Correction, 6/22/21, 2:40 p.m.: An earlier version of this article stated that the Blueberry Patch was “run by a collection of chairpeople and advocates,” with no president. This was incorrect and has been updated to include the Sharevivial Board of Directors. The Gabber apologizes for the error.
To the dismay of the Blueberry Patch’s family of devotees, Florida’s oldest surviving artist retreat took a hiatus from the scene in 2019 in an effort to bring new infrastructure to the overflowing art venue, located at 4923 20th Ave. S. in Gulfport.
Two years later, on Saturday, June 5 of 2021, the hippie-style outdoor space hosted a comeback featuring local performers, vendors and a silent auction.
“This is a welcoming home,” said Blueberry Patch volunteer Jacqueline Davis. “Many of us, we need this place.”
The Blueberry Patch, founded on July 7, 1977 by Dallas Bohrer, is a hidden forest, electric with curious sculptures, painted cars and people draped in tie-dye.
Once visitors get past the gate, it’s tough to remember the venue is directly across the street from a Wells Fargo Bank. The Patch runs solely on donations and the commitment of volunteers who show up every Saturday to maintain the backyard jungle.
“We’re happy to be back, to give people a place to express themselves and grow,” said Bob Feckner, a board member at the Patch.
The nonprofit returns with a few notable upgrades, including a modern bathroom building complete with a refillable water bottle station and murals on the doors. The venue also upgraded electrical work and ensured the stage and bathrooms are ADA accessible.
For followers, this is huge, considering when the venue moved to 20th Avenue in 2003, it was shut down by the city for code violations just a few months after reopening.
Today, the nonprofit is run by a collection of chairpeople and advocates.
“I’m so thankful there’s a board of directors,” said Laura Shepherd, a Patch performer, before she burst into song. “Bob keeps this place running when we’ve all gone somewhere else.”
According to Feckner, Bohrer, who is something of a legend around the Patch, lived on the property until 2013 when he moved to a nursing home.
The Blueberry Patch founder had a fear of banks and an obsession with numerology, prompting the Patch goers to start volunteer times at 11:11 a.m. on the dot to this day.
Longtime volunteers William Beck and Molly Hogan knew Bohrer in their youth, and have lived through transformations to the retreat over the years.
“I remember drinking sake with him on his front porch,” Beck said. “It’s 100 percent evolved a lot. There was much more of a loose format back in the day.”
Hogan, who’s been coming to the Blueberry Patch since she was 7 years old, recalls the time when people slept and even lived there.
“Dallas would give anybody a place to stay. It was more of a communal place; we’re all like family,” Hogan said at the reopening. “Nonprofit status comes with good things and the vibe of Dallas is really here.”
On Wednesday, July 7, the Blueberry Patch hosts an official reopening event with live music and public art, times to be announced.