The Icing on the Cake: VABI by Maria Baskin

The Icing on the Cake: VABI by Maria Baskin

“What’s living in Venice like for you?” I recently asked a group of friends. “Life is easier here,” one said as the others nodded in agreement. “But what makes it special?” l, “A sense of community. I feel I belong to a real town that cares how it develops, has history and appreciates the arts. I especially love what they’ve done with downtown Venice?” “That’s VABI,” I immediately responded. “VABI?” they asked.

VABI stands for Venice Area Beautification, Inc. a non-profit organization located west of the North Bridge. More than 150 volunteers, with the exception of one administrative assistant, are responsible for the selection, planting, and maintenance of those large potted plants, hanging baskets and the stone fountains overflowing with flowers all along W. Venice Avenue. The green shrubs and bushes on W. Venice are maintained by the Keep Venice Beautiful committee who is under the auspices of VABI. Keep your eyes out for the sculptures sprinkled around town in unexpected places. My favorite is still the one on the corner of W. Venice and Nokomis Avenues called “Maria’s Garden.”

”VABI is committed to making the Venice area a more beautiful place to live, work and play.” says Lynn Moseley, VP and chair of the Public Art Committee. VABI’s vision is to help build community in the greater Venice area by focusing on timeless projects that provide places to walk or sit and connect with nature. People can visit VABI’s latest beautification project up-lighting the banyan trees at Heritage Park along W. Venice Avenue. Create your own park adventure; pick up a map at the VABI office located at 257 N. Tamiami Trail for all 39 Venice parks.

In fact, the beautification work that VABI does is not just limited to downtown or the parks. In 2005 VABI put out a call to local artists to create murals in specific areas of Venice similar to the mural on the rear of the Gondolier building and at Venice Theatre. Another recent example is the Founders Walkway Mural leading from W. Venice to Miami Avenue. It is a lush green wooded painting by Joseph Barron called “Healing – The Enchanted Garden.”

VABI’s magic extends even beyond the island borders. Have you ever been to the Venetian Waterway Park that runs along both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway? It’s a VABI project and a must see. New park creations are in the works right at this very moment! The Ribbons Project is an ongoing effort to connect the bike trails from city of North Port to the city of Sarasota.

One of VABI’s main fundraising events each year is hosting a Christmas Boat Bash with a front row seat to view the Christmas Boat Parade. Also, at Christmas time VABI does a great job of getting residents and businesses in the spirit by allowing locals to adopt a tree at the Arboretum for free. It makes the traditional lighting of the tree at the Arboretum a spectacular event. But don’t wait for Christmas, visit the Arboretum now where VABI currently has four sculptures on display.

All this is made possible by the generous donations of our community. Please visit the VABI website at, for donor possibilities and/or volunteer opportunities. Having an organization like VABI keeping our city beautiful – is like the icing on the cake we call paradise.

Hurricane Expo by Marty Damon

Hurricane Expo by Marty Damon

Hurricanes are usually known for their powers of destruction, but the opposite happened for Judy Braham when the Hurricane Expo blew into Venice last year. Her company, Gulfcoast Marketing Consultants, was created as a result of her work coordinating this first-time event.

The city of Venice had been providing hurricane preparedness information for over 30 years at City Hall. In 2017, after outgrowing their space, they kicked it up a notch. Partnering with the Venice Gondolier Sun, they formed a Hurricane Expo and moved it to the Venice Community Center, where there would be room for hurricane-related speakers, seminars and vendors. But to go from idea to reality, they needed a coordinator.
With Judy Braham’s background as an office manager, marketing representative, and her profile as an active community volunteer, it’s no surprise that she was asked to bring her organizational skills and networking abilities to launch Venice’s first Hurricane Expo.

   It all began when Judy sent a note to Tim Smolarick, publisher at the time of the Venice Gondolier Sun, commenting on a column he had written. He responded with, “Can you come in? I think I have a job for you.” Soon she was attending every marketing event around, spreading the word about the upcoming Expo. In the spring of 2017 the expanded combination of products, services, and educational seminars proved to be a success.
The Hurricane Expo returns this year, with Judy again at the helm. It will be held at the Venice Community Center, Friday May 4th and Saturday May 5th, and admission is free. There will be speakers from Florida Power and Light and ABC 7 meteorologist Bob Harrigan, and information at the tables of the Sarasota County Emergency Management, Suncoast Humane Society, American Red Cross, and many more.
When Judy was organizing the Expo, she recognized a problem for local business owners. A proprietor might want to reach out to the public, but was unable to leave his place of business to participate in a two-day event. Judy realized she could take her two years of experience planning the Hurricane Expo and three years of marketing in the health care field and create her own company. Gulfcoast Marketing Consultants was formed to help small businesses with event planning, networking, and image consulting, and to free up the owners to continue business as usual.     As an example of the range of services Gulfcoast Marketing offers, Judy will soon be networking on behalf of chiropractors Dr. Dennis Rhodes and Dr. Andrew Tilka of Venice Health Institute, and she’s already begun planning the upcoming Sand and Surf Festival to be held at Venice Train Depot and Rollins W. Coakley Railroad Park on August 4th.

For more information about the Hurricane Expo, visit the Facebook page Hurricane Expo/Venice, FL
Also, check out Facebook Sand and Surf Festival.
For contact information on Gulfcoast Marketing Consultants –   941-445-2561

Freedom Boat Club Goes International by Heidi Reslow

Freedom Boat Club Goes International by Heidi Reslow

“Great family. Great friends. Great Community. Great Business,” says John Giglio, CEO of Freedom Boat Club, whose headquarters are right here on the Island of Venice. And he does not take it all for granted. “Every day I thank God for everything I have. I am so fortunate.”
So what’s a boat club and why join one?  We have all heard that the two happiest days in a boat owner’s life are the day he buys a boat, and the day he sells a boat. Introducing Freedom Boat Club (Freedom) – the number one private membership boat club in the USA.
“People understand the costs and logistics associated with boat ownership.  Freedom Boat Club takes all of that pain away,” explains Giglio.

Here’s how it works. There is a one-time entry fee to join Freedom, plus monthly dues. Freedom members have unlimited access to the club fleet and can choose from flats boats and fishing boats, to deckboats, bowriders, pontoons, sailboats and in some markets, cruisers. Think about it. You get to choose from a variety of boats without having to own one. There are no maintenance, service or storage fees. And here’s the pièce de résistance. Freedom members who join on a year round basis reap the added benefit of reciprocal access, and this is one of the most valued features of a membership with Freedom Boat Club.
“Our competitive advantage is reciprocity,” Giglio explains. “The small competitors cannot replicate what we have perfected. A Freedom member in Florida will have the same experience when they reserve a boat in Boston or San Diego. It should not be any different.”
So what is the secret recipe for a successful Freedom franchise? Equal parts interested boater franchisees, sustainable population in the right location, and ample marina space – then just add water. Key West, for example, is an active boating destination, but not a good fit for a future Freedom location due to the lack of a large residential population base. And while there are other boat clubs opening in Florida and nationwide, these are mainly small Mom & Pop shops and boat dealers who have a tough time competing against the successful Freedom business model.
Since becoming sole president and CEO in 2012, Giglio has been full throttle forward. Freedom’s membership and franchise business skyrocketed during the recession and continues to grow. Today Freedom Boa Club boasts 16,000 boaters in 150 locations across 30 states, 3 in Canada, and growing. Since it was first launched 29 years ago, Freedom has set the standard with its unique blend of a super-high level of customer service combined with well-maintained and impeccably clean boats. And Giglio is not greedy; he is willing to share the formula, but can the competition execute the formula?
As with every business, there are waves, hurdles and challenges, and Freedom is no different. Giglio describes it this way. “If I can’t add another slip, I can’t add another boat. If I can’t add another boat, I can’t add another member. Lack of marina space is the only thing that is slowing us down.”  To tackle this problem, Freedom has begun to acquire small and medium-sized marinas, from 10 slips in Casey Key to 110 slips in Naples, their largest marina yet. The sweet spot for Freedom are marinas with a 40-50 slip capacity that can easily be converted into a Freedom franchise.
Giglio says, “People are still buying boat memberships and people are still buying franchises. Business has not slowed down and we are not done yet; there is a lot more to do. He adds, “The great thing about this business is that there are not a lot of people doing it, and the private boating club concept translates across virtually every country.”
Prior to 2013, Freedom franchises extended as far west as Texas and the Great Lakes. In line with their 5-year plan, Giglio saw land ahoy in California first, followed by 2 locations in Vancouver and another on Canada’s east coast. Over the past 12 to 18 months, the company has been laying the groundwork for true international expansion.
Bienvenue Beneteau and Jeanneau, the largest boat manufacturers dans tout le monde (in the whole world). These boat moguls supply the Freedom fleets with the majority of their inventory. Last year, Jeanneau approached Freedom to expand its proven franchise model into Europe to meet the increasing demand for boat club membership.
Giglio lights up when he describes how it all came to fruition. “Jeanneau chased us and brought us to France because they have the vision and see the potential. The French boaters do not have the USA mindset of having to own their own boat. They are so far ahead of us in their culture of sharing, and we are so happy to be a part of the next evolution of this sharing philosophy.” Hence the Freedom-Jeanneau partnership was launched.

Le mariage with Jeanneau will provide Freedom with everything the company needs to expand internationally. The European Freedom franchises are able to source their fleets in Europe and this plays well into the hand of Jeanneau due to the Europeans’ acquired taste for a high quality of watercraft.
And if you ask overseas consumers what they like and want from the United States, the most often heard term is the “American lifestyle and fun”; in French terms, la joie de vivre. Thus, European Freedom members will be much more likely to plan their USA holidays around Freedom locations due to reciprocity factor. But even more so, France requires a rig-orous 30-day instructional course to receive a boating license, for a 6.5 meter or even a 40 meter boat; the process is the same. Thus, French Freedom members can seamlessly step on to a Freedom boat in any of the 50 states without any training prerequisite.
The rendez-vous with the Jeanneau management team earlier year was off the charts on the beaufort scale for Giglio and his group. By summer 2018, the first 5 French Freedom Boat Clubs are scheduled to open on the west coast of France, followed by other locations in France and across Europe.
Giglio is grateful to the Venice Community for its continued support and to Venice MainStreet for spreading the word about the people who live and work here. He says, “I don’t think a lot of people know the magnitude of our business. Our headquarters is right here in Venice, we have 250 employees, and we are now expanding internationally.” Giving back to the community is also very important to Giglio and his wife, Lisa, and they recently chaired the Black Tie Gala at the YMCA where Giglio serves on the board.
Are you ready to catch the Freedom wave from Florida to New England, from Texas to California?  Is it time for you to become a Freedom Boat Club member or a franchisee? Call Freedom Boat Club today at 888-781-7363 or visit the website at

Venice MainStreet Makes a Difference in our Community by Bob Cushing

Venice MainStreet Makes a Difference in our Community by Bob Cushing

Why did you fall in love with Venice?  Was it the way the city “felt” when you walked around?  I know I did. I loved the quaint buildings, the wide streets with medians filled with trees, shrubs, and flowers.  The buildings were different than the strip malls where I came from.  Did you know many of the buildings were built in 1926?  Many of our buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, along with the entire downtown Plan!  Yes, downtown Venice is on the National Register of Historic Places – one of only 3 cities with that recognition – along with Savannah, GA, and Washington D.C.

Ok, so the City is historic – and old (at least   by Florida standards).  But it is more than that – it has that magical feel of a town where you dreamed of living.  Did you know that the downtown we enjoy now was not always that way?  Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, many of our downtown shops were vacant, and those still in business were tee shirt shops and tattoo parlors.  There were very few restaurants and clothing stores.  That was when a group of concerned folks started Venice MainStreet, an organization devoted to building up the economic vitality of downtown.  Now, over 30 years later, we have helped shape downtown Venice to what it is today.

Venice is:
Vibrant – With its wide range of shops, restaurants, and businesses, all within walking distance of a beautiful beach on the Gulf of Mexico. Not many downtowns can offer that.

Beautiful- Parks abound within the historic district and around the city. John Nolen, the renowned city planner of his era, wanted a park within walking distance of all residents.  We have over 30 parks to enjoy.

Walkable – The sidewalks are wide, walkers stroll in front of store fronts and meander in and shop.  The buildings are 3 stories tall, not like walking in the canyons of other towns.  The entire downtown district is 9 blocks.  In fact, our city with its distinguished heritage is becoming the city plan of the future, called New Urbanism.

Enjoy the:
Lifestyle – This city has a group of very engaged volunteers. We have a vested interest in its future and we help to get things done. We helped create the iconic Venice gateway arch, design the Children’s Intergenerational Fountain in Centennial Park, and we sponsor events and music.  We help make this city what it is – now and in the future – by remembering our past.

However, we cannot do it alone.  We need volunteers, and you can become Community Partners of Venice MainStreet.  By joining, you will hear about our plans and upcoming events.  You can participate and become engaged in the community.  The annual cost is $35 for an individual member and $50 for a family membership.
You can also support Venice MainStreet by purchasing the 30th Annual Downtown Venice Art Festival poster for only $20 or by designating a brick in a loved one’s honor to be placed around the Intergenerational Fountain for $100.  All proceeds benefit Venice MainStreet.

Please join now and help keep Venice the town you fell in love with.  I did…

Venice MainStreet contact information:
Tel #: (941) 484-6722

The Historic Venice Train Depot:  A Legacy  by Maria Baskin

The Historic Venice Train Depot: A Legacy by Maria Baskin

Every Christmas after our house is all decorated, I place the family’s wooden train set under the tree. I purchased the set for my now thirty-six-year old son, Jonathan, when he was little. I have continued the tradition of placing it under the tree because even though he is grown, the childhood memories linger.

Venice has its own history with trains going back to when our city was first established. You will find the 1927 Historic Venice Train Depot, the only surviving passenger station in Sarasota County, has had and still has some interesting stories to tell. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, the Train Depot is located north of the Venice Avenue bridge in the Rollins W. Coakley Railroad Park. The sun-tanned yellow Depot building is connected to an arched covered passenger waiting area complete with wood benches. Sitting underneath the arches felt as though I was entering a Renaissance abbey. I recently learned from the Chair of the Depot Committee of the Venice Area Historical Society (VAHS), George Miller, that the architecture is Mediterranean Revival. It is a perfect place to relax or go on a tour and find out some fun facts about who was instrumental in bringing the Depot to Venice and how it has evolved over decades.

In 2003, a group of trained docents from the VAHS began giving tours of the Depot building and the campus. Here are some of the questions about the Depot you may or may not know the answers to:
•    The Depot was not always at its current location. Who built the first Depot and where was it located?
•    In the late twenties Venice became a ghost town. Do you know why?
•    The Depot was built with two waiting rooms. Do you know why?
•    What do the Kentucky Military Institute, the U.S. Army and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus have in common?
•    Who was Gunther Gebel-Williams? (Think tigers.)
•    The Depot closed in 1975, and the building fell into disrepair. Who purchased it in 1999 and brought it back to life?
•    The original Depot cost $47,500. Can you guess how much the renovation cost?

Plans to preserve the Depot’s circus train heritage are under way. A retired circus rail car has already been purchased from the Florida Railroad Museum. Once renovations are finished, the car will be divided into different sections which will display the lifestyles of circus performers. Exhibits in a central display area will showcase key aspects of Venice’s circus history. This rail car will only enhance the synergy among the Depot campus, Legacy Park, Legacy Trail and the Venetian Waterway.

Take advantage of this treasure in our city with a tour tailored to your interest from as little as 15 minutes to as much as 45 minutes.

Year-round – Saturdays between 10am-1:00pm
November – April
Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays 10am – 3:00pm

Eat, Walk, Learn – A New Way to Explore Downtown Venice by Heidi Reslow

Eat, Walk, Learn – A New Way to Explore Downtown Venice by Heidi Reslow

We invite you, the reader, to embark on a Historical Culinary Walking Tour presented by Venice Culinary Tours.  Guests gather under the clock at the Venice MainStreet kiosk in Centennial Park, don their special name tag, and make introductions all around.  Once everyone is acquainted, a trained tour guide will take you on a leisurely three hour walking tour, complete with rest stops.  Full time residents, part time snowbirds, guests, and visitors from near and far will enjoy this one-of-a-kind tour.

Your guide will give you an in-depth history of Venice, including John Nolen’s plan to effectively balance his design between two transcendental ideals: civic and nature.  As guests stroll through the City on the Gulf, they will learn about Venice’s unique architecture, its folk lore and hear amusing stories about its host of characters!  The tour will lead the group to four restaurants and two foodie specialty shops.  Guests will receive all kinds of informative tidbits along the route with a few surprise stops.  What better way to spend an afternoon in the company of new friends and being filled up with great food and learning something new about Venice!

Our experienced tour guides are chosen for their knowledge of the area as well as their love of food and all things culinary.  They provide an entertaining and memorable event coupled with cuisine samplings to delight everyone’s palate.  What a great way for family and friends to spend quality time together.  Venice Culinary Tours is sure to exceed your expectations, whether you are a newcomer to Venice or a long-time resident.

Founder Susan Robinson and Venice Tour Manager Gabe Levinson started Key Culinary Tours in Sarasota and expanded their culinary offering to include Venice because of its rich history and tradition.  “Thousands of people stroll the unique shops and gourmet restaurants each day,” says Susan, “and Venice is one of the most charming downtowns in Florida, and arguably the world.”

Robinson had a concierge business in Sarasota, and received numerous calls for historical tours of Sarasota.  To meet the needs of her customers and their inquiries, she decided to create her own tours.  First, she and her husband went to Miami and in the course of three hours, she learned about one select neighborhood and enjoyed fabulous Cuban food. Her business partner Gabe Levinson is an architect originally from New York whose second love is food. Attracted by the weather, beaches, and architect structures, Levinson moved to Venice five years ago, met Robinson, and together they created Key Culinary Tours.

A recent Culinary Tour Guest myself, I can attest to Levinson’s love of Venice.  He shares his passion about John Nolen’s master design for Venice and brings to life the buildings of Venice like no one else can.

“One recent culinary guest,” Levinson relays, “has lived in Venice for over forty years.  As she listened intently about the Ringling Circus parading through the streets of Venice, she told me that it happened exactly as I described.  This was a walk down memory lane for her, and she could picture it just the way I imaginatively conveyed it on the tour.  For me, it was wonderful to have someone on the tour who actually went to the parade and experienced it in its heyday.”

Tour guests continue to rave about their experience.  Livvy Faford had this to say. “The Venice Key Culinary Tour was an afternoon of interesting historical facts about our beautiful city of Venice.  It was fun to try several new restaurants that were part of the tour and we enjoyed the stops at several specialty shops” And friend Nancy Spokowski adds, “As relatively new residents, my husband and I enjoyed hearing various interesting pieces of historical information about Venice from our guide.”

The Venetian tour has been operating since December, and is a great way to try new local restaurants, meet the restauranteurs, and experience the cuisine.  The restaurant always showcases a signature dish on the tour.  An international tour is already established in Sarasota and the Robinson-Levinson team is looking to add an international tour to the Venice tour menu.  Other ideas are in the works as well, including a shark and artifact finding tour geared toward families with a guide to show folks the best place to find their treasures.

For Robinson, she wants people to embrace Venice on both a culinary and historical level.  “We are thrilled to be here and strive to offer an authentic experience to the community.  Sarasota serves as a template for other types of tours, including a Happy Hour themed tour, and Venice equally lends itself for similar types of tours.  Gabe and I continue to fine tune our tour offerings, while maintaining the same quality and consistency.  And through our business partnership with Venice MainStreet, we are able to connect the community with restaurant and destination partners.”

Tour participants will come away with their heads filled with history and their stomachs filled with delectable delights.  A double whammy at an affordable price of $65.00 per person.  Tours run Tuesdays through Fridays from 2pm to 5pm.  To reserve your space on a tour, please call 941-893-4664 or visit


TriMonsters: The Team Sport Any Kid Can Do by Heidi Reslow

TriMonsters: The Team Sport Any Kid Can Do by Heidi Reslow

Following their first steps, toddlers will soon take off to scampering through the house beginning their lifelong quest to explore every nook and cranny.  Next comes the tricycle to the bicycle stage, complete with scrapes and bruises.  And finally, living in the Sunshine State with water all around, every kid should be able to swim, from a safety standpoint.  And there you have it, the recipe for the TriMonsters Venice Youth Triathlon Team.

The TriMonsters’ mission is to educate, inspire and empower youth about the sport of triathlon.  Parents are encouraged to introduce their children to the fastest growing sport in the U.S.  Compared to traditional youth sports like soccer, football, baseball, and basketball, the triathlon offers an individual sport within a team atmosphere.  Kids can practice on their own, on their own time, in their own space. Unlike other team sports, a triathlon is made up of different disciplines, and requires efficiency in many skill sets.

Coach Deb Peters’ credentials are extensive.  She is a USAT Certified Level 1 and Youth & Junior Triathlon Coach.  Peters is a member of ACE – American Council on Exercise, a Certified Personal Trainer, and a Certified Health Coach.  She is also the Florida Regional Youth Coordinator for the USA Triathlon.

Focused on family fitness, Peters came up with the idea in 2014 to add youth triathlon in to her DP Fitness adult business.  She placed a little ad in the local paper, and seven kids signed up.  TriMonsters is now going in to their 5th season and were the 2016 Regional Champions.

Peters explains, “Participation in youth triathlons can start a lifelong passion for a multisport lifestyle and healthy living.  We welcome the opportunity for parents to let us teach their children important life skills through the sport of triathlon!”

She continues, “We focus on safety first and always. Although the kids do compete, our priority is on technique and skills.  The kids develop healthy habits, strengthen camaraderie relationships, put their best foot forward, and just plain have fun.”

The great thing about training for and competing in a Triathlon is that people can do this from the time they start as a kid until they are well into retirement age.  Tom Brady may be the greatest quarterback of all time, but how much longer will he appear on the professional field?

So what motivates the kids to come?  Coach Deb will meet a parent out and about in the community, and explain the concept of TriMonsters. The Triathlon is a relatively new sport for kids, and once adults understand what TriMonsters is all about and that it is for kids, the lightbulb goes off, they see the benefit, and enroll their kids. TriMonsters offers a one-time complimentary 1 ½ hour practice, and invites kids to give it a try.  When the newcomers see the other kids swimming, biking and running, they want to join in on the fun and become part of the team.

Then the transition occurs, and the kids encourage their parents to start training.  Deb says, “I see this all of the time.  Now more parents are getting involved so that they can experience the same things that their kids are doing.  Just like their kids, the parents learn critical thinking, discipline, goal setting, self-confidence, capacity to push themselves to the next level, and to work their hardest.”

TriMonsters caters to kids aged 5 to 15.  The Trimonsters triathlon season runs from March to September, and kids have the option to participate in four or five triathlons during the season.  Training takes place on the weekend, one day for just 1 ½ hours.  One prerequisite is that the kids have to know how to swim. Safety is a priority, and a lot of focus is on swimming because all of the confidence is built in the water.  Plus, the kids learn all about the tides, meaning of the flag colors, open water safety, and the ocean life.

The triathlons are age specific distances.  The 5-10 year olds swim 100 yards, bike 3 miles, and run a half mile.  At age 11, the distance doubles, which presents a new challenge for those aging up.

All of the kids, regardless of their age, have to know what to do without any assistance.  Let me walk you through the event.  You arrive at the venue race in the morning.  You push your bike into transition, all alone, and find your spot.  You set up your bike, lay down your towel, put your shoes and socks there, grab your cap and goggles, and head to the water.  You swim your race distance, exit the water, remove your cap and goggles, and run towards transition, where your bike and shoes are.  As you enter transition you have to find your bike amongst rows of other bikes, sometimes, hundreds.  You find your bike, put your helmet on, grab your bike and push it out of transition, then get on, and off you go.  After completing your ride, you head back to transition, find your spot to re-rack your bike, and then head off running to the finish line. Now imagine, a five year old doing this!  Scary and tough for an adult.  Come out and see for yourself the determination, grit and character of these kids hard at work.

Deb says, “The kids are so proud when they finish.  No one can take away their accomplishments and their feeling of pride.  Some moms tell me that the kids will not wash off their race number written on their arm for days for it is like a badge of honor.”

Are your kids ready to be part of the sport of Triathlon? Are they ready to learn the team motto: Be Safe! Have Fun! Be Awesome!  To sign up, please call TriMonsters Head Coach, Deb Peters at 813 731 8767.  A phone call is a must, as there are pre-intake questions.  We look forward to teaching you and your children about triathlon!

The Story Behind the Brush by Heidi Reslow

The Story Behind the Brush by Heidi Reslow

The walls of An Original Hitt, Fine Art and Atelier, literally paint the story of nationally acclaimed artist, Karen Ann Hitt.  Referred to as her Miracle Studio, it is indeed a working studio.  Her door signage reads, If not in, gone painting.  If she and her husband are not taking the road less traveled around the states, then you can find her in the studio, donning her paint-splattered wardrobe: jeans with a matching long vest, working Cowboy boots, and Cowboy hat atop her long flowing radiant curls.

As a child she would do anything to stay home and take summer art classes in lieu of partaking in family vacations.  She only wanted to paint, and subsequently submit her artwork in to local shows in her native Columbus, Ohio.  Even today she delights in being a judge for the annual children’s art festivals in Venice, and gives a big thank you and shout out to Sister Maureen of Still Point Studio.  

She arrived in Florida in 1975 where her family settled on the other coast, and she attended high school in Ft Lauderdale.  While she took classes at the Vo Tech, she asked the teacher where she should go to college.  The teacher gave her only one response, Parsons School of Design in New York, and that was it.  She applied, was accepted and would later major in illustration.

In the mid-90’s, she moved to Venice, became a single mom, and raised her three children here.  In 2015 she married her soulmate and together they spend many months of the year traversing the USA in their dream home-away-from-home on wheels.  She paints and he hikes.

Her photos are captured on a nearby laptop for easy display and reference.  Blank canvases and canvases in various stages hang from a wall-sized easel where she stands, brushes in hand, and lets her vision come to life.  She explains, “A photograph cannot read everything that the human eye can read.  But a painting shows more of the At that moment… experience”.

     The open air ‘Plein Air’ work (painting on location outside) is an essential resource for many Studio Works.  Oils are her preferred medium of choice, and she does paint with acrylics and watercolors too.  From a still life to a landscape, from a single palm tree to a beach scene, or a town view, each work tells a story.

One of my personal favorites is Artist Studio Life with Lemon and Blues Choices. Created in 2014, this oil on linen was featured in ine Art Connoisseur.  The artist incorporated three of her other paintings into background of this painting, along with a still life of a glass jar of honey, lemons, and berries.  Her inspiration came from lemon-like and bluesy news which she transformed in to a work of art.  The jar of honey was provided by local bee keeper, Ron Goulet.  He even gave her a dead bee that had stung him that day. The heart-shaped rock depicted in the lower right-hand corner was found as she stepped out of her vehicle to paint along the Merced River on the way to Yosemite National Park.


   Karen Ann has long been known for her portraits of children and still paints them today.  Mary Lou Dunn-Rankin, says, “One of our most treasured possessions is the portrait Karen painted of our children when they were small.  She painted the portrait from a candid photo she took of them reading together, and it really captures their personalities. 

 As the artist explains, “When you paint kids, it is from photos, therefore you spend time in the studio by yourself painting.  While I enjoy doing portraits, I told myself that I need to get out more, and so I do just that.” 

Founder of Venice Plein Air Group, she thrives on being outside, taking in the scenery, and making it come to life on the canvas.  As this article was being penned, Karen Ann was working on A New Day Dawning, the view of a sunrise on the Intracoastal Waterway in Venice.  Presently, Karen Ann is compiling her studio paintings for Women’s Impressions group exhibit opening on January 17, 2018 at Hughes Gallery in Boca Grande, FL. The Opening Reception is scheduled for January 17 at 5pm.  

 She shares, “One of the things I learned while studying at college in NYC, is the importance of supporting your neighborhood.  Because I quickly learned that if I want things to stay nice and appreciate what I love about my neighborhood, then I have to support my neighborhood and the local merchants, or they won’t be there in the future.”  An active participant in Venice’s local art walks, Karen Ann buys the wine she serves from Venice Wine & Coffee, and passes out their business cards because she wants them to succeed and to always be there to supply the wine for her events.  And if you want to support your local artists, come on down to An Original Hitt…and support the neighborhood.

      The hours of An Original Hitt – Fine Art & Atelier, are not set, and appointments are always welcome.  It is worth a visit if nothing more than to find the actual bumblebee that is still on hand as a model in her gallery located at 230 Ponce de Leon Avenue, Venice. Tel # (941) 586-0287


The Gift of Time, for Yourself by Heidi Reslow

The Gift of Time, for Yourself by Heidi Reslow

All the money in the world cannot buy one more day on this great Earth of ours. And only You can take care of You. So now is the time for you to pay attention to your body from head to toe. Now is the time to discover your unique body type and how you were created to be. Now is the time to gain a sense of well-being and feel true inner peace. Now is the time to develop a deep connection within yourself.  Now is the time to learn how to balance the pace of your life with a new way of living and being.  Isn’t it time to treat your health as an investment, and not as an expense?

Annette Broy, Owner of Dragonfly Ayurveda and Yoga, has designed the Dragonfly 60 Day Transform Your Life Program. Annette is a Registered Nurse, Certified Case Manager, Yoga Alliance 500 hr Yoga Instructor, International Certified Yoga Therapist, and National Ayurvedic Medical Association Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner.

Annette describes the program as, “A complete lifestyle and wellness makeover that treats the body as a tripartite being, made up of the body, mind and spirit. The program incorporates the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda and yogic principles combined with modern knowledge for a radical life transformation.”

A primary component of this health-focused program (not weight- focused) will be to discover your specific make-up. Noodle on that for a minute. You will learn how to honor your unique body type, and you will receive a customized program to meet your specific needs.  The ultimate goal is to feel more balanced – physically, mentally and spiritually.
This will be accomplished through the Ancient Wisdom (Ayurvedic) Principles to sync the body in line with the earth’s natural rhythms.

Questionnaires will be used to determine your original makeup, and to bring you back to balance to your true nature. One set of questions is focused on pre-puberty, and your likes / dislikes to hone in on your personality type. The second set of questions pertains to how you are today, your body type, build, and any chronic illnesses you may be experiencing. Character exercises will be given to see how you responded to situations as a child versus how you respond now as an adult.

Maybe it’s time for you to incorporate famed motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar’s motto, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me”, and embark on the Dragonfly Transformation Program.  Annette explains, “It is a truly doable, life changing experience. Attendees will develop a deep sense of inner awareness to make better life choices. I want everyone to come away with a common sense approach to live authentically and lead an optimal life. This program is for people who are committed to making a radical transformation of their health. Anyone can do this, including vegans, vegetarians, meat-eaters, and even those with diabetes.”

Which category do you fall in to: Eat to Live or Live to Eat? Do your sweet tooth taste buds trump your willpower for healthy snacks?  It’s a given – we all have to feed our bodies.  But we also have to nourish our mind and spirit. Take the time to dedicate 60 days to yourself and learn how to customize food, physical activity, and daily living according to your unique makeup.

In this program, you will learn how to revamp your nutritional intake to make choices for the foods that are right for your body. You will explore spirituality to lead a balanced and more fulfilling life, regardless of your spiritual beliefs. And you will receive unlimited access to all yoga classes at Dragonfly for the entire 60-day program. The ultimate goal is for you to gain empowerment over your life.

The 60-day program kicks off on Saturday January 13, 2017 from 9:00am to 2:00pm, and continues for 8 consecutive Tuesdays from 5:30pm to 8:00pm, beginning January 16 through March 13. Lunch will be served at the kickoff meeting and dinner will be served on all Tuesday evening meetings. All meetings will take place at the Dragonfly Studio located at 439 Tamiami Trail South, #202.

Participants will receive the following:
•    Products, supplements, herbs and super greens to get you started on your new life
•    3-day supply of Kitchari cleanse supplies (rice, beans and herbs)
•    Daily routine products: Neti pot, Nasal oil, Tongue scraper, Body Brush, Personal body oil (ahbyanga oil)
•    Transform Your Life book, Dragonfly Journal, personalized Food Guide with recipes
•    Weekly Tuesday evening meetings, including a meal, cooking demonstrations, and educational talks on how to incorporate healthy habits in to your daily wellness routine
•    Daily Access to online private Facebook Support Group to ensure success and find inspiration throughout your journey
•    Unlimited access to all yoga classes at Dragonfly during 60 days

Are you ready to give yourself the Gift of Time?

To register, go to or call the studio at (941) 222-0777

Hammocks, Chairs, and a Beach Load of Fun-itures! by Heidi Reslow

Hammocks, Chairs, and a Beach Load of Fun-itures! by Heidi Reslow

When Mark and Laura arrived in Venice, their mouths dropped at the sight of the palm trees lining the avenues of the City on the Gulf.  As they took in the sights and sounds of the area, they realized no one was selling hammocks, and the light bulb went off.  Mark explains excitedly, “We looked at each other and said let’s sell hammocks in paradise.”  Since that vision, his goal has been to sell a hammock a day, and he has pretty much met that goal since opening Island Life Hammock Co. three years ago.

This boutique store offers hammocks from all over the world.  One being Pawley’s Island hammock which was created over 125 years ago.  Pawley’s set the standard for the original American hammock.  In fact they are so well made, the duracord part of the hammock is animal-resistant; squirrels and their furry cousins do not like the taste.  Plus Mark tells of one American-made hammock that was hung on a Banyan tree on the Island.  Unfortunately, Irma toppled the tree, but the hammock did not sustain any damage from the 110 mph winds and was able to be re-hung.

Another type are the Brazilian Hammocks which are named after famous beaches such as Jericoacoara, Maharaja, and Impanema.  “In fact,” Mark exclaims, “I sold one to a lady who came to the shop, and she was actually from Impanema. But I am just waiting,” he continues, “to sell one to Robert Plant, former lead singer of Led Zeppelin.  The day he comes in to buy one, I can say: mission accomplished.”

The couple just recently updated their website, and they do a fair amount of business just from the website.  But foot traffic is always the best for as Mark says, “The magic happens in the shop, and we truly have the nicest customers, whether they are the locals who support our business or the seasonal visitors.  We just enjoy helping our customers furnish their little slice of paradise, whether it be here in Venice or elsewhere.”

Of course we all remember our Dads resting in the typical green canvas hammock on a metal stand after mowing the grass.  Mark wants today’s generation to experience and treasure those same memories of yesteryear.  “Every yard looks great from the hammock’s view.” However, hammocks have come a long way over the years and they aren’t just for outside anymore. Today there are even more styles and varieties to choose from.  Island Life carries hanging chairs and swings that look great in your living room, den, or even the kids’ bedrooms!  Mark will even make local deliveries and assist with proper installation.  And like a bicycle, once you master getting in and out of a hammock, it stays with you forever.

While Mark’s passion are the hammocks, wife Laura wants our readers to know that their shop offers everything for the home with a beach house flair, all made by local artisans.

She says, “Our shop is more than just a hammock store.  We offer pillows, wall art, jewelry, home decor, and even funky, colorful birdhouses. The old recycled metal art and lit beach signs are very popular.  A top seller are the Real Deal hats and backpacks made from the canvas of trucks and come via way of Brazil. Customers love the old original patches on these tarp hats and bags.”

One visitor stopped to admire the brightly colored Adirondack chairs displayed in front of the store.  After a quick peak inside, she beaconed her husband to come in and check out the variety of wall art.

The Adirondack Chairs are the perfect gift for Mom or Dad. They have a lifetime warranty and will not split, rot or mildew.  They are UV-protected, and come in an assortment of vibrant colors, including orange, blue, green and teal.  Following a bit of light assembly, your chair is ready for a lifetime of enjoyment.

So the next time you are meandering the avenues, be sure to stop in and be greeted with a smile by Mark and Laura at Island Life Hammock Co. located in the 300 block on West Venice Avenue.