Friday, December 15, 2017
News Roundup

Citrus king Al Repetto stayed true to his Florida roots

The shiny postcard captured a vision of Florida that tourists saw, of cars from the 1950s parked in front of Orange Blossom Groves, a barn-shaped wooden building beneath a shouting blue sky.

Inside, Al Repetto pressed orange slices onto a stainless steel juicer, then strained the juice into glass gallon Coca-Cola jugs to sell beside the grapefruit candy, saltwater taffy and chocolate-covered fruit peels.

He joked with customers, pulled pranks on his employees and planned for the next busy day, which would inevitably find Mr. Repetto tooling around endless groves on a tractor or tending to his black Angus cattle.

That is how he ran Orange Blossom Groves, once among the state's largest.

He saw the business grow to 350 employees and earn more than $12 million a year.

Then the sheen wore off.

Citrus canker wiped out thousands of trees. Tourists stopped shipping bags of oranges and grapefruit up north. Developers wanted his land.

The world changed around him, but Mr. Repetto had not. He refused to sell.

Finally, he changed his mind and closed his stores in Seminole and Clearwater. He remained available for the Kiwanis Club of Seminole and continued to raise cattle even when he could no longer drive.

Mr. Repetto, who ran an iconic citrus business for nearly 60 years and helped put Seminole on the map, died June 29 at a rehabilitation facility. He was 88.

"He was truly a gentleman," said Seminole Mayor Jimmy Johnson. "He was generous, very kind, and he would always be there if someone needed help. He served our business community extremely well."

Old photos show a brawny man who had spent his life outdoors.

He was born in Pinellas County, the son of a citrus farmer who used mules to carry fertilizer and water. He served in the Navy during World War II. The same leathery hand that could palm three grapefruit also pitched softballs for the Clearwater Bombers.

In 1946, he opened Orange Blossom Groves on Seminole Boulevard with a brother-in-law. Three years later, he opened another store on U.S. 19 at Belleair Road.

"There were three major industries in Pinellas County before the tourists found out we were here: citrus, cattle and dairy, and fishing," said Don Forehand, 74, who is president of the Largo Area Historical Society. "Al really knew how to (grow citrus). He knew how to merchandize it, too."

Orange Blossom Groves catered to snowbirds and tourists, who stopped for fresh-squeezed orange juice and orange ice cream. The store and packing house thrived. In his free time, Mr. Repetto fished for mullet.

He was one of three charter members of the Kiwanis Club of Seminole in 1960 and was part of a successful effort to see Seminole become a city in 1970.

"He was involved in giving to different organizations," said Harold Kinsey, 75, the club's president-elect. "He would ask the question, 'Why aren't we doing this?' "

Mr. Repetto also counseled Seminole Vo-Ed Center agriculture students in raising livestock and gave them tips on getting the best market prices, said Leslie Waters, Seminole's vice mayor.

"His passing is certainly the end of an era," Waters said.

As other growers sold land to developers and Pinellas County groves gave way to subdivisions, Mr. Repetto held onto the 37 acres he had left.

"I'm too dumb to know when to quit," he told the Times in 2004, when he was 79 and still working every day. "I'd hate to sell even an acre."

Said Johnson, "He loved his orange groves, and he wouldn't give up on them, that's for sure."

An outbreak of citrus canker in 2005 helped change his mind. Mr. Repetto burned more than 27,000 trees to stop the spread of the disease.

"That just killed him," said Janet Repetto, his wife of 63 years.

Daughter Cindy Repetto now runs Allison's Orchids on the original location of Orange Blossom Groves.

He had sold the Clearwater property, which is now occupied by a car dealership.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

 
Comments
Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

In 2010, Florida was in the throes of an unprecedented housing crisis. One in every eight homes was in some stage of foreclosure. Today, the foreclosure rate is one in every 83. Because of that enormous drop, Florida’s Hardest Hit Fund will s...
Updated: 1 minute ago
Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

TAMPA — For the half of the year that Harry Nichols lives in Oldsmar, he plays 18 holes several times a month at Rocky Point Golf Course. On a good day, Nichols said he shoots close to par on the Dana Shores course. And if he’s really lucky, it’ll on...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
Festivus 2017: Submit your grievances and complaints here

Festivus 2017: Submit your grievances and complaints here

Here's your chance. Tell us what annoyed you in 2017, and we'll share it with our readers.
Updated: 1 hour ago
Cannon Fodder podcast: Let’s revisit Monday night games in Bucs’ past

Cannon Fodder podcast: Let’s revisit Monday night games in Bucs’ past

Times Bucs writer Greg Auman has injury updates on Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy and a nostalgic trip through the Bucs’ history on Monday night, including the current three-game win streak and yes, that infamous 2003 Colts game where the Bucs were u...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay girls swim teams

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay girls swim teams

Hillsborough County Swimmer of the Year: Morgan Tankersley, Sr., PlantTankersley defended her state title in the 500 free (4:44.75) and placed second in one of the country’s fastest 200 free races in 1:46.75, 2.07 seconds behind Buchholz junior Isa...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Love of science is the goal, now that every Pinellas elementary school has a lab

Love of science is the goal, now that every Pinellas elementary school has a lab

SEMINOLE — It was hard for the second-graders at Orange Grove Elementary to resist the urge to rush into the school’s science lab and tinker with the colorful objects neatly arranged on each table.Thursday was just their second time in the lab this y...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Deputies: Plant City men fled in stolen car, later found in swamp

Deputies: Plant City men fled in stolen car, later found in swamp

DOVER — Two Plant City men, with several outstanding warrants, face additional charges after Hillsborough County deputies said they were driving a stolen car when they fled an attempted traffic stop on Thursday afternoon.The men ran away from deputie...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Why the Bucs need a Dungy more than a Gruden

Why the Bucs need a Dungy more than a Gruden

TAMPA — The worst week of Dirk Koetter’s life rolls on.It’s Gruden Week, just like Shark Week, only with smaller teeth and a bigger playbook. It’s the big build-up to Gruden’s induction into the Buc Ring of Honor this Monday night, with the accompany...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Arrest made as former gay bathhouse in Ybor City is hit by arson a third time

Arrest made as former gay bathhouse in Ybor City is hit by arson a third time

TAMPA — Tampa police arrested a man Friday on charges he set fire to a vacant Ybor City bathhouse hit by at least two earlier arsons this year.Police said Carroll DeMoss, 46, was found early Friday inside the building at 1512 E 8th Ave. after patrols...
Updated: 2 hours ago
The meta-soap opera of Omarosa Manigault’s White House exit

The meta-soap opera of Omarosa Manigault’s White House exit

WASHINGTON — As the spooling drama of Omarosa Manigault Newman’s White House departure spun into its 36th hour, Washington began asking itself: "Does it actually matter whether Omarosa quit or was fired?"Dumbest story ever," tweeted John Harwood, the...
Updated: 2 hours ago