provided to The Santiva Chronicle
Two Sanibel-based retailers celebrated their temporary relocation and openings at Bell Tower in Fort Myers with a Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting on Friday, Jan. 20. Adventures in Paradise (AIP) Outfitters and Bubbly Latitude jointly cheered the Sanibel Island presence that has sustained several island businesses unable to open at their original locations.
“Before we moved into the Bell Tower Shops, we began speaking with many of Sanibel’s small business owners about the shopping center,” said Josh Stewart, co-owner of AIP Outfitters. “When we talked to our neighbor, Synergy, and he was thinking of going there, it began to become a lot more exciting, because there was this beautiful plaza that had space, and various Sanibel businesses could have the opportunity to open up there.”
“As we were trying to figure out where to go, we were happy to find a space with fellow Sanibel stores,” said Sarah Jacobson, who originally had planned to open Bubbly Latitude with Kate Zembrodt on Sanibel at The Village Shops. “It feels like a mini-Sanibel. It is always nice to see familiar faces as well as meeting new friends. The community has been very welcoming, and we are so pleased to be where we landed.”
“Naturally, we all wish we could be on the islands, and that all of our favorite shops could also be there, but the reality is retail needs to maintain momentum, and Bell Tower has presented the perfect setting for islanders to connect off-island,” said John Lai, chamber president and CEO. “We congratulate Adventures in Paradise and Bubbly Latitude and the other merchants who have managed to successfully pivot their brand during this uncertain time.”
AIP Outfitters, a spin-off of a boat excursion operation at Port Sanibel Marina, has operated its retail shop at Tahitian Gardens since 2009, later opening Little Adventures for kids in April 2022. The new store combines both shops, specializing in sports apparel with top-of-the-line brands such as Patagonia, Tommy Bahama, Faherty, OluKai, Peter Millar, and now Vineyard Vines.
Jacobson, the former operations manager at The Community House on Sanibel, and Zembrodt, who previously worked at Why Not on the island, joined forces to create Bubbly Latitude, a one-of-a-kind home décor boutique featuring exclusive lines like Mario Lopez Torres, Baobab, Circa Who, Sabre, and Addison Ross.
“The concept behind the store were all the items we wanted on Sanibel and were unable to find,” said Jacobson. “As people are putting their homes back together, we offer everything from furniture, special one-of-a-kind items, cool rugs, dishes perfect for a rental, to the unique hostess gift.”
Other Sanibel-based businesses that have relocated to Bell Tower include MacIntosh Books and Congress Jewelers. The solidification of the new Sanibel contingency at the high-end shopping plaza came in December, when the SanCap chamber coordinated its annual Holiday Luminary with Bell Tower’s traditional Tree Lighting Extravaganza.
“That was a huge turning point, not only for the Sanibel shops struggling to open back up in Bell Tower, but also an amazing gathering of Sanibel residents to celebrate the community coming together in one central location and beginning to move towards the future,” said Stewart.
“It was wonderful that Luminary was able to happen in conjunction with the Bell Tower tree lighting,” said Jacobson, who, like Stewart, credits the chamber for making it all happen. “That was a magical evening that felt like a big Sanibel hug.”
Both stores look forward to a day they might be able to move their retail operations back to Sanibel, but as Stewart put it: “Like most things on the island, it is all up in the air. As the year progresses, we will have a better idea.”