Clearwater Beach surf shop will make way for craft brewery

Craft beer lovers, get stoked about what's coming.
Published February 25 2014
Updated February 25 2014

CLEARWATER — Bill McKenna's surf shop has been a Clearwater Beach fixture for 35 years.

Mandalay Surf Co., one of Clearwater's first surf shops, opened in a 700-square-foot space near the then-Clearwater Beach Hotel. McKenna sold surfboards, skimboards, skateboards and beachwear there for 12 years before moving to Mandalay Avenue and Baymont Street, where he continued to build a following.

But the Mandalay Surf Co.'s era will end in June, when Mc­Kenna and wife Linda will close their shop. And a new era will begin, with the space scheduled to be sold to the island's first craft brewery, the Clearwater Beach Brewing Company.

"Trees don't grow to heaven," McKenna, 72, said. "So sooner or later all things come to an end."

Dennis Prescott, listed on state records as a manager of the brewery, said he could not comment on the plans until the contract on the property closes. He would not speculate on when that would be.

But plans already on file and approved by city officials hint of what's in store.

The 3,900-square-foot building will get a new facade and some extra height to provide enough vertical space for the brewing vats. The three-level brewery and restaurant will feature a second-floor wraparound balcony with outdoor dining, and a rooftop bar. The second floor also will offer views into the first-floor brewing room.

McKenna, who grew up in Clearwater, started the surf shop in the late 1970s when he was working in sales for Ocean Pacific clothing.

He had no clients on Clearwater Beach, so he decided to open a surf shop, modeled after the successful ones he visited elsewhere. It would have only the best "California cool" merchandise, he decided — no "three for $10 T-shirt" stuff, McKenna said.

"I always thought I could move this store to Southern California and never miss a beat," he said.

Because McKenna already had a job, he did not take a salary at the new shop. That money went toward buying inventory for the fledgling business. It was one of the first places in the area to offer complete skateboards and a line of surfboards.

McKenna was there long enough to witness the explosion of counterculture sports.

"The names change, but the game's the same — people having fun," he said.

McKenna did what he could to support local athletes, sponsoring tournaments and letting many regulars hang out at the shop watching videos of professional surfers and skateboarders.

McKenna is not ruling out the idea that someone else could choose to open another surf shop under the Mandalay Surf name, which he will still own.

As for him, he'll be hanging out on Clearwater Beach.

"I live here," McKenna said. "I'm not going anywhere."