From “Papa” Hemingway’s former home on Whitehead Street, to the artists who show their ware at sunset on Mallory Square, from the tall ships at the wharfs to the stores of Duval Street, virtual companies are cropping up like the colorful bouganvilla vines that cover the stately homes of Key West, Fla.’s old town.
OK, I was supposed to be on vacation. But after a few days of taking in the gorgeous waters of the South Atlantic I couldn’t help but start networking with folks. It was Shiro’s fault, actually. Shiro is my buddy Margot’s “goldendoodle” -- a gorgeous cross between a golden retriever and poodle. As you can imagine, Shiro is a real attention grabber. His favorite activity is hitting up Key West restaurant owners for dog biscuits, plus picking up lots of petting along the way from tourists galore.
As we stood around waiting for people to pet Shiro – which trust, me, can be a long-winded process -- I started to yack with folks on streets, in stores and in restaurants about what they do to make a living in Key West. It wasn’t long before the virtual work place started to emerge from behind the more obvious storefronts.
I know you’re going to say there’s nothing virtual about Ernest Heminway’s former stately home and gardens. In fact, old Papa’s presence is redolent throughout the place. You can almost hear him telling tall tales of the sea in his dining room or ordering about his famous cats. And if you head out back near the pool you’ll find a great store with loads of his books and other less than Hemingwayesque stuff. But the museum also has a Website -- http://www.hemingwayhome.com/ -- where you can book tours and even a wedding.
Right outside on the sidewalk are plenty of artistic renderings of said famous home, some better than others. George Salhofer caught my eye (see photo). A native Austrian, he looks like the sort that Papa would have invited down to Sloppy Joe’s for a drink. Maybe it’s that Austrian accent . . . And, no kidding, he sells contemporary art online that’s a far different breed than the tourist fare he sells on the street. You can take a peek at: www.salhoferstudio.com.
Speaking of Key West museums, here’s one I missed, but I hear is a real fun place. The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is all about shipwrecks and salvage. And, low and behold, we landlubbers can buy lots of things in the salvage theme from their online store -- everything from flasks to replica gold bars. Just visit: (http://store02.prostores.com/servlet/mfmhs/StoreFront)
If Key West is fun by day, it really becomes atmospheric at night. You can almost feel the ghosts of writers past when you sip some chilled Chardonnay from the balcony room at the fabulous Blue Heaven restaurant. I kept picturing Stanley yelling to Stella in Tennessee Williams’ “A Street Car Named Desire,” knowing that he’d once walked those streets. And the famous main drag, Duval Street, has more shops than there are old men at sea (to butcher Papa’s great title), and just as many are operating virtual stores.
Take Erin Roussey of Paradise Cigars at 535 Duval St. (www.ParadiseCigarsKeyWest.com) Now I don’t smoke and never will, but tobacco sure smells sweet and I was lured into his store one night by the aroma of thousands of cigars from just about every Latin American country except Cuba. Giving us a tour of the world’s best cigars, Erin explained that he sells online, as well. He even teams with Smokingtourist.com, a Chicago-based site that advertises itself as “the world’s first Website dedicated to hassle-free travel and entertainment for smokers.”
After an intoxicating 20 minutes or so in Erin’s store I could almost be enticed into becoming a smoker. Almost . . . Instead that night I resisted the urge and headed down to the wharf for some grilled shrimp and fried oysters where, thanks to Shiro again, we bumped into Barbara Anderson. By day she sells real estate the old fashioned way, but she also operates Pets-in-Paradise.com, or did when I met her. The last check on the Web showed an empty page.
Hey, that’s Key West for you. But when Barbara has her site running, she says she guides people to locations in the Florida and Caribbean that allow pet owners to travel with their beloved canine and feline companions. Dinner came before we could find out about birds, lizards or rodents.
Speaking of real estate, no one gets more virtual than Soren Pfeffer, Margot’s son who sells Key West real estate from his home in Montpelier, Vt. Soren and his wife Irene are an archictect/contractor duo who now own Key West properties for sale and lease. When they get a buyer or renter they tap Margot and Shiro to do the actual showings. You can visit Soren for more information at www.SorenPfeffer.com.
And what trip to the islands or Florida would be complete without jewelry? Capricorn jewelry at 706 B Duval St. doesn’t just sell the usual stuff like earrings, rings, and necklaces. It specializes in ancient Greek and Roman coins that are turned into pendants and the like – a bit of the Mediterranean in South Florida. Just like many other stores today, they have a Website so you don’t even have to leave your home. It’s at: www.Capriconrjewelry.com.
Fortunately for my pocket book I mainly did a virtual tour of these virtual or hybrid establishments. The book was under $20 and the lithograph even less. I don’t even want to tell you what properties would cost . . .But isn’t it fun to imagine owning that little bungalow on Olivia Street covered with vines?