Wednesday, April 25, 2018
News Roundup

Riverview Chamber board member watches community transform

Jim Johnson always brings the good candy.

"Coconut, chocolate, crunchy, peanut butter," he said. "I don't want to get into pushing brands, but it's the really good stuff."

For the past 25 years, the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce has put on Trick or Treat Street, a massive event that brings together community partners and businesses to hand out candy to kids in the safety of the Riverview High School parking lot. Johnson, 63, has been involved since the beginning. He is a board emeritus member of the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce, and also the public affairs coordinator for phosphate and potash supplier Mosaic, where he started as a laborer in 1972.

Born in Tennessee, his parents moved him and his five siblings to Ruskin to find better jobs and better weather. They found both of those things, plus a community that quickly became their own. Johnson was 10 or 11 years old, he said, when his parents helped with the dime drive to buy the Apollo Beach Rescue Squad's first ambulance.

Johnson now lives in Riverview with his wife of 44 years, Linda, and has continued the community involvement he learned from his parents. He recently spoke with Times staff writer Keeley Sheehan about how Trick or Treat Street and Riverview have grown over the years, and what he hopes for the community's future.

How did Trick or Treat Street start?

It was a great opportunity to provide a safe trick-or-treat event for children in Riverview and other communities. It was in the parking lot of the USave on 301 and Gibsonton Drive. We would take one quarter of the parking lot, set up facades that were easily erected and easily pulled down, and put out the word in the community.

Over the years, we got out of the parking lot. It was held at YMCA Camp Cristina, and eventually we partnered with Riverview High School. It's not just a place to have an event. The clubs at the high school set up games, and the students are able to make some money for their clubs. It's just become a tremendous event that folks from all over Hillsborough County come to. Twenty-five years, and this year is going to be the biggest and best by far.

What has it been like to see Trick or Treat Street grow so much over the years?

In the beginning, we felt really good about getting 500 children and today, in the past few years we've been at Riverview High School, we have just transformed into thousands. And the effect on the chamber, from a little community event supported by local businesses, to every year adding a couple of sponsors. Now the businesses that register and set up a facade are actually building their businesses in the community. It's not just about candy, it's about the relationships and partnerships businesses build, not just with the public, but with the other businesses they are beside.

How have you seen Riverview change over the years?

Transforming, would be the word, from a two-lane road of small businesses. The two largest businesses when I bought the house here in Riverview were Kash n' Karry and Western Auto. Those were the two biggest businesses on 301. Pretty much everything else on 301 was small businesses, family-owned and at that time for the population we had here, they were very successful.

I remember when the state Department of Transportation came to Riverview, 301 was two-lane south of 60. They came to a chamber meeting here in Riverview and said, we're going to widen your highway. Their idea was seven lanes, and at the time we saw that was possibly something that could tear the community apart. Our preference would have been four lanes, but they did it. It was seven lanes. We did not have enough traffic in Riverview to fill that road up. You never had to wait to pull out onto the road, but if they hadn't had that vision back then, we'd be in a jam today.

How else would you like to see Riverview continue to grow?

Not just Riverview, but the nation has been through ups and downs, issues with the economy. It affected every community, not just Riverview. I'm not going to say that Amazon is going to fix all our problems, but I will say that we were moving along after 2008 and 2009, when people were losing their jobs, and homes were being foreclosed. That's still happening to some extent. The issue for me on growth has been that it's okay to build a thousand homes, but do we have enough jobs on the ground to support those thousand families? We have a lot of people out there looking for work. I don't think Amazon is going to have any problem recruiting employees. But Amazon is not the all-answer. We have to continue to bring new businesses in. Even small businesses that employ five or 10 people need to look at the south Hillsborough community as a place to go.

What inspires your involvement in the community?

Tennessee is a volunteer state. I suppose there's enough Tennessee in me. My father was heavily involved in the community of Ruskin. When we moved to Ruskin my father became involved in the Ruskin Fire Department. He worked up to become assistant chief, and when I turned 18 I got drafted into the volunteer fire department due to the fact that my dad wouldn't let me rest until I did.

So it's about when someone needs something, doing anything I can do to assist. It's about not driving by if I hear word of something going on in the community, and getting out and supporting it.

Sunday conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.

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