Community rallies around Port Charlotte business owner after fire

Published: May 25, 2020 6:59 AM EDT
Updated: May 28, 2020 10:49 AM EDT

Fishin Franks Bait and Tackle in Charlotte County used to be the place you could bring your kids to learn how to fish. It was the place where Frank wouldn’t let you pay if he knew you were struggling, where you could go to be with the community when you felt alone.

But, Monday, people from all over Southwest Florida rallied around Fishin’ Frank and his place, which meant so much to them after a fire destroyed the business of 35 years.

“He supports the kids, he supports the community, he gives away tackle, he gives away so much to all these little kids. I’d be willing to give my boat, I don’t want the money for it,” David Summers said.

“We gotta find a building for him! We need to do something for Frank … we gotta do something,” Summers added.

Long-time customers and employees are stepping up to help after the local landmark went up in flames, destroyed after a freak crash that left a pickup on the building’s roof and on fire.

“Frank’s just an incredible person. As a community what the bait shop means to us …
it’s our life, it’s our life,” Robert Lugiewicz said.

Employees who built their life around the shop and owner Frank Hommema, aka Fishin’ Frank, are heartsick at the loss.

“Never thought I’d be here for 20 years but … good guy to work for, hell of a guy,” Jeff Calkins said.

“I got your whole life worth of memories in here. My whole life of memories. Our life. This is all we’ve done for 35 years and it’s over,” Hommema told WINK News the day of the incident.

Many support groups and fundraisers were set up within hours of the fire. Hommema said it’s too soon to tell if he’ll rebuild, but in the meantime, he hopes everyone holds on to the memories “of what was.”

Thousands of Polaroids of happy and excited customers lined the walls. They are all gone now. But the customers and the rest of the community will always have the memories the shop and Frank himself gave them.

“It’s devastating,” customer Robert Keene said. “I just rolled up and I said that can’t be Franks. I can’t believe it. I was just coming up here to get some stuff to fish with.”

It’s of course still fresh and hard to come to grips with for the man whose name was the face of the building for almost 40 years.

“What is this place? What is this room?” Hommema said. “This is hard to fathom that I couldn’t recognize the rooms.”

But the day after the tragedy for his business had settled, Fishin’ Frank hooked himself on new optimism.

“Today, my life is beginning again,” Hommema said.

“We’re going to be in a different building with the old attitude.”

Fishin’ Frank hopes to once again start selling bait in a week and a half. As for tackle, he says it might be a while. But he’s ready to rise from these ashes.

“Yesterday, we had to look back and cry. We had to mourn,” Hommema said. “And now today, OK. There it is all right. Where are we going? What are we doing? Let’s go!”

Fishin’ Frank says he will need a lot of help to rebuild, and the community has already shown signs of support.

A Facebook page called “Rebuild Fishin Franks” was one of the first shows of support to pop up. People have been offering up everything from a temporary location to food for the workers.

Thousands have joined a Facebook group to help any way they can to get the shop up and running again.

As part of the fundraising, Deven Starr, a local musician, plans to host a Facebook LIVE concert at 6:30 p.m. on his page. He encourages people to join the live-streaming event. In his post, Starr said all tips received digitally and in-person will be donated to Fishin’ Frank.

Fishin’ Franks’ neighboring business, Soundworkz, also sustained heavy smoke and water damage that owner Sean Scherer estimates to be around $100,000. He said he hopes to reopen by the end of the week.