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Epilogue | Newt Simmons

Newt Simmons ushered in the counterculture with Out of Sight! Shop in St. Pete Beach

ST. PETE BEACH — To those who lived through that time, "the Sixties" really means the late 1960s and early 1970s. That is when Woodstock defined a generation, the Beatles peaked and receded, and long hair on men seemed normal.

On St. Petersburg's Gulf beaches, one retailer — the Out of Sight! Shop — captured the essence of the time better than anyone else.

The store at 401 Corey Ave. in St. Pete Beach opened in 1968. Co-founders Newt Simmons and his wife, Anne, were both 22 and full of hope. Billed variously as a "new country store," a "psychedelic department store" and the "most incredible shop in the universe," Out of Sight! was the counterculture's Webb's City on a much smaller scale.

Here black light posters and underground comics shared floor space with vintage clothing and jukeboxes from earlier eras, the original 45s and 78s still in the racks.

A disarming cockapoo, Murphy the Wonder Dog (his name announced on the T-shirt he wore), greeted visitors.

Murphy lived 20 years. The Out of Sight! Shop lasted for 25, closing in 1993 as Out-of-Sight Swimsuit City. Now the man whose vision launched the store is also gone. Newt Simmons, died March 17, a month after suffering a fall. He was 68.

An admirer of Doc Webb, Mr. Simmons sought his own brand of folksiness by covering the former bank building with wooden planks. A motorcycle crate served as the checkout counter. The display cases were orange crates stood on end, inside which hung the accoutrements of counterculture fashion.

"You could walk in there, an Ivy League straight kid, and walk out with everything you needed for the hippie lifestyle," said co-founder Anne White, Mr. Simmons' ex-wife. "You could buy a bead curtain, a bedspread (imported from India). You could buy incense, lava lamps, everything you could possibly want."

Frederick Newton Simmons was born in Shreveport, La., in 1945, the son of a railroad worker. He met Anne White at Louisiana State University, then transferred to the University of Florida. He married Anne, and the two of them decided to tap into the growing "head shop" market.

Out of Sight! became a destination, a place to buy jeans, posters and tie-dye shirts from infant sizes on up, books and underground comics — and, yes, pipes, rolling papers and other "smoking accessories."

The homey, friendly clutter reflected the encyclopedic recall of its founder — a man who once received a refund from Silva Mind Control after successfully arguing that the program had not been able to increase his already high IQ.

A cartoonist for his college's humor magazine, Mr. Simmons hand painted his store signs. A sign on a rack of tank halter tops read: "Tanks for the mammaries."

"That's why it was a destination," White said, "because it was his imprint on every single thing."

One tourist even asked if they charged admission.

The store's success led to an expansion into an adjacent property and a second floor. Mr. Simmons opened a couple of other stores in St. Pete Beach and Tampa under different names, and a bar, Dr. Feelgood's Barrel House at 401 16th St. N in St. Petersburg.

Then Wings Beachware, a Walgreens and other big box retailers moved in nearby, offering beachwear staples at discount prices. Mr. Simmons changed his store's name to Out-of-Sight Swimsuit City.

In 1990, federal authorities seized inventory from Out-of-Sight Swimsuit City and charged Mr. Simmons with trafficking paraphernalia, said Matt Simmons, Mr. Simmons' son.

"Some of this stuff was the exact same thing that was being sold across the street in a gas station, little corncob pipes and rolling papers," said Matt Simmons, 44.

Mr. Simmons served a term of house arrest as part of a plea agreement.

He sold the store in 1993. In the years since, he worked at a call center that helped firefighters, owned rental properties and ran a booth at a Palmetto flea market. He never opened another store.

Mr. Simmons fell in February while shopping at a Dollar Tree store, his family said. He underwent surgery for a subdural hematoma, or blood collecting on the brain, but he never recovered.

In recent months he had been buying recycled jeans, planning to open another store. He had even chosen a name: "Zoot."

The Corey Avenue storefront he leased has gone through several incarnations since, and is currently the home of Florida Jean Company.

"You could never open a store like (Out of Sight!) today," his son said, "because somebody might trip and fall and sue for a hundred million dollars.

"But the world is poorer for it because it would be great to have a place like that now."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

.Biography

Frederick Newton "Newt" Simmons

Born: Aug. 23, 1945

Died: March 17, 2014

Survivors: son, Matthew Simmons; daughter, Rosemary Simmons; and two grandchildren.

Memorial service: To be arranged.

Newt Simmons ushered in the counterculture with Out of Sight! Shop in St. Pete Beach 03/24/14 [Last modified: Thursday, March 27, 2014 8:28pm]

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