‘It’s our favorite place’
Three multi-store retailers feel most at home in Fishville
By SUE WADE
Visitors can spend a whole day browsing waterfront tourist spots like Naples’ Tin City, John’s Pass Village & Boardwalk in Madeira Beach and Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks. Such shopping centers are so desirable that they draw retailers like mega-magnets.
But four entrepreneurs who also have space in those venues say that none equals the hometown feel of Fishermen’s Village.
The walkable Village is covered but still open to sun and fresh air. Management is like family. And the Village’s new owners have an agenda for improvement.
“Fishermen’s Village is the perfect retail opportunity,” said Stephanie Sahm, who helped found and now co-owns two Caribongo stores with her husband, Fil.
Caribongo, fun in the sun
Just like tourists, the UV-activated products at Caribongo change color when exposed to sunlight. The store’s sweatshirts, T-shirts, even nail polish, toys, and accessories, transform from pallid to peacock once the sun hits them.
Shoppers eat them up.
In a tourist state full of $35 sweatshirts, Caribongo’s owners pride themselves on their down-to-earth prices—$14.99 or less and $19.99 for hoodies. Everything’s under $30.
“People appreciate that,” said co-owner Stephanie Sahm. “They come back year after year for a new T-shirt or tank top. Grandkids come in remembering that their grandma used to buy them one every year.”
“We’re so successful at Fishermen’s Village, with the highest per-square-foot sales for three or four years in a row, that the Village’s new owners wanted us to open a Caribongo in their plaza in Hawaii,” said Fil. “But that’s a bit too far for us.”
“It’s hard enough having stores in Tarpon Springs and Punta Gorda,” Stephanie laughed.
Fil Sahm and a partner started their company as a wholesale enterprise almost 20 years ago, screen-printing T-shirts in an upstate New York garage, using a process developed by a Cornell University professor.
At first, they sold their color-changing wares to retailers in the sun-splashed Caribbean, then moved to where the U.S. sun and tourist economy were brightest: Florida.
The Sahms and their New York partner opened the first store in Naples’ waterfront Tin City 15 years ago.
If it weren’t for the devastation wrought by Hurricane Charley, the Sahms’ first choice would have been Fishermen’s Village.
“But because of the storm, we ultimately got a fantastic spot there,” Stephanie said of their space two doors down from the main entrance. “I think it’s the best one in the whole Village—the first and last place people stop. They always say, ‘Don’t worry. We’ll come back!’ And they do because we’ve got the best prices.”
The next generation of Sahms got involved in the family business early on, handing out flyers on the John’s Pass Village boardwalk at Madeira Beach and hanging out in their parents’ stores. From the time son Zackery, now 16, could talk, he wanted to work at Caribongo.
“He’s learning screen-printing now,” said his mom.
Son Andrew, 21, now runs the Tarpon Springs Caribongo and nearby noncolor-changing Three Coconuts vacation wear, but scouts out new ideas whenever he visits Fishermen’s Village.
The future of the Sahms’ Caribongo family seems secure in their hands.
The boys are already admonishing their parents, “Don’t waste your money on that! It’s got to pay for the business.”
Stephanie and Filip Sahm are the young entrepreneurs behind Caribongo and Three Coconuts stores.
Zackery and Andrew Sahm learned the ropes at an early Fishermen’s Village Caribongo, circa 2014.
Caribongo customer Irina Kyre of Port Charlotte is amazed at the transformation of a shirt under the store’s demo blacklight.
Dana Tyler, jewelry for the rest of us
Ever since she was a kid, Dana Klein has been drawn to costume jewelry. It didn’t carry any big decisions or big responsibilities. You could just have fun wearing it.
So, with her mother-in-law selling costume jewelry at Bonita Beach’s Flamingo Island, it only made sense for Dana to open her own Tin City jewelry business, selling pieces that mimic fine jewelry.
She learned that local customers don’t want weighty jewelry responsibilities either. They’re done with having priceless pieces lost or stolen. Many leave their fine jewelry up north and keep “Florida jewelry” here.
Klein’s seven statewide Dana Tyler stores keep them well stocked in everything from big-bling “red carpet” jewelry for special occasions to everyday-bling tennis bracelets, studs and necklaces. Big sellers include two-tone, easy-mix-and-match, gold-and-silver jewelry for a casual look and tropical jewelry with palm trees and starfish. Some are plated with 14k gold, platinum or trendy rose gold.
“I’m the buyer, so I stock what I like,” said Klein.
In 2008, as a single mom with three kids, Klein took her mother-in-law’s advice and opened her first store in Tin City, where her friend and neighbor Deanna Wallin followed her to launch the first of many Naples Soap Company stores, right next door. More Dana Tyler stores followed in other heavily traveled tourist areas: St. Armands Circle in 2010, Venice the next year and Fishermen’s Village in 2013.
“I met with Patti Allen, who had a space available, but my partner at the time—the Tyler of our name—didn’t want to open another store.”
Instead, her Tin City neighbor, Deanna Wallin’s Naples Soap Company, took the space. Two years later, Wallin was offered a bigger, 1,600-square-foot space in the Village, which she agreed to take only if she could split it with Klein.
Wallin told her friend, “It’s been a great two years here. I really think you should do it.”
“She was right,” said Klein. “It’s now my favorite store, with great traffic and new people every week. The Village is always changing and improving and does great marketing. It really is a gem. And it protects you by keeping the stores diversified. Not just anyone can move in next door.”
Klein needn’t worry about her next-door neighbor in at least three locations. The symbiotic Dana Tyler and Naples Soap Company now sit side by side in Tin City, Fishermen’s Village and Fort Myers.
They sometimes do cross-marketing, but shoppers tend to make the rounds from one to the other anyway.
Dana Klein has so far launched seven Dana Tyler jewelry stores, with the two newest in The Villages and Naples. “It’s been a wonderful opportunity for me to connect with Southwest Florida,” she said.
Naples Soap Company and Dana Tyler enjoy neighboring spaces in three Southwest Florida locations.
Naples Soap Company, naturally better
“In my twenties,” said Naples Soap Company founder and CEO Deanna Wallin, “I was a nurse working in the OR, orthopedics, pediatrics, geriatrics, rehab, so many different parts of the nursing spectrum, where I had exposure to in-care issues. Many of them involved the first barrier to infection: the skin.”
And yet Wallin and one of her daughters suffered from the skin ailments psoriasis and eczema, with little lasting relief.
By 2009, Wallin was in medical sales but decided to work for herself so that she could continue helping people. She had a considerable retail background, and skincare products were a natural fit.
After researching the ingredients in beauty products, she became determined to develop something different: a line of natural, organic skin and hair products that worked for her and, she was sure, would help others.
“I’m very particular about the ingredients and efficacy of my products. Sometimes it takes two or three years to get a product out of development and onto the shelves.
“When my friend and neighbor Dana Klein found the space there for me,” she said, “I opened a very tiny, 300-square-foot store in Tin City.”
Despite the recession, people were soon flocking there from all over the state to talk with her and try her products.
Before long, she knocked the wall down and expanded into the space next door.
One of this year’s Naples Illustrated Top 100 Influencers, Wallin now heads a $10 million business with an 11,000-square foot headquarters, distribution center and warehouse in Fort Myers; 85 employees; 13 Florida locations and 450 custom-formulated and branded Naples Soap Company products, as well as hats, décor, and lifestyle items. Her popular Bath Bombs are now sold in a line of specialty treatments at 261 Dillard’s stores and Dillards.com.
Wallin’s and Klein’s three side-by-side stores in Southwest Florida were no accident. With proliferating shops, they both prefer high-foot-traffic tourist locations like Fishermen’s Village, which also offers a setting that’s much more fun than a mall.
Deanna Wallin prepares, one morning this August, for ABC7 Southwest Florida More Explores.