In Dade City, things get chilly between rival ice businesses

The Scharber family runs several Gulf Coast Ice kiosks, including this one next to Dade City Liquors. Jim Guedry, who owns the liquor store, also sells ice. “Our biggest seller,” he says.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

The Scharber family runs several Gulf Coast Ice kiosks, including this one next to Dade City Liquors. Jim Guedry, who owns the liquor store, also sells ice. “Our biggest seller,” he says.

DADE CITY — This is all John Gorrie's fault.

Nearly 160 years ago, the Florida physician invented a novel contraption that is now commonplace in most freezers, convenience stores and restaurants.

The ice machine.

Frozen water, once a luxury shipped down from Northern lakes for the Southern elite, would eventually be made available to everyone, thanks to Gorrie. He is known as the father of refrigeration, the granddaddy of air-conditioning.

But his invention has started a war between a group of men who want to be the ultimate ice provider for the 7,000 people of Dade City.

• • •

Jim Guedry, 54, made his name in the citrus business and now owns more property than he can count in Dade City.

On one lot, Guedry runs a check-cashing business and a liquor store where 8 pounds of frozen water, which cost him hardly more than a quarter, goes for $1.49.

"Our biggest seller," Guedry said, "is ice."

The original ice machine — which repeatedly compressed and released air to draw the heat out of water — never made John Gorrie any money. But now ice is big business, a must for vendors of any liquid sold in packs of six or 12. Keep your drink prices competitive and the ice cheap, they say, and the customers will roll right in.

The Scharber family saw an opportunity.

In 2008, Bill Scharber, a general contractor with free time on his hands after the housing market crashed, started Gulf Coast Ice with his sons, Jarrod and Blake, a lawyer and recent business grad, respectively.

Their family has been in the area for generations. Scharber Road in nearby San Antonio? That's them.

They had little trouble finding local businesses that would rent them outdoor space to build their freestanding 8.5- by 20-foot ice vending machines.

At the seven Gulf Coast Ice locations in Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties, customers can fill their coolers with 20 pounds of bulk ice for $1.50, or buy 16 pounds of bagged ice for the same price.

Patti Thibodeaux drives 20 minutes round trip, twice a week, from Wesley Chapel to San Antonio to buy three 16-pound bags of frozen water for the coolers at her son's baseball practice.

"You just can't beat the price," she said.

In fall 2008, the Scharbers found the perfect location for their latest machine, in north Dade City, near Guedry's Dade City Liquors and the Check Man.

"I find a check-cashing place next to a liquor store," explained Jarrod Scharber, 28. "I want to be here."

Here's where it starts to get dicey. The Scharbers said they approached Guedry about placing a machine in his parking lot, but were denied by his assistant. Guedry said he doesn't have an assistant and would have welcomed the business partnership.

Either way, the Scharbers took their modern version of Gorrie's invention and went next door.

• • •

Soon after his new neighbors moved in May 21, Guedry appeared in City Hall, complaining the ice machine blocked the view of his store from northbound traffic on Seventh Street, the main drag through town. He was told the ice kiosk was within code.

The Scharbers then called City Hall with their own complaint. Someone, they said, had moved a hulking semitrailer advertising Florida citrus in the liquor store's parking lot, blocking the view of their ice machine from southbound traffic.

"I did not move it there to aggravate anybody," Guedry said. "It's my right to park whatever I want on my property."

"It's just business. I'm going to sell ice."

By ordinance, freestanding trailers are not permitted in Dade City. Guedry was alerted, and by the following week, a cab was attached. The trailer became a parked truck and, if you ask the Scharber family, a peculiar form of revenge.

"The semitrailer blocks the view of his building three-times-fold what our ice house did," said Bill Scharber, 52.

• • •

The morning after Guedry talked to a Times reporter last week, the truck on his property was moved. At least for the time being.

The Scharbers hoped to get their ice machine in operation by this weekend. For several months they will run a special: 20 pounds of ice for a dollar.

In the next two weeks, Guedry said, he plans to open his own ice business, an idea he said germinated long before Gulf Coast Ice came to town. Here, he plans to sell 10 pounds of ice for about 50 cents.

Shortly after the Gulf Coast Ice machine appeared, a contractor on Guedry's behalf applied for a permit to build a 9-foot fence between the liquor store and its neighbor.

Yes, the fence will block the liquor store just like Guedry says the ice machine does. But he has to do it for liability reasons. He's concerned Gulf Coast Ice customers may park by his liquor store and injure themselves in his lot, a potential lawsuit.

"I'm just protecting what's mine," he said.

"It's just out of spite," said Bill Scharber. "There's no logical reason to spend the money to do that."

• • •

John Gorrie died on June 16, 1855, at the age of 54.

The final years of his life were filled with debt and misery. The press ridiculed his malfunctioning ice-making prototype. The Northern ice suppliers, fearing the competition, lobbied heavily against him.

A potential investor died before providing Gorrie with funds. It was the final straw. Gorrie suffered a nervous breakdown from which he never recovered.

Now immortalized in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the John Gorrie Museum State Park in Apalachicola, 300 miles northeast of Dade City, Gorrie died without any knowledge of the consequences his machine would have on future generations.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis@sptimes.com or (813) 435-7312.

by the numbers

$2.98 Price of 16 pounds of ice at Jim Guedry's Dade City Liquors.

$1.50 Price of 16 pounds of bagged ice at Gulf Coast Ice.

$1 Introductory sale price for 20 pounds of ice when new Gulf Coast Ice kiosk opens next to Guedry's Dade City Liquors.

$1 Price that Guedry plans to charge for 20 pounds of ice when his own ice business opens.

In Dade City, things get chilly between rival ice businesses 06/06/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 6, 2009 12:40pm]

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