Events Partnering With Small Businesses Offer More

I’m more than a bit old-fashioned in some ways. I believe in honesty, that old adage of treating others as you would want to be treated. As I’ve gotten older, my old-fashioned nature has only solidified.

I like dealing with individuals more than groups or big businesses, government, etc. I think it’s one reason I’m such a fan of small businesses, headed by and staffed by individuals you can easily get to know. Individuals are easy to communicate with, believe in, you can understand their values and morals, whether or not you can trust them. That’s harder with everything else.

Anthony Dinova receiving a medal while serving in Iraq.

Anthony Dinova receiving a medal while serving in Iraq.

Anthony Dinova is a Local example, reinforces my thinking. I haven’t known Anthony long, but I think you get an idea of who he is very quickly. This is not someone with pretenses or attitude, or any of those other personality traits I personally tend to avoid.

I met Anthony last week at The Bistro on Park Avenue, site of the next event – ‘New England Steam’, this Wednesday evening – organized through his Winter Park Annual event business. I’d actually screwed up the scheduling, arrived late. Anthony was sitting in the solarium dining room, greeted me cheerfully.

Here only two years, I can’t help but be impressed with the number of people he already knows, obviously demonstrative of his personality, an inclination to jump in with both feet. He’s not shy. I’ve walked into many businesses on Park Avenue to find Anthony sitting with the owners discussing possibilities. He tells me a bit about how he ended up in Winter Park from upstate New York. He also speaks of his six years in the United States Marine Corps.

Winter Park Annual's 'New England Steam' event is this Wednesday at The Bistro on Park Avenue.

Winter Park Annual’s ‘New England Steam’ event is this Wednesday at The Bistro on Park Avenue.

“I went in straight after high school,” he says. “The reason I joined the marine corps, my grandfather was in the navy and every time I used to leave his house I’d see this picture (in uniform) and think, man, that’s the kind of man I want to become. And so I joined the Marine Corps to sort of follow into the military footsteps, follow on with his tradition of defending the country. I was in the marine corps six years.”

The comment stands out to me, so I ask what kind of man that is. “Honest, hard-working, unselfish, loyal, I guess those are some of the character traits, ones I’d view positively,” he responds without hesitation.

With numerous Local events organized by Winter Park Annual, including two fall Wine & Dine events, a Chowder Fest (another scheduled for January) and a spring Kentucky Derby party, he began The Sip Event LLC earlier this year, with the goal of organizing fun events with food and drinks, Local networking, doing so in others cities along the east coast. This has meant completed events in Saratoga, New York and Baldwin Park, and scheduled events in Philadelphia and Fort Lauderdale.

Given our discussion, it’s not surprising that he seeks a Local charity to work with for each event. “We always partner with a not-for-profit, so we donate back. There are companies out there which organize events but don’t donate anything. I think that if we donate to a good cause it brings out a better echelon of people, people who really care about the community. So my idea from the business model is to help, assist the bar.” The upcoming event in Philadelphia will “donate to the Movember movement, which helps men battling prostate cancer.”

The second annual Chowder Fest is scheduled for January 2014.

The second annual Chowder Fest is scheduled for January 2014.

“I’d been looking at going into Philadelphia and, again, my purpose really is to not just make money, it’s to build the business and build it the right way. So from the standpoint of going into Philadelphia, we just looked at a bar, looked at the pictures online and thought, this looks really cool and neat, guests would have a really good time. Just like The Bistro on Park Ave, it’s hidden, it looks nice, it looks beautiful, has nice features to it. Then if you can put craft beer with it, people like that. So I called them up and asked them if they’d like to host an event there.” He credits a previous job involving cold-calling for his outgoing, let’s see approach.

The partnership with a non-profit is surely a positive for a community, but there are other benefits, he admits. “I figure if we’re giving back to the community, people who care about the community will come out. So that’s the type of appeal we’re trying to draw on,” he explains. He speaks frequently of working together, of benefitting not just the charity, but the businesses involved. He gives me numerous examples of how he has adjusted his plans to accommodate various businesses, make it possible for them to participate, incentivize it. It resonates with me, as dealing with individuals, small businesses also increases creativity, flexibility. Individuals will more often say let’s see what we can do, when groups get political, insist it can’t be done, rarely care to try. I’ve never told a business something has to be done a specific way. I’m guessing Anthony hasn’t either.

“I look at a lot of events locally in Orlando and I say, okay, what’s the best part of that event and I try to incorporate it into mine,” he says of how he got started, continues to operate. “There are some awesome events, networking events, food events, we try to have a blend of all. What makes that networking event really good? Is it the flow of the event? Name tags? I think the crowd really means something. You want to have a classy crowd, filled with good people, because when you’re around good people it brings out the best in everyone.”

“We don’t ever want to seem like – what’s it called in Star Wars? – we don’t want to seem like the Evil Empire, the dark force. You’ve got to prepare for this (event) like this,” he says laughing. I identify with the thought process, relishing being a lone person taking on projects, being able to react quickly and easily, that ability to demonstrate reliability and eagerness to the small businesses you approach and with which you hope to work.

“What would those businesses say about him?” I ask. “He’s an honest guy and does his best. He works very hard. Growing. And we’re happy to partner with him,” he responds.

“I’m the same guy who was in the marine corps for six years, did two tours in Iraq. I’m the type of guy who went back to Iraq the second time voluntary. So I extended my tour, went back for a complete year. And the reason why people make that decision is because one, they’re unselfish and two, they want to do the right thing for the right reasons. I feel like I want to create a business based on those characteristics. That’s my past, this is what I’m presenting to you in the future. So this is my offering to you as a business. I want to be loyal. I want to be unselfish. I want to build something and grow together,” he explains. “And if you are investing back in your businesses and people see that, you’ll win in the end. They see that and say, that’s the kind of person I want to do business with.”

Yes, it is.

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Who Are You?

Who Are You?

I have to admit I get a bit amused when asked this question. It usually comes via facebook, either on a post or via a private message. I’ve told some of my story before, always a bit differently. I’m happy to do so again.

Some who wondered my identity . . . I LUV Winter Park, WHO ARE YOU? . . . . have actually gotten a bit hostile, territorial. I was initially caught off guard by them, somewhat offended but regard them very differently now. I sort of actually appreciate them, that desire to look out for this community, to ensure anyone who portends to want to do something outside the usual box to celebrate it is on the up and up. Sincerity is important to me, that others understand that I am sincere in every way when I say I LUV Winter Park, seek to celebrate it in new, very positive ways.

Who am I?  Sometimes I am this guy . . . Winter Park's answer to big bird.  I don't seek to promote myself because that would blur the message.  I seek to promote LOCAL, promote the small businesses I work with.  It's really pretty simple.

Who am I? Sometimes I am this guy . . . Winter Park’s answer to big bird. I don’t seek to promote myself because that would blur the message. I seek to promote LOCAL, promote the small businesses I work with. It’s really pretty simple.

The more I’ve explained it all the easier it has been for me to see why I so LUV living in Winter Park. I grew up in a small town in North Carolina called Brevard. Many here Locally know it for one of three reasons: 1) camps, 2) the college, 3) Brevard Music Center. It’s funny now to hear Brevard County referred to nearby, as it always takes me back a bit. I understand the names come from the same family. But, I always found my home town a bit too sleepy, which is also the reason many LUV it. It was the number one retirement community in the nation on some list the year I graduated high school. I was 18 and living in the NUMBER ONE RETIREMENT COMMUNITY IN THE NATION. Oy. I had to get out.

I went for two years to Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, then transferred to UNC Chapel Hill. Both Boone, where Appalachian State is located, and Chapel Hill, are wonderful college towns. So is Winter Park.

I lived in Atlanta from 1990 to 2001. In 2001 my life partner and I moved to Fort Lauderdale. In 2006 I desperately needed to escape south Florida and in July of that year we moved to Winter Park. It took a while to adjust, for it to feel like home, of course. I now envy others who have been here longer, grew up here, can truthfully refer to themselves as natives.

I’ve done other things, working for newspapers, retail, but my most important and valuable work experience was certainly with GTE Wireless / Verizon in Atlanta. I worked in a variety of positions, administering that, managing this, and learning a lot about myself. My degree from UNC is advertising / journalism. I now wish I’d majored in business. I could always turn a phrase, string words together. Our education system tends to encourage us down a road where we already have talents. I wish, instead, at an earlier age my view of things had been expanded. I was nominated and participated in a special program at GTE called MMDP – I think that was Marketing Manager Development Program – which was meant to be a mini-MBA program. It helped me to look at business, and especially marketing, quite differently.

I started I LUV Winter Park, Inc., I’ve realized, at least in part due to my participation in that program. Price is one element of marketing, but competing on price alone – well, unless your Walmart – is often a losing proposition. For a small business, it can be disastrous. I looked across the landscape of America in late 2010 and saw the ‘deal sites’ which were popping up, their desire to have businesses discount 50 plus percent, of which the site would then take half. I LOATHE these sites, the impact they can have on small businesses, entire industries. If you are a Local small business, I so want you to succeed, would LUV to help . . . but if you desire to use such a site in the future, please do not ask me to assist you with anything. If you do not respect your product or service, I cannot do it. It is far too difficult to recover from such a move, the message it sends. I wish you luck, but I would, honestly, prefer to work with others who see real value in what they do, believe in their product and service offerings.

I started wanting to be a Local, positive alternative to those sites. I’ve evolved over time, become simply a promoter of what I see around me. What I do with I LUV Winter Park is different than anything else you’ve seen anywhere else. I feel fortunate to live in a community where I believe this works so well, but it is this: I CELEBRATE the wonderfully unique, beautiful environment we call home, from the gorgeous flowers and trees to unique events, people and pets, the museums and parks . . . anything and everything about Local. Then, I celebrate the small businesses I work with right along with it. If you believe in POSITIVE, Local marketing, that’s what I do. I see the wonderful people I’ve met online, those who used to live here, seek to somehow still be a part of it, as an example of success accomplishing my objectives. Yes, I also encourage them to move back!

I am not someone who responds well to in your face marketing. It turns me off like a light switch. And whenever anyone feels entitled to my money just for being there, I avoid them, whether it’s a service or product, membership or anything else. You will find NONE of that with me. I have this old-fashioned work ethic, leading me to feel a deep responsibility to those I work with, when they put their faith in me. I am not perfect by any means, nor is anything I do. But I’ve had Locals remark about my energy and enthusiasm for what I do, that it makes what I do fun to watch, to read, to view, in which to be involved. That’s a wonderful compliment, one I very much appreciate. I also end up writing a good bit, sometimes at length, other times very briefly. I hope she doesn’t mind me quoting her, but Linda – of the Winter Park Diner on Fairbanks – told me earlier this year the pieces I wrote on her diner, of her wonderful story there with her daughters and employees, were the best anyone has written about them. Again, a nice compliment, much appreciated. Her’s is a wonderfully touching story and I tried to do it justice.

What I do for one small business will likely not be exactly what I do for another. I use varying buckets of social media, as everyone knows, but when I work with you, I also seek to find Local partners, promote you to people I believe would be interested in your products, other businesses which compliment what you do. I do a bit of networking for you, while you focus on your business. Believe it or not, I care about the people I work with, I work for, their businesses.

And I LUV Winter Park. I truly do.

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Chew On The Catwalk

She’s 18 years old.  I’m certain I’m not the only one shocked when I learn that.  How can an 18 year old design and construct a dress of feathers so meticulously, so perfect?

Julia Chew is this year’s Harriett’s Park Avenue Fashion Week Emerging Designer champ.  I’d never heard her name until about three weeks ago.  I believe many others in Winter Park, others far outside Winter Park, will know her name in the future.  I’m certain of it.

Julia Chew, with laptop, as we meet last week at The Winter Park Welcome Center.

Julia Chew, with laptop, as we meet last week at The Winter Park Welcome Center.

She is an amazing talent, has a wonderful story of creativity and commitment, of family, of the type of coincidences which when they come together make me believe a bit more in that thing we elusively know as fate.  When lots of things occur to produce something which stands out, is exceptional, it can seem as if a divine hand has been at work to make it so.

Several weeks ago Emerging Designer contestants for this year’s Harriett’s Park Avenue Fashion Week showed pieces at Maxine’s On Shine.  During the intermission designers mingled with the crowd, along with a model or two wearing their creations.  I remember Julia Chew passing me with her model as I leaned over to tell her I expected her to win.  Yeah, I got a bit ahead of things, but her clothes were impeccable, and one was of peacock feathers!  I’d followed the model to the back from the stage, was initially told I had to leave.  But I had to get a better picture.  Hello, impeccable plus peacock feathers in Winter Park?  Turns out I was right in what I told her.

Peacock dress shown at Maxine's on Shine during the Emerging Designer Fashion Show in late September.

Peacock dress shown at Maxine’s on Shine during the Emerging Designer Fashion Show in late September.

As I spoke with her very briefly that night I remember trying to figure out how old she might be.  I thought late 20s at the time.  She is at once young and girly, then much older as she describes her clothes, refuses to share construction secrets for working with feathers I seek to pry away from her.  The quality of what she was showing, I thought, wouldn’t that require someone at least in their mid-20s?  On that I was obviously very wrong.

Julia’s Chinese name is Xiaolin, which means “dawn jade”.  She was born in southern China, adopted by Lenny & Cheryl Chew, has grown up in Tampa with both an older and younger sister.  She tells me her story and at many points I consider that hand of fate in her young life.

Is there such a thing as fate?  I know there are a billion plus people in China and this infant with so many as yet undiscovered gifts ends up in a family which seems ideal for nurturing them.  Cheryl is a confessed perfectionist, like her daughter.  I use the term “proud as a peacock” with her too many times, but it surely fits, she endures me.  She has homeschooled Julia and her sisters, included them in a program called Keepers of the Faith, which seeks to broaden each child’s skills with specific training in things such as sewing and leather making, etc.  “Everything that I’ve learned from this group, little things, go into what I’m doing now,” Julia tells me.  She’s brought a sash to show me, filled with pins from each new skill she’s learned as part of the group.  I joke about it having exercise possibilities, curls or bench pressing, as it is covered, heavy.  I LUVed the idea of it, the sense of accomplishment a child must feel with each new pin, not unlike those used in scouting.

Pins representing skills learned from Julia's 'Keepers of the Faith' sash.

Pins representing skills learned from Julia’s ‘Keepers of the Faith’ sash.

Lenny Chew, Julia’s father, is an outdoor enthusiast, often takes his daughters backpacking and camping.  Julia says she can remember the first feather she ever found herself at a farm, speaks of ones on a shelf at home where she keeps those her father brought her from hiking trips.  She designs with more than feathers, but they are “kind of like my special thing,” she says, “If I did everything feathers they wouldn’t be special.  When people think feathers they think they’re very delicate, which they are, but they can also be very strong, very durable, good with movement, which is why I think are a very good thing for clothing, because they move with the body.  They flow.  They really are quite strong.”

Cheryl’s parents live in Wisconsin and own a business called Leather-Rich, Inc.  “They have a whole sewing department there,” explains Cheryl, sitting behind Julia. “It’s a cleaning business, so they clean leathers and suedes, they take in wedding gowns, purses.”  Julia frames this as another “thing I am blessed with, being young, I have seen lots of interesting things”.  She tells me of tours her grandparents would give to her and her sisters, specifically mentions Alexander McQueen as an example of designers whose creations she saw there.

Ah, that DRESS!  The custom long peacock dress made for a customer in Hong Kong, here shown on a model photographed at Ybor City in Tampa.

Ah, that DRESS! The custom long peacock dress made for a customer in Hong Kong, here shown on a model photographed at Ybor City in Tampa.

This, as she says, was surely “a kick start” for her imagination.  As we talk she sits with her laptop, pulling up images, often from facebook, as she tells me about stages in her life, how she developed over the years.  She shows me a sketch she did in first grade, minute detail around the edges, defining the interior of the dress she’d drawn.  I ask if they’re feathers, but, no, the intricate detail here was to be bead work.  She often invokes history into our discussion, telling me of “plume masters” in the French fashion industry, speaks of a book on birds given to her by her parents, of having a strong work ethic.

“My grandfather taught to me a lot.  He’s very proud that I’m starting my own business, because he sees that as a legacy, you know?  I’m not doing the same business as him, but his business ideas,” says Julia.  From behind, adds Cheryl, “He’s always a cheerleader.”  “Oh yes,” Julia agrees, “He’s always a cheerleader, always encouraging.  And (he’s) very excited that I’m going to be an entrepreneur.  So it’s very good to hear his advice on things.  He’s always told me about how people should be treated, if you have employees, this is how you build a good business, just general things, good principles that he’s taught me.  He’s been a very good person to have on my side.”

We have an interesting conversation, as mother and daughter tag team a bit.  Cheryl starts to answer a question before Julia has a chance, as Julia turns to remind her of a discussion they’d had on the drive over, her desire to answer more questions on her own.  “We talked about this in the car so it’s funny,” says Julia, as her mother quiets a bit.  For me it’s an interesting moment which must be a glimpse into the evolution of their relationship, as Julia gains increasing attention for her talents, enjoys a growing confidence, a mother feeling tremendous pride, wishes to share stories of her daughter cutting in straight lines at age 2, using ‘sewing cards’, the quilts she made, her first sewing machine, the more elaborate one she inherited from her grandmother, Cheryl’s mom.

It’s all happened quickly, I think.  Julia shows me two dresses she made when she was 13.  They were nice, cute.  But, I don’t think too terribly surprising for a 13 year old.  There was some wonderful detail in one accessory, I saw as she pointed it out.  But what she’s doing now, it’s pretty incredible, defies her age.  Earlier this year Julia constructed a custom full length version of the peacock feather dress I LUV for a wealthy woman in Hong Kong, shipped it to her, was the start of a year when her star has truly begun to rise.

The dress that that went viral, the "raven" dress shown at Christian Fashion Week and included in the Associated Press story on the event.

The dress that that went viral, the “raven” dress shown at Christian Fashion Week and included in the Associated Press story on the event.

Then, in February, “I did a show called Christian Fashion Week.  And how I came to that is that I’m a Christian and I was interested in doing clothing which reflected more modesty.  I just Googled ‘modest fashion designers’ and didn’t find anything.  But then I found this thing called Christian Fashion Week that my model friends were auditioning for and I thought, what is this?”  She’d missed the deadline but after sending in photos of her work she was immediately contacted and added to the lineup.  The Associated Press did a story on the show, included a photo of “what I call my raven dresses,” though she says actual raven feathers are not for fashion, too “stiff”.  It’s actually made of dyed rooster feathers.  As Cheryl says, the photo of that dress “went viral”.

This Saturday evening that dress and others will take to the catwalk for the big show for Harriett’s Park Avenue Fashion Week.  What I’ve already seen from Julia is stunning, but as I seek to pry away details of what to expect, she says, “I rate my dresses just to my taste and I’d have to say my finale piece will be my biggest accomplishment so far.  I can’t give away anything yet, but in the Park Avenue Show I will be bringing something no one has seen.  My finale piece will be a show stopper.  I will guarantee it.  ”   

With clothes now carried in a boutique in Hyde Park in Tampa, and now at Tuni on Park Avenue, I ask where she’d like this all to take her, be 10 years from now?  “I don’t know specifically about 10 years,” she responds, “but my lifetime goal is to eventually own a fashion house that has the standards of the old fashion houses, with seamstresses who work in fashion because they enjoy it, creating beautiful things that people actually will wear.”

“The House of Xiaolin?” I ask.

“Yes, The House of Xiaolin.  That would be awesome.”

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I Also LUV To See The World

I've never felt so Indiana Jones . . . . riding an elephant up to the Amber Fort outside Jaipur, India.  AWESOME.

I’ve never felt so Indiana Jones . . . . riding an elephant up to the Amber Fort outside Jaipur, India. AWESOME.

I LUV Winter Park, yes, I do.  But I learned long ago there are two quite different benefits to leaving home, even ones we LUV.  The first is, of course, simply seeing and enjoying wherever you have gone to.  The second is that, at least for me, it inevitably makes me appreciate home that much more.

I’ve been fortunate in my life to do a good bit of traveling, seeing some fantastic places around the world.  Not everyone has that travel bug.  But I’ve never quite understood how it is avoided.  We lived in Atlanta in late-2000 and our street had regular supper club gatherings, a different home hosting each time.  I still remember the location, the discussion, that there was lasagna that night, my excitement telling neighbors we’d be traveling to India in just a few months.  The question which followed stunned me:  Why would you want to go there?

The better question in my mind is why would you not?  The trip exceeded my lofty expectations, my hopes for it.  Early on, as we were to visit “caves” in Aurangabad, to the east of Mumbai, I believe I was actually a bit complacent at the marvels this country holds.  My eyes widened as we visited The Ajunta & Elora ‘caves’, two of the most impressive, amazing sights I have ever laid eyes on.  They’re not caves, but temples either carved deep into the sides of mountains, or, as is the case with The Elora ‘cave’, a temple where half a mountain once stood.  These ornate, amazing stone environments had been carved over centuries by hand.  It was stunning to contemplate anyone undertaking such a mammoth task and know they would never see its completion, nor would their children’s children.  This was about commitment on a scale it is now difficult to fathom.  In the modern world we expect everything today, would have preferred it yesterday.  We take so much granted we forget it has not always been that way, the lives others experienced before us.  I believe it would be difficult to find such commitment today.  No, impossible.

I LUV, I adore this magical city.  When we visited in 2008 we actually did the bridge climb.  That was cool!

I LUV, I adore this magical city. When we visited in 2008 we actually did the bridge climb. That was cool!

There are two places on earth my partner and I joke that we would pack our bags tonight and leave tomorrow.  India is one of those.  There are sights and experiences there which rival the pyramids of Egypt, yet you’ve never heard of them.  The second is Sydney, Australia.  It is magic to me, filled with perhaps the most naturally gregarious, good-natured and fun people on earth.  I was truly more excited the first time I saw the Sydney Opera House than when I first saw The Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the skyline of Hong Kong, most everything else I’ve been fortunate to see which can become iconic in your mind before you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing it in person.  The Taj Mahal is the one thing that comes close.

Travel is a bit of a misnomer for what we speak of, in my mind, because the actual travel part is what gets you there, not the good part.  What makes the heart beat faster, what thrills the eyes and ears, the taste buds, sometimes shocks and dismays (Ni Hao, China!), is all at the other end of the flights, the drives, THE traveling.  It is there, at the end, that you have the opportunity to see and learn, to experience and enjoy, things you’ve wondered about all your life, others you’ll remember the rest of it.  The world seems smaller and bigger all at the same time.

This evening The Global Peace Film Festival gets underway, with a reception at The Winter Park Welcome Center and then a movie on The Green at Rollins College.  

The movie tonight is ‘Mistaken for Strangers’, about two brothers.  You’ll find the films in the series are wide-ranging, varied, set in far off places or in communities not so different than your own.  I’m sure there may be some things which shock, others which sadden, likely others which can uplift and inspire, much like what you experience when you travel, get out there and experience things after a flight, a drive, seek to see and experience the world.  Global peace, I’m quite certain, is aided when we do that.

When we better understand our world, we better know ourselves and appreciate our place in it.  Our globe is truly a fascinating place. 

Hope to see you tonight.

 

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Chocolate Houses & Pink Flamingos

Weeks on Park Avenue can be really awesome; but for me, this last one has been especially hard to top.  Lots of energy, lots of positivity, good stuff all around.  As much as I LUV this stretch of brick, its wonderful shops, it can still surprise me how magical it can be, the wonderful group of people who operate businesses along it and work there.  Sometimes, still, they end up blowing me away with their commitment to the community, their creativity, their eagerness to try new things and pitch in.

Historic Preservation Expert Chris French goes futuristic trying the Google Glass which showed up for our luncheon.

Historic Preservation Expert Chris French goes futuristic trying the Google Glass which showed up for our luncheon.

It’s been a long week, filled with many individual experiences, but I’ll start with the freshest one.  I dropped by the Albin Polasek Museum & Gardens this afternoon to pick up posters to distribute to businesses along Park Avenue.  It did not take long to run out.  The enthusiasm from the merchants I spoke with for saving The Capen House, the ENORMOUS task of taking a long existing piece of Winter Park history apart, putting it on a barge and floating it along Lake Osceola to The Polasek, well, these enthusiastic Local merchants don’t just seem behind that possibility, but ready to see it happen, help make it happen.  There are some merchants I know better than others, but the reception from one really surprised me, the receptiveness in their eyes.  As I place the poster on the counter at Synergy Sportswear earlier I immediately saw an approving look on the face of the woman behind the counter.  Moments later another employee appeared and wanted to know if the poster was for the rally in Central Park on Saturday, September 13.  No, I explained, just the effort in general.  No problem, I was assured, we’ll get it up.  I know people along The Avenue are approached for all sort of things, to put up all sorts of posters, so their receptiveness – in general everyone’s receptiveness – when I entered made me think this CAN happen, the community IS behind it.  I wasn’t here when Casa Feliz made its BIG trip across Interlachen to sit on Park Avenue.  There’s a selfish part of me, I’ll admit, which wants to be a part of the water version! 

This is no small task, you may well realize.  And that, you might say is an understatement of mammoth proportions.  But it is doable.  On Tuesday this past week I had lunch at The Bistro On Park Avenue with Debbie Komanski, Executive Director for The Polasek, and Chris French, historic preservation expert, along with Locals interested in learning more, helping.  The setting, in the front solarium dining room of The Bistro, with its arched brick windows and charming garden surroundings seemed the ideal location for such a gathering.  We discussed the effort, new ways to get the community involved, talked about the rally for Preservation Capen to take place in Central Park tomorrow (ALMOST today!) beginning at 11:30.  If you’re in the area, or if you just have no plans, you definitely need to stop by, hear former mayors and others talk about Local historic preservation.  If you see a GRANDE sized Owl – Winter Park’s answer to BIG BIRD – out there, THAT is moi!  I’m going to be hot as heck, and I’m not talking about Brad Pitt kinda hot.  I’m talkin’ HOT FLASHES, fires of heck HOT.  So, drop by and fan me a bit!  I’ll flap my wings in appreciation!  J  (But, don’t tell the kids I’m anything but a BIG Owl!)

Kidlets LUV Parker!  Bring them out to the Preservation Capen rally in Central Park tomorrow, starting at 11:30.

Kidlets LUV Parker! Bring them out to the Preservation Capen rally in Central Park tomorrow, starting at 11:30.

A few other Bistro notes . . . . Jen Varga showed up at our Capen House LUV2Lunch (my working name for now) with Google Glasses on.  That was too much fun . . . the contrast between talking about saving a home built in 1885 (128 years old!) and amazing, state of the art technology which will not be available to the public until well into next year is as good as it gets in dichotomy terms, I think.  Nice juxtaposition!  Also, as I’m in The Bistro quite a bit, especially around happy hour as I’m usually typing away on my laptop, WELCOME to Theresa Reed, new bartendress extraordinaire.  It’s one of those very Park Avenue stories which exemplify such small community environments, one of someone who worked there, now working here, just doors away.  I just met her . . . . as she brought my glass of wine (YES, I said HAPPY HOUR!) . . . . and I think she’s going to be a FUN addition!  😉

Back to Capen House . . . . . it’s AMAZING what can be done these days.  Here’s this historic home built in 1885 in Winter Park, Florida – GLAD no one took advantage of that possibility I kept seeing on internet sites across the country to move it off wherever, Timbuktu, maybe?  You move it and it’s YOUR’S!  That would surely be embarrassing for the city of “Culture & Heritage,” a sad way to treat your past – made into this AMAZING mold to produce chocolates at Peterbrooke Chocolatier on Park Avenue.  I’d been communicating with them all week, waiting for these molds to arrive, the chocolate production process to begin.  I came in today to find Store Manager Caleb Pfeufer already with several trays full of dark and caramel chocolate Capens!  These images – IN CHOCOLATE – are AMAZING.  Hello, THAT is what we’re trying to SAVE . . . . but in CHOCOLATE, so you can eat it.  J  You can buy your own chocolaty, miniature version of The Capen House for $10 and $3 of that will go to the Preservation Capen effort.  That is as delicious as historic preservation will ever get, I promise you.  So, join us in Central Park, chomp down on some Capen Houses later and it’s all good!  No, you’re not a termite . . . . you’re a Local, historically-conscious chocolate LUVer!  Buy a few for friends for later!  Your community will be glad you did.

Peterbrooke Winter Park Store Manager Caleb Pfeufer can make you a CHOCOLATE house!  And part of the proceeds go to help SAVE Capen!

Peterbrooke Winter Park Store Manager Caleb Pfeufer can make you a CHOCOLATE house! And part of the proceeds go to help SAVE Capen!

The LUV2Lunch effort I mentioned earlier is a brand new idea, one I hope to focus on Local projects & events, bringing Locals together with organizers and others involved to talk, learn, share.  The goal is not to have big groups, but small ones, no more than 10 people, plus the invited guests.  BIG gatherings with lots of people can be fun; but, it’s often difficult to be heard, and those who are truly passionate about something get no more time than someone who’s there to take part, but might just as well be someplace else.  This is meant to be a gathering focused on those with passion about something, getting involved, but just haven’t before.  We’ll see where it goes.  I hope it has legs!

For me, it’s another opportunity to meet and get to know new Locals I haven’t before, yet often times ones I’ve been previously connected with via social media.  Funny how that sort of connectivity happens in 2013.  That was the case on Tuesday with Margaret Davis.  Margaret has professed to me that she lives in one of the “last Florida cracker houses in Winter Park”.  I hear that and it takes me back to living in South Florida, the wonderful couple we bought our house from there.  They moved to another classic 1920s Spanish style home where they had a mural painted over the banquette in the kitchen.  It was of a storm coming in over the Florida Everglades, an old ‘Florida cracker house’ centrally positioned.  There was an alligator somewhat hidden in the image they’d tell new visitors to locate.  I didn’t think it was very well hidden, but it often stumped the new guest, no matter.

Margaret Davis talks with Nature In Beauty owner Liz Marvaldi, samples some of their 100% organic products from Intelligent Nutrients.

Margaret Davis talks with Nature In Beauty owner Liz Marvaldi, samples some of their 100% organic products from Intelligent Nutrients.

Margaret works in commercial real estate, has a penchant for vintage, is wearing this bright red, vintage Chinese jacket.  She’d told me of some challenges she’s had in the last few years and working as I am with the wonderful ladies around the corner at Nature in Beauty, I thought they needed to meet.  Margaret is also a fan of natural, holistic solutions for health-related concerns, as am I.  (Hellooooo . . . note to the guys out there, if you’re losing your hair, first time I think I’ve written this in such a forum, but give gelatin a try.  It’s CHEAP and works.  It can do WONDERS.  But don’t say, oh, I’ll give it a try and then drop it like a rock.  TRY IT.  That means 5 or 6 weeks to see real results.  I’ve been taking it now for six years, said see ya latah Propecia after I saw its results.  Seriously.  Okay, tangent over.)

Anyway, the ladies – Liz Marvaldi, wife of Douglas Marvaldi at Marvaldi Makeup Studio, and Judith, his sister – have some AMAZING products from Intelligent Nutrients (an all-natural, CERTIFIED 100% organic line of shampoos and lotions, DE-stressing products from the guy who created Aveda cosmetics, and is prone to DRINKING his new line of products on Youtube videos to prove just how NATURAL they are) and SpaRitual, a line of all vegan nail lacquers, removers, lip glosses and more.  The DEstress Express line from Intelligent Nutrients is all about aromatherapy and acupressure.  Judith has told me before it’s not just for the granola types these days and she’s right.  This stuff has science behind it, really works, gets results.  And, as someone who has always dreaded walking through department store cosmetics counters because of the allergy fits they’d create, I’m amazed by how fresh, nice the scents are.  Helloooo . . . . THAT is called NATURE . . . as in made from vegetables, essential oils and such.  Your own allergy problems will surely be improved, as mine, and that’s a DEstress in and of itself.

Douglas Marvaldi and Mary Barnard secure the new wig to the head of Fortunata Flaminga for her coming big reveal for Flock This!

Douglas Marvaldi and Mary Barnard secure the new wig to the head of Fortunata Flaminga for her coming big reveal for Flock This!

And, to close, Mr. Marvaldi.  I’d been facebook friends with Douglas Marvaldi for a while, but really just met him, started to get to know him during the holidays last year as they invited me to the joint holiday event for both Nature in Beauty & Marvaldi Hair & Makeup Studio.  As I began working more closely with them over the summer I came to know of his Artistic talents, in addition to those working with hair and makeup.  Italian ancestry often seems to mean innate abilities to paint, draw, design, create.  Douglas has been blessed with such, along with this wonderful desire to help his clients, to develop solutions to improve their lives, make their lives easier, more enjoyable.  There is a true sense of caring for those he works with, who come to him for his advice and expertise.

Back in July I did happy hour on Park Avenue with Lisa Coney.  Lisa is one of the catalysts behind one of this area’s most impactful, wonderful Art galleries, 1350 West Art Gallery.  Located in the Carey Hand Cox Parker Funeral Home on Fairbanks Avenue, it isn’t just a nice space to display Art, but one in which Art rises, I think, to new heights, achieves something lots of Artists desire but may also never find.  This space, with its soft ivory walls, track-lighting and wooden floors is a place where those needing solace can come, find it in the images around them.  I’ve heard more than a few specific stories of wives, others breaking away from a service to find comfort in the colorful paintings, sculptures and other pieces in the 1350 West Art Gallery.  While you may wonder if your Art finds an opportunity to uplift and encourage, revive and comfort elsewhere, here, I assure you, that is a given.

Lisa and I were meeting to talk about the newest exhibit for the museum, The Power of Pink, benefitting Libby’s Legacy Breast Cancer Foundation.  This is an organization born of one daughter’s LUV for her mother, lost too early to breast cancer.  The organization was begun in tribute to her, seeking to aid and comfort women who find themselves facing the same terrible disease.  So, we’re chatting about something PINK, which made us think of the Winter Park PINK OUT! and the flamingos which spread across Central Park.  That made me think of the former Artygators of Central Florida, the bulls of Chicago, how Artists are presented with the challenge of taking raw, plain sculptures, no different than others.  The challenge, then, is to make them unique, different, ARTful.

There were a number of Park Avenue individuals who immediately came to mind for such a project and as I approached them about the possibility of participating, I was blown away by their receptiveness.  I’ll be writing much more about these, the individuals involved, but the gradual reveal of one of these – her official name is Fortunata Flaminga – this week is of special note.  Douglas Marvaldi hasn’t just created something unique, but given a flamingo personality, has introduced poignancy to the cause I had not expected.

I met him Thursday evening at his shop as he worked with Mary Barnard to attach Fortunata’s wig.  Mary is a theatrically trained wig maker.  You’ve seen her work in movies such as ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’, other and shows.  But having met in the late 80s / early 90s, Douglas turned to Mary when a client who’d been diagnosed with breast cancer and was to undergo chemotherapy was concerned about the confidence her customers would have in her as she managed their investments, began to lose her hair.  She was conservative, Douglas explained, was concerned with maintaining their confidence in her, that she would be around for the long haul.  He turned to Mary and they began a new working relationship, making individually tailored wigs suited for the specific desires and needs of each client.

Douglas is not a loud person, quiet and calm.  Weeks after I’d asked if he’d be interested in participating in such a challenge I was delighted by the unexpected enthusiasm, excitement he had for taking part.  Then I started to learn of his plans to have a special wig made by Mary for the flamingo who was to become Fortunata.  He also made a leopard jacket, a necklace which complimented the hair, the eyelashes, a small leopard patterned jacket.  Thursday night I discovered he has created not just a unique, Artful flamingo, but one with a personality, a persona of old Hollywood, a time gone by and a creature you can have fun creating a background, an interesting past.

I’m so excited to see the other flamingos, what lies ahead.  I’ve seen quite a few and the story is now the same again and again:  a serious enthusiasm, wanting to do something wonderful and wonderfully creative for this Local group, for the gallery.

As I said when I began, these Locals just keep blowing me away.

Hope to see you tomorrow in Central Park!

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Preservation Capen & The Lorax

Preservation Capen kicked off on August 8.  There’s been much activity since then, including approximately $200,000 raised for the effort.  If that’s news to you, I believe you are likely not alone.

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A big part of big tasks is often maintaining momentum, if not increasing it.  A task such as this, not just physically moving a large house across a lake, but raising the money to make that actually happen, requires community support and energy.  It is, in fact, that support and energy which help make it happen.

To that end, I’ve volunteered myself and this space as a conduit between those working behind the scenes and the community at large, the people who need and want to know what is going on with the effort to move The Capen House to The Albin Polsasek Museum & Gardens.  I’m not 100% certain yet if this means I will record updates on the move and write them here in my own way, or if I may simply be providing a space for Polasek Director Debbie Komanski or Historic Preservation Expert Chris French to place their own writings here, or even a combination thereof; but, I hope however it is facilitated we can produce an invigorated community role and energy behind this exciting and sizable task.

So, simply said, watch this space!  Today I can tell you organizers are shooting for a rally to include all Locals who desire to participate, to take place in Central Park.  I’ll provide more info as details are firmed up.  If you believe in this effort, I hope you will take note of such a possibile event, attend if at all possible.  The goal is for it to happen on a Saturday morning soon.

Demolition is PERMANENT.

Demolition is PERMANENT.

I was not in Winter Park in 2001 when Casa Feliz was moved across Interlachen from where it was built to its new home on Park Avenue.  I’ve seen photos and I’ve heard others speak of that time.  If you were not here either, or if you were not an active part of the effort, this is now, I assure you, the ONLY chance we will ever have to be a part of such an effort again.  There are only so many times you are allowed the opportunity to undertake and succeed in such an amazing challenge.  And I assure you, the day you see firsthand — or even online on social media — large portions of The Capen House hoisted upon a barge and floated across Lake Osceola, it will be something you will share and talk about the rest of your life.

Winter Park, you have proven before you can do the BIG task, achieve the grand challenge, make the seemingly impossible a reality.  Preservation Capen is, to me, now something to get behind, put a flag in the ground and say, YES, we are up to this task and Casa Feliz was not a fluke, we WILL make this happen again.  Then, we work together as a community to ensure it is never again necessary because we know who we are and what is important to us, see heritage and historic preservation as more than a marketing slogan to be trotted out when it is convenient.  Community leadership, at all levels I believe, is about ensuring we do not again arrive at such a point.

Preservation Capen, I believe, can be that moment when everyone in the community who prizes our history, appreciates its uniqueness, comes together to ensure The Capen House is not lost, such Local historic structures are better protected and celebrated in the future.  It’s a big task.  A big, important task, I believe.  Let’s make it happen.

A Bit Of Personal Reflection

I remember traveling back to Atlanta in the mid-1990s after being in Cleveland on business.  It was late winter or early spring and I remember being excited to be back in Atlanta after grey days up north, anticipating the bright sunshine we southerners can take too much for granted.  I sat at the window looking out, playing the game of trying to figure out where exactly we were, what was beneath, what I could spot in the distance.  That was the first trip I remember noticing a very unpleasant sight far off in the Atlanta suburbs, the total clearing of all trees over great swaths of land, making way for new housing developments.  The red Georgia clay appeared now where green canopies were before, as I could see mounds of cleared trees here and there about the edges of the expanse of reddish orange beneath us.  I’m sure they planted some trees later and that always amused me, that it couldn’t have been managed, wasn’t seen as beneficial to save the largest specimens, what they could have added to the community.  I couldn’t live in such an environment, where the largest tree wasn’t nearly as tall as the tallest house, where the spaces were so void, lacking, sad.

I don't speak for the trees, but I surely enjoy them.

I don’t speak for the trees, but I surely enjoy them.

I lived in the city, in the well-known Buckhead area.  I don’t remember when I read it or even where, but it must have been around this same time I learned the city of Atlanta had more trees within its city limits – it may have been per square mile, or broken down in some particular way, I don’t remember – than any other city in the country.  I liked that statistic, did from the moment I first read it.  I’m not a tree-hugger, but I am a tree-LUVer and just as yesterday afternoon when I ate lunch beneath a group of them and Tweeted fall seemed to be in the air, I recognize not just their aesthetic benefits, but what they do to cool summer temperatures, provide homes for small animals, put smiles on the faces of tourists who visit my current community.

My impression of the Atlanta area sank a bit that day, as I recognized enormous spaces of land clear cut of trees.  We lived in a 1950s Cape Cod at the time.  There was a huge Oak tree in front of our house, just up the stairs from the driveway, along the walkway to our front door.  Our backyard, much as our yard here in Winter Park, was framed by many large trees of various kinds.  Even when your neighbors are delightful, it’s nice to have some privacy.  And among my fondest memories of living in that house was having guests over to eat dinner on our back deck, a ceiling of trees all about us, the symphony of noise they can produce adding the perfect background to our conversations and laughter.

We moved to Fort Lauderdale in 2001 to a neighborhood called Rio Vista.  It is a large neighborhood and at the time contained more than 1,000 single family homes.  Over the five years we lived there, those numbers changed some as many single family homes on double lots were leveled and replaced with two.  There were some very interesting, cool homes constructed; unfortunately, the majority were built by a Local developer fond of constructing the same house over and over and over.  It honestly made me sick to my stomach to see what was being done to that neighborhood, that anyone was buying the homes being built.  Alas, that was during the “housing boom” of the early 2000s, and they were selling quickly.  We left in 2006, the fond feelings I had for that neighborhood, what it was when we arrived, damaged and bruised, lessened.

When we moved to Winter Park in 2006, we did so after visiting for one weekend, then a trip up for a single day to oversee inspection on the house we had purchased.  We’d considered going back to Atlanta before that, but we just couldn’t return.  A friend had suggested Winter Park and while we knew very little about it when we moved here, the charm and character of Park Avenue and Central Park, the restaurants we’d enjoyed that first weekend (310 & Bosphorous), the brick streets and the diversity of the homes on quiet streets along with a truly amazing and wonderful tree cover all surely played a role in our taking the jump.  For surely the last four, maybe five years, I have been very thankful for our spontaneous decision-making, the experience of calling Winter Park home.

As you get older you learn never to say never, and I’ve learned that the things you come to LUV about an area or a community are not absolutes.  I am as happy today living here in this community as I have ever been.  But what I LUV about it, I understand, is not a given, CAN change.

Trees?  No, stumps.

Trees? No, stumps.

A friend commented to me recently about tree clearing along Denning & Canton, and I noticed more just over Lyman Avenue at New York, south of the Winter Park Farmer’s Market.  I’m assuming the latter may have something to do with Sunrail.  The former may well be among the plans involving Winter Park Village.  I have no information or knowledge about what will be going in either space.  But for both, again without knowing the exact plans, I was dismayed to again see trees, some of them large, along the peripheries of the two properties, taken down with all the rest.  More concrete and pavement on the way where at the moment we have a scene reminiscent of The Lorax.

I take nothing for granted.  I hope others will not, as well, as Winter Park moves forward.  Whether anything in these two situations could have been done any differently, or it is simply food for thought with future projects, the qualities which set Winter Park apart are worth protecting.

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My Diva Crush & Park Avenue Fashion Week

I’ve discovered an inverse relationship in blogging.  The busier I am, the more I have to blog about . . . but the busier I am, the less time I have to blog.  C’est la vie. 

The last week has been a perfect storm of varying responsibilities playing havoc on both the ability and desire to write.  There is only so much energy one can muster for the tasks at hand.  Real life isn’t a 24 episode, and those were filmed over months, anyway.  But that storm is now behind, the skies are clearing, so there will be a more bloggy me this week.

I see HEELS and LONG legs!

I see HEELS and LONG legs!

Last Saturday I sat in on the first Park Avenue Fashion Week model rehearsals.  Those are just FUN, no two ways about it.  The LONG legs, the heels, the personalities, the walks and MORE walks, I don’t feel like I’m watching a reality show as much as in one. 

These recent experiences have led me to a bit of a confession:  I think I’ve developed a bit of a crush, a diva crush.  It’s the first in a LONG while.  Many little gay boys develop diva crushes starting at an early age.  I think it’s sort of the teething stage for developing gaydar.  The diva mode is easy, as they tend to stand out in big, glorious and fun ways.  Cher, Madonna, Bette Midler, Tina Turner, even country types like Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire.  We’re drawn to them, for music, for the big personalities, sometimes just big hair, for the show, the confidence they tend to exude, the attention they receive simply by being themselves.

Center of attention . . . Roquois C making it work.

Center of attention . . . Roquois C making it work.

My new diva crush is Roquois C, who heads Model Relations for Park Avenue Fashion Week.  Remember that British show about the two women called Absolutely Fabulous?  Well, she is.  Truly.

I met her back in late July.  It was the second of the model casting calls.  I entered to see Roquois C in tight-sequined black jeans, extraordinarily high heels, eyelashes nearly as long as fingers.  I’ve personally come to believe over the years there are actually few rules in real fashion.  Individual style is what it’s really all about, taking something and making it your own because it fits you.  Not fits you as in size, but it fits your personality, your look, who you are or have become.  That being said, there is one overriding guide to always keep in mind, and that is not everyone can look good in everything.  But that’s a guide for we mere mortals, not divas, not people like Roquois C.  Simply said, there are people who can wear things most others cannot.

Is it that “it” or “X” factor we hear about?  Maybe.  Some people start the trend, lead others to want whatever it is they wore and made it seem so appealing.  Last Saturday Roquois C was wearing galactic tights.  Yes, I said it right.  And, if I need to state the obvious, they were skin tight tights, paired with more lofty HIGH heels.  Nebulas have never before seemed so amazingly fashionable.  Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame likes to say ‘make it work,’ and here everything was working overtime.

During the hour or so I was there she instructs and guides, directs, giving an approving stare, simple hand signals to motivate, goes through a long list critiquing each model’s walk, facial expression while doing so.  She demonstrates herself a few times, and the room and all its eyes are fixated on her, her every galactic move.  Her matter of fact manner, confidence, combined with what I’ve witnessed as true caring for those she coaches strike me as perfect for her role with Park Avenue Fashion Week.  That she could easily be one of those models herself only adds to the enjoyment of watching her work.  During the casting call last month she eagerly scrolled through her phone to find images of a model she was proud to have discovered, nurtured, showing before and after photos which seemed a different girl.  She was obviously proud of the transformation, not unlike a parent or teacher.  For those who attend the show this October 19th, while the models for each Local store will change, make no mistake the presence of Roquois C will be up there on the catwalk in each and every look.

So, there, my confession is out there.  Roquois C, you are out of this world!

It is that season and Park Avenue Fashion Week activities are about to kick in, with Harriett’s Happy Hour officially kicking things off tomorrow.  It is SOLD out!  So, if you missed getting tickets, sorry, all gone!

Another event sure to be fun is the Emerging Designer fashion show to take place at Maxine’s on Shine on Monday, September 23.  There are ONLY 50 tickets and they will go FAST!  They’re available via the website for $25.  Website address is:  www.ParkAvenueFashionWeek.com.

I met with Erika Spence from The Winter Park Chamber of Commerce who is also handling marketing & communications for Park Avenue Fashion Week to find out where things are at the moment, aside from model rehearsals.  She said participating Park Avenue merchants are at present selecting music, putting together there “Look Book” for the event.  In the next few weeks they’ll be pairing their fashion selections with the models who will wear them.

It always seems like it’s a slip & slide to Fashion Week once Harriett’s Happy Hour takes place.  Behind the scenes I can tell you this is an event which does not come together easily, and everyone involved is busy times 10 laying the ground work.  It’s like an entirely separate job for all those who work on it.  And, after attending my first Park Avenue Fashion Show last year, I cannot speak of it with more enthusiasm.  It is truly amazing to me to have such a BIG event, of this quality and planning, take place in Central Park each year.

Some changes are in the works for this year, with a separate VIP tent attached to the 20,000 square foot tent where the event takes place.  Ticket prices are $50 for general admission, $150 for VIP and they are now on sale on the website. 

KUDOS to all involved.  I know how much time you spend on this, can’t wait to see the culmination of all those efforts!

A whole new bird is in the works, coming your way in late September & October, with many Park Avenue types included.

A whole new bird is in the works, coming your way in late September & October, with many Park Avenue types included.

The Power of Pink

The third exhibit at 1350 West Art Gallery kicked off on August 16.  This one benefits Libby’s Legacy Breast Cancer Foundation, and its theme of The Power of Pink is very much in keeping with the effort.  A rather long list of Local creative types will be remaking yard flamingos of the variety you’re used to seeing gather in Central Park each September.  I’m excited to see what is going to come of that.  Stay tuned here for more on that, as this will include a number of people who work on Park Avenue.  I know a few back stories and I can’t wait to see the finished products!

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