Frank Hommema, owner of the landmark Fishin’ Franks Bait & Tackle shop, was about to negotiate a new lease to resurrect his business Wednesday. But he didn’t look happy.
“I’m not good with this type of stress,” he admitted, standing in front of the former Little Caesars Pizza in the Baer’s Plaza mall at 4200 Tamiami Trail.
He was referring to a last-minute decision to lease another space.
Frank was with carpenter Charles (Chuck) Hepp, owner of Chuck’s Custom Carpentry, to go over details for renovation work needed in unit L. It was the former location of Little Caesars at Baer’s Plaza.
Deciding to take a stroll, Frank walked a few hundred feet to the more recent Little Caesars, whose sign is still on the building, but the unit was vacant. It was also larger and in better shape than the other unit.
Frank immediately called the mall’s landlord to tell him he wanted the larger unit, but the landlord was in a meeting. So, Frank began to smoke and pace, awaiting an answer.
Meanwhile, Captain James Willis arrived. The captain said he’s been doing business with Fishin’ Franks since the late 1980s. “Frank takes the time to help people and set them up with the right equipment; Frank listens to captains and what we need, and he always has it on hand.”
Frank hopes he can reopen by May.
He ruminated why his business has been successful since 1985. “I’m a much better teacher than a fisherman,” he admitted. He said he doesn’t like to sell a customer more than what is needed. “Why sell an old guy a $200 to $300 cast net he couldn’t lift or throw? A $60 to $80 dollar net would give him time to build up skills.”
Terry Hommema, Frank’s wife and partner, pulled up in her car. Soon, all awaited that important call — would Fishin’ Franks be reopening in unit L or P?
Frank nearly abandoned reopening his business, he said, after the original site of his business on U.S. 41 was destroyed on May 24 last year. The driver of a pickup truck hit a curb, went airborne, and landed upside-down on the roof, catching the building on fire. The structure burned to the ground.
Afterward, Frank negotiated to buy a building, but the deal fell through. He entered into a 45-day contract, but the insurance money didn’t come through in time, he said.
Although he was ready to retire, there were too many factors preventing him from pursuing a leisure lifestyle. “Morally, I don’t have a choice — people donated a bunch of money for me to reopen, and I had a lot of pressure from the community.”
GoFundMe accounts started by customers and friends amounted to some $50,000. He also received a slew of gift cards from the community, he said.
Perhaps the main reason Frank is reopening his business is Robert Lugiewicz, who has worked for Frank “half his life,” his employer said. “He’s (Robert) basically like my son.”
Robert’s vision “is 20/200,” Frank said, making it difficult for him to find a comparable job. Also, Frank said he is opening the business within walking or bicycling distance from Robert’s home.
Robert soon arrived with Josh Olive, publisher of Waterline. They had just recorded Josh’s weekly radio show. Robert said he was happy the business was reopening. “He (Frank) is like my father.”
Approaching noon, there was still no call from the landlord. “I’m in my 60s; I can’t screw up,” Frank said. “I’m very agitated, aggravated and frustrated.”
When asked what was the secret of Fishin’ Frank’s success, Frank said, “What kept us going for 37 years was being able to change direction.” Then, he became philosophical, saying, “When we make plans, God laughs.”
Once Fishin’ Franks is open, he will begin to work “part-time” and let Robert run the business. He and Terry will travel and finally get the (semi) retirement they worked toward so many years, although Frank said he will remain active in the business.
Frank expressed doubts his May timetable will be met if he can’t move into the larger unit.
Chuck Hepp took measurements along the storefronts. The larger P unit is approximately 1,800 square feet; the smaller one is some 1,150 square feet, Hepp said.
Renovation costs for the smaller unit could run as high as $30,000, Chuck estimated, while the larger unit had many amenities in place, including an exhaust system in the former pizza kitchen. It would clear the smell of baitfish from the air.
Regardless of which unit he ultimately gets, Fishin’ Franks will soon be back.
“I can collect Social Security; I’ll be 64. I don’t feel like I want to go back in business, but I have an obligation to the community and to Robert. If I don’t do it, it won’t be done,” Frank said.