Kathy Burnam—shaping a family culture here for many, many years. And the new owner really put his money where his mouth was, making a lot of capital improvements and bringing in a better mix of stores and restaurants.

“More visitors are coming from Fort Myers and Venice because it’s not a hidden secret anymore. It’s a destination.”

 

Joe Hull and Jeff Segilia, 21, of Scranton, Pennsylvania, typify Trent and Troy Young’s newly diverse demographic at Captain’s Landing. Segilia broke in his first-ever debit card to buy a shirt from Trent.

Trent Young mans the Venice Captain’s Landing and the online business.

Troy Young mans the Fishermen’s Village Captain’s Landing most of the time.

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