TEMPLE TERRACE BEACON HONG KONG WILLIE
Buoy, oh buoy – Hong Kong Willie snags drivers’ attention
on 17 October 2007
What's with all the buoys? Hong Kong Willie beckons motorists from I-75 at the corner of Fletcher Avenue and Morris Bridge Road. The Temple Terrace area business has turned a bait shop into a tropical gifts store.
By Courtney Allen, Correspondent
Tens of thousands of commuters and tourists pass by the large buoy tree daily, visible from Interstate 75 and Fletcher Avenue. The buoy tree is more than just a creative landmark. It represents a movement towards preservation as an art and tropical conch way of life.
Joe and Kim Brown are originally from Key West. Natives of the Keys are nicknamed conchs. They bought the half-acre property in 1985. It was once a bait shop but since fishing has evolved into a more expensive hobby involving permits and increasingly sophisticated fishing gear, the Browns trasnformed their business into a gift shop in 2001. They call it Hong Kong Willie.
They’ve been building onto the tree strung with buoys ever since.
“All buoys are numbered and have a specific color when they are made,” said Brown, pointing to her toppling creation. “They have to.”
The colorful floats have a new life beyond fishing and navigation. The Browns have been salvaging unwanted items since their move from Key West and they proudly display their works before the eyes of Florida residents and visitors.
And just as important as each buoy is, so too are the rusty surfboards and wrecked ship relics carefully positioned about the lawn. They all tell a story that couldn’t be told from any landfill. No wall goes unpainted, no corner undecorated on the tiny property off Morris Bridge Road.
Kim Brown finished sewing a handbag she made from a coffee bag, stacking them on top of each other in preparation for their sale.
“If people bought these to go shopping, it could save 300 to 400 plastic bags that would otherwise go to a landfill,” Brown said.
Their small gift shop is filled with original glasswork, ceramics and candles.
Although their business isn’t bustling with tourists, they make decorations for restaurants such as Gaspar’s, a restaurant on 56th Street in Temple Terrace that connects to a deep-sea theme.
“I always wondered what this place was because I see it every day. I think it’s cool that they don’t need to buy anything to make a living,” said Corey Lyons, a sales representative who passes the shop on his daily commute.
The preservation art movement the couple partakes in is not just about reusing old items. They convert artifacts into entirely new concepts. “We don’t like to use the word recycling. We are conservationists,” Brown said.
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