NEW PORT RICHEY — A few years ago, Canadian Barbara Russell found her way to western Pasco County because she loves Florida and the water.
Russell grew up in Newfoundland, a Canadian coastal island that's wild and bleak and as big as New England.
One of 11 children, she was enterprising and smart and grew up to earn her doctorate in comparative literature and study cooking in the South of France. Over the years, Russell, now 60, went on to own a chain of bistros in Boston as well as renovate houses, including a historic farmhouse that won the New England Dream House award.
Then, when a former business partner moved to Indonesia and fell in love with the solid teak furnishings made by local artisans, he and Russell decided to go into business together.
Now she's ventured into the home furnishings business.
Her store, which she opened last fall in downtown New Port Richey, features a large selection of imported teak furniture from Indonesia.
Java Bay Imports, at 5752 Main St., brims with unusual and beautiful handmade tables, beds, chaise lounges, wardrobes, dining sets and vanities.
"The product was so outstanding that opening this business made sense to me," she says. "It's a place for people who love solid wood furniture."
The furniture, all teak, is made from plantation-grown varieties as well as beautiful old recycled teak. Prices remain relatively low: a solid, two-drawer cocktail table fetches $320; a handsome buffet/side table, $620; a big rangy masculine desk, $625.
"We really have a hodgepodge right now because we wanted to see what would sell."
Russell decorated the walls of the shop, which adjoins the Cameo Antique Mall, with colorful imported sarongs, also from Indonesia. She runs the business from her computer in the front of the shop, where she's actually working at her real job: as an online English professor for Kaplan University.
For that reason alone, "it's a very nice business to own," she says, noting that the store's hours, from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, allow her the time she needs for teaching and grading assignments.
Russell, who sold her restaurant business two years ago and moved to Hudson in December 2006, never thought of opening a shop in a mall.
"I picked New Port Richey because it has such a beautiful downtown with its river and park," she says. "I loved the historic character of the downtown."
Her decision to leave Boston and head south had everything to do with long commutes and cold weather.
She chose the west Pasco area — to live and work — after an extensive online search.
"Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Hudson has the best-priced waterfront property in Florida," says Russell, who also owns a rustic waterfront cottage in Nova Scotia, where she spends a month to six weeks every summer. Again, finding that property was the result of an intensive search — this time in person.
"I drove the whole coast until I found the perfect little place," she says, "It's in a little town that's older than Colonial Williamsburg."
Although she's a Northerner at heart, she immediately fell in love with Hudson.
"It's very eclectic and my little corner of heaven," says Russell, whose waterfront Hudson home is only 15 minutes away from her shop.
New Port Richey also appealed to her as a great place to open a shop and spend time.
"It's quite an artistic community with its art galleries and restaurants," she says.
The other draw was its location. Russell, who loves the outdoors and kayaking, says she couldn't have found a better location.
"I absolutely love Florida," she says. "This weekend I was out in my kayak and saw great blue heron and manatees. It was wonderful. The manatees came up to my boat wanting to have their heads rubbed and bellies patted."
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at [email protected]