PORT CHARLOTTE — The smell of smoke was still in the air late Sunday morning as locals gathered to mourn the loss of Fishin' Franks Bait and Tackle on the corner of U.S. 41 and Edgewater Drive in Charlotte Harbor.

The 40-plus-year-old shop, owned by “Fishin'” Frank Hommema, caught fire around 2:15 earlier that morning and burnt down after a pickup truck crashed onto the building. No one was believed to have been inside at the time.

“There’s a lot more here than just a building,” said Mike Borski, one of the many local regulars at the shop. “It’s just a shame. People who don’t know fishing and don’t frequent the shop wouldn’t understand. These guys are all tremendous. It’s unusual for something like this to touch as many people as much as it does.”

Around 2 a.m. Sunday, a Punta Gorda man, 32, was driving the pickup truck southbound on U.S. 41 approaching Edgewater when he veered off the road and across the driveway and grass area of the neighboring Circle K gas Station, according to a Florida Highway Patrol press release.

The driver then struck a raised concrete curb, went airborne and hit the Fishin' Franks building, overturning and landing on the roof.

As a result of the crash, the vehicle and Fishin' Franks caught fire. The bait and tackle shop was completely destroyed.

The FHP suspects that alcohol was involved in the crash. The case remains under investigation with charges pending.

The driver is currently in serious condition after being airlifted to a hospital. The name of the hospital is not being released.

A legend to generations

Thomas Locke, 36, said he’s been coming to the bait shop for decades.

“This is just devastating,” Locke said. “I’ve been coming here all my life. I have three kids that have been coming here all their lives. People come out here and talk and get live bait and information on where to fish. The place is legendary. It’s going to be hard on a lot of people.”

Dona Gant was a family friend to the Hommemas and a longtime customer of the shop along with her husband and sons.

“Fishin' Franks was not the typical bait shop that stood on the side of the road selling worms and crickets,” Gant said. “Fishin' Franks was the hub of the community to fishermen all across Charlotte County regardless of their age. It was a landmark for those who have been here for decades or all their lives.”

A pillar of the community

Donnie Brennan, director of the Punta Gorda Isles Fishing Club, has known owner Frank Hommema Jr., for about 20 years.

“It’s not just a store, it’s an institution,” Brennan said. “He’s a pillar of the community. He’s always helping people ... not just the fishing community but if anybody needs help he is right there to start any type of community service or if somebody is lacking funds he will try to get a fundraiser or something going.”

Gant said “Fishin'” Frank gave generously to many in the community.

“He helped one youngster trade his pacifiers for tackle when nothing else worked to break that habit,” Gant said. “He donated over a dozen rods and reels to a group of youth who had no opportunity to fish and who were being taught fishing techniques by local fishermen.

“Frank and his staff are good people and through the years they have touched the lives of thousands of people, maybe even changed a few.”

Always a constant

“As much as the whole area, community and society has changed (over the years), he’s always been a constant,” Brennan said. “That’s what people are going to miss if he can’t come back.”

As far as the future of Fishin' Franks is concerned, Hommema told the Sun there is always a chance for a new chapter.

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