COVID-19 pressed pause on Karen Donnelly’s brick-and-mortar fabric shop, Fabric Smart. It was a shift for the Gulfport business, but not the end.
The store, located at 5401 Gulfport Boulevard, shut down last March. Donnelly moved completely online, working on orders from home with the help of an assistant, Natty Moss Bond.
The shop opened back up this March, by appointment only, and with the enforcement of a double-masking policy.
“We’re opening gradually and safely,” Donnelly said.
Over the span of the pandemic, Donnelly received a $1,000 grant from the City of Gulfport that went into effect last May, and is still paying Fabric Smart’s water and garbage fees.
Business picked up with a new fabric necessity: masks.
“We suddenly had the materials everyone needed for masks – 100 percent cotton,” Donnelly said. “For months I was working on orders from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.”
This wasn’t the first time Donnelly had to rely on online orders to save her compromised immune system.
The shop owner was working as a music teacher at a Pinellas County elementary school when she started falling ill; rheumatoid arthritis medication had weakened her immune system. She retired from teaching in 2005 and began selling fabric online.
“I was sewing my own clothes at the age of 12, and I always loved art,” Donnelly said. “I did this as a means to make a living, and it was successful.”
Today, the small shop has grown to an online and physical location with over 1,500 fabrics.
“I can’t say thank you enough to Gulfport and my customers for supporting me throughout,” Donnelly said. “I feel proud to be part of this.”
Browse Fabric Smart’s collection at etsy.com/shop/fabricsmart.
On March 8, local waterways officially welcomed the latest novelty tour – an enormous floating Tiki bar.
The six-person tour departs from the Bay Pines Marina, and cruisers meet on the boardwalk at 5000 92nd St. N.
The concept, St. Pete Tiki Tours, is the brainchild of “boat people” Kyle Travis and Logan McKenna.
McKenna, a certified Captain of the U.S. Coast Guard, drives the boat. Travis’s family has owned the marina and the surrounding mobile home park since the 1950s.
The two have known each other since pre-school, and after decades of fishing trips together, they decided to go all in.
“There’s so much more you can do with the marina other than storing boats,” Travis said.
Passengers can choose between a two- and four-hour tour, bring their own food and drinks, and get out on the sandbar throughout the trip.
Before even the first commercial tour set sail, the site lit up with bookings, mainly sunset tours.
“Sunsets really seem to put things in perspective for people; they slow things down,” Travis said. “Tiki bars symbolize relaxation, so we rolled with that.”
More at stpetetikitours.com.
The only McDonald’s in Gulfport, at 5111 Gulfport Blvd S., is a staple of fast food on the busy street.
On Wednesday, March 10, the red-and-yellow icon will be completely bulldozed and redone in the span of 75 days, optimistically.
“Gulfport has supported that restaurant and we have an opportunity to better serve them,” said Bob Conigliaro, community relations specialist with the store. “Quite honestly, that location has aged.”
According to Conigliaro, it takes 75 to 90 days to rebuild a McDonald’s. The store closed at midnight on March 10, and is hoping to return by June 26.
“That’s without Mother Nature’s say,” Conigliaro said.
The location will return with state-of-the art equipment, and a new spot on the parking lot that will allow for easier flow of traffic. In the meantime, employees will be sent to work at one of the 61 restaurants that franchise owner Blake Casper heads.
“It’s insane to think that can all be done in a few months, but it has before and it will again,” Conigliaro said.