“CRUISE SHIPS HAVE CHASED LOCALS FROM DUVAL STREET”
Key West Citizen–May 10,2012—article about Key West’s strongest local retailer closing on Key West’s Main Street (Duval Street)
Fast Buck Freddie’s closing soon
Fast Buck Freddie’s, a Duval Street landmark for nearly four decades, will close later this month.
Owner Tony Falcone, who opened the store in 1976 with his late partner, Bill Conkle, said his decision is based on the changes that have overtaken the retail world in recent years.
“Everything’s about online shopping now, and at least 100 times a day, people walk through and comment on how interesting or unique a piece is, then they scan the bar code or take a photo with their phone and immediately try to find it online,” Falcone said. “The Internet sites have a warehouse and five people; they don’t have a staff, rent, displays and everything else.”
He told his 50-member staff of the closure Wednesday morning, and Friday begins a clearance sale to empty the 15,000-square-foot space in the first floor of the historic Kress building at the corner of Duval and Fleming streets. The store will close when the merchandise, at an initial 20 percent discount, is gone.
Falcone said his employees, most of whom have been with him for more than 15 years, sort of anticipated the Wednesday announcement, though it didn’t mean it wasn’t a roomful of moist eyes, he said.
“I’ve always been very, very open with my staff and, really, I should have closed the store three years ago if I was only looking at the bottom line,” Falcone said. “These Americana small towns are really defined by their main streets, and cruise ships have chased locals from Duval Street.”
He said the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for him was the City Commission’s decision last year to stop plans for outdoor cafe seating in a few blocks of Duval Street on a trial basis.
“I’ve always been so passionate about saving Duval Street, and if the city doesn’t have any foresight to see what they’re creating down there, then there’s no point.”
City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley, who championed the outdoor cafe plans and who has been friends with Falcone for more than 20 years, was discouraged by what the closing means for Duval Street and Key West in general.
“This is going to have a major impact,” Weekley said. “Fast Buck Freddie’s was the jewel in the crown of Duval Street. They were the class of Duval Street and were making a statement as to what it could be.”
Falcone had approached shops like Gap, Anthropologie and Abercrombie Fitch to fill the void being left by Fast Buck Freddie’s.
“They were all interested in coming to Key West, but not for at least a year, depending on the economy,” he said, adding that he’ll know more about future tenants in the coming week or so. “There are still some different options out there, some I’m not thrilled with, and I’m hoping the good guy comes through.”
Fast Buck Freddie’s has been in its current location since 1978, and has received international media attention for its creative window displays, which in 2006 saw Fantasy Fest king candidate Gregg McGrady living in the window for three days while raising money for AIDS Help.
Falcone and Conkle appeared on the “Today Show” and in Time Magazine when they opened what they called one of the country’s first “lifestyle” stores, which had all the features of a department store, but on a much smaller scale.
“We’d pick out four kinds of wineglasses and four types of linens that hopefully people hadn’t seen anywhere else,” he said, adding that Fast Buck’s was like Pier 1 Imports long before anyone had smelled their first candle in Pier 1.
The rest of the Kress building houses the offices and merchandising arm of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, and Key West real estate tycoon David Wolkowsky has retained ownership of the penthouse apartment that he has filled with antiques and collectibles.
Wolkowsky bought the building in 1978 for $210,000 and rented the downstairs retail space to Falcone and Conkle. In 1993, Falcone, Buffett and their business partners bought the property for $3 million, according to Monroe County Property Appraiser’s Office records. Wolkowsky maintains a life estate for the penthouse apartment, which will belong to him until he dies.
The store’s name comes from the title of a Jefferson Starship song. While trying to come up with an interesting name for their new store, Falcone and Conkle were flipping through albums for inspiration and saw Jefferson Starship’s “Red Octopus.” The song “Fast Buck Freddie” sounded fitting for South Florida in the late 1970s, when drug runners, real estate sharks and con artists started populating the area, according to the store’s website.
Fast Buck Freddie’s has long been an Old Town staple for holiday shopping, tropical gifts, furniture, clothing and housewares.
Falcone divides his time among Key West, Indonesia and Thailand, where he procured much of the furniture the store sells. He told The Citizen this week that he has plans for some other projects. Fast Buck’s at Home, the home furnishings shop on Caroline Street, will remain open.
“It’s off Duval Street, so I’m hoping locals will come more readily,” Falcone said, adding that he may put some additional items such as jewelry in the smaller shop.
“I’ll never leave Key West and I’ll die in this house,” he said from his outdoor living room on Eaton Street. “We’ve had a great time with the store. It was our creative outlet, it defined our place in the community and provided for exciting travels and I’m not ready to give that all up.”
He said he still believes Key West is magic, and he hopes people will decide to put in the work, find a direction and preserve it.
“There’s a magic here and the city needs to see that,” he said, discouraged by commissioners who brag about how many years it’s been since they’ve been to Duval Street.
Fast Buck’s beloved window designer Ann Lorraine has already started on plans for the final window display.
“Her mind was already churning when I told the staff we were closing,” Falcone said. “Her mind never stops, and that vision, of creative design and merchandising, is a lost art.”
The theme for the last window shoppers is, appropriately, “Thanks for the Memories.”