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Tastes change, island wear shop remains at John's Pass Village

MADEIRA BEACH — It used to be that guys at the beach wore Hawaiian print shirts. These days those rayon floral shirts are out and T-shirts are all the rage.

That's one of the few things that Kelley Letourneau has seen change in her 11 years managing one of the oldest beachwear stores in John's Pass Village.

For Letourneau and her husband, Bob, who together run Wild Time Island Wear, the shift in customer taste meant a major overhaul of their inventory several years ago. It also came as a blow to the two longtime Jimmy Buffett fans.

"We are waiting for those Hawaiian shirts to come back," Kelley Letourneau lamented. "They were part of our identity."

Most everything else has stayed the same at one of the oldest businesses in the seaside John's Pass Village shopping district, say the Letourneaus. The couple bought the shop in 1999, but it has been in the village since 1981.

Kelley Letourneau acquired the store from her former babysitter, Jane Risley. Back then, the business was located on the old boardwalk that was torn down in 2005 to make way for a 40,000-square-foot retail building.

The couple had to quickly find another location. Things turned out well; in their new spot at 12932 Village Blvd. they have double the floor space and their own parking lot on Gulf Boulevard, and the store faces Village Boulevard with more foot traffic.

They added more product lines and fine-tuned their beach gear offerings, adding items such as pet accessories and shoes.

Madeira Beach Mayor Patricia Shontz, who owns the building and whose family operated several restaurants in the village over the years, said Wild Time's longevity is notable because many beach-themed stores don't last long.

"There is a lot of coming and going down there these days," Shontz said.

Shontz was among the proponents of the village's redevelopment in the '90s, when palm trees, antique streetlamps, public bathrooms and cobblestone streets were added. County tourism officials recently counted 2 million visitors to the village. Still, Shontz said John's Pass Village often gets shortchanged.

"The locals think it's nothing but a tourist trap. That's not true," she said. "There's dolphins, there's good restaurants, there's a beautiful view off the boardwalk. We have a wine store in John's Pass Village where they make wine. It's not just a bunch of T-shirt shops."

The Letourneaus say what separates them from other shops in the village is that they grew up in the area and know it well.

"I work very hard to promote our local culture," Kelley Letourneau said.

Before they acquired the business, the couple ran a lawn service - Kelley was the accountant and Bob was in charge of labor. Bob is also a longtime musician. They go boating a lot. They know the best fishing hole, the best quiet patch of beach, the best restaurants. Bob is still a drummer in a local reggae band, Trinity 7.

The beach reads on their bookshelves are handpicked: novels of Carl Hiaasen, Randy Wayne White and Tom Corcoran share space with newly minted author Steve Lamb.

The walls are covered with autographed photos of Jimmy Buffett, surf pioneer Henry Ford, country musician George Strait. Buffett croons from loudspeakers.

When you love people and your office is a tiki hut-covered cash register, who needs to go on vacation?

"We haven't gone on one," Kelley Letourneau said, "in 25 years."

— Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or lperez@sptimes.com.

Tastes change, island wear shop remains at John's Pass Village 06/01/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 2, 2010 11:32am]
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