There’s no point chaining themselves to the storefront or lying in the bulldozer’s path. (Though Thomas Joseph “TJ” Koontz, proprietor of TJ’s CDs & More, joked, “It might be fun to do anyway.”)
There’s no stopping progress. Before 2019 is over, two irreplaceable Port Charlotte blasts from the past will have to move.
The town’s sole surviving record store, TJ’s CDs & More, and its sole surviving all-purpose fixit shop, All Brand Service Center, must relocate when their 3,000-square-foot strip mall — 3275 Tamiami Trail, between Dairy Queen and Olympia Restaurant — is demolished in June. A third business in the mall, a print shop, never had a chance to open.
The contiguous, but separate, building that houses Florida Marine Works, Ladd’s Barber Shop, After Inked The Guest Spot, Kristin Eliza Medical Aesthetics and Will Anthony Permanent Cosmetics will remain standing.
The new owner — next-door Coastal Express Carwash Inc. — isn’t exactly the paved paradise of Joni Mitchell’s song “Big Yellow Taxi,” nor will it necessarily put up a parking lot when the site is cleared.
Coastal Express owner Thomas Klein reported that he has no specific plans for now.
But neither of the strip mall’s “dying” businesses plans to throw in the towel anytime soon. Both will remain open well-into next year, before relocating and carrying on as before.
“I believe that, within my lifetime, I’ll be able to continue selling what I sell, until I’m done,” said Koontz.
“You sometimes think it’s going to end,” mused All Brand Service Center owner Clarence Dunbar. “But more people are getting sick of the ‘throwaway’ mentality.”
After the building’s previous owner, Dave Bergen, passed away in February, Koontz made two offers on the property. Six months later, he was told that someone had far outbid him to buy the place, fair and square. Because his and Dunbar’s leases are good until the end of March, Coastal Express delayed demolition past its original January goal.
To make things easier on the tenants, Klein told them they could stay, month to month, until June, while they seek new locations.
TJ’s time capsule
TJ’s CDs & More is a time capsule that’s been hidden in the 56-year-old strip since 1994, with TJ Koontz as its goateed resident historian/raconteur.
For several years he wrote the Sun’s “New Tunes” column, reviewing and providing backstory factoids on new releases.
Stickers, patches, incense, smoke-shop paraphernalia, a beaded curtain, a Sgt. Pepper endcap, new and used CDs, records, toy swords, even a tin of Tonka Toys, pack the 1,000-square-foot space that doubles as a congenial local general store. People have come there for years to hang out with TJ, buy a 50-cent soda from his Coke machine and listen to his choice of tunes.
Johnny, a 40-year-long neighbor sporting a Zig-Zag Man T-shirt, first popped into TJ’s decades ago and doesn’t appear to have left since.
“That’s why I have chairs,” Koontz said.
On one of them someone’s scrawled “Kilroy Was Here,” the WWII graffiti that went viral long before social media. Another is a theater seat salvaged from Promenades Cinema Centers 1 and 2, which Koontz’s parents, Fred and Alice, operated from the mid-1970s. TJ worked there when he was 11.
At 16, he took another dream job at Rey DeArriba’s Promenades Record Shop.
“What kid wouldn’t want to work in a movie theater or a record store?” he said.
In 1986 he dropped out of college against his parents’ wishes to open his own record store, the first to sell CDs in Charlotte County. He moved into 3275 Tamiami in 1994.
Resurrection is nothing new to TJ.
“In 2010-2011, I thought this business was done,” he said. “If you could get music on the internet, why buy it? But then vinyl came back, and now I sell 10 records to 1 CD. Young audiophiles 15 to 30 have discovered that vinyl sounds fuller and warmer.”
TJ plans to keep his store in Port Charlotte, where he has a loyal following, raised three children and is still a Boy Scout leader.
He can fix anything
One of the first stores on Tamiami Trail, All Brand Service Center (originally All Brands Vacuum Center) has been there since 1969, bearing the proud motto “We Can Fix Anything.”
The whole space seems steeped in “eau de vintage stereo system.”
“That’s the electronics smell,” explained owner Clarence Dunbar, who started helping the original owner’s son, Charles “Chaz” Gorrill, 24 years ago.
Dunbar’s office wall holds factory training certificates, now yellowed with age, for brands from Magnavox to Zenith. In the golden age of TV repair, his Ohio shops took in 200 projects a day.
As involved in the community as TJ, Dunbar and his wife, Donna, launched the Charlotte County Homeless Coalition’s feeding program in 1994. Donna still serves for them every Friday.
Finalist in the 2007 Charlotte Sun Reader’s Choice service category for TV/VCR Repair — a niche that, tellingly, doesn’t exist anymore — Clarence fixes everything from Betamaxes, vacuums, eight-tracks and camcorders to laptops.
Although electronics now outstrip his former bread-and-butter analog repairs, more customers are bringing in collectibles that nobody else can fix.
“We do stuff from brand new back to the 1930s. They made things then that are hard to match today.”
Clarence’s comforting words to customers are always, “We’ll see if we can figure it out,” and he almost always does.
He said, “I’ll be here for at least six months, because the new owner said he’d work with me after my lease ends. In a new place, I figure I’m good for at least five more years before retirement. I want to stay on U.S. 41, where my clients can find me.”
“It is what it is,” Clarence concluded. “Everything’s going to be fine. We’ll all survive.”