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Cape business leaders look back on the early years

By CJ HADDAD - | Sep 18, 2020

Zak’s Jewelry as it looked when it opened in 1977. PHOTO PROVIDED

While a lot has changed in Cape Coral in 50 years since incorporation, one thing remains the same — small businesses are the backbone of the economy. 

Cape pioneers often had deep roots in established areas but they transplanted them here in what, at the time, was just a vision. 

Businesses have come and gone, while some from Cape Coral’s infancy still remain. 

Wonderland Realty

Elmer Tabor, owner/broker of Wonderland Realty — the Cape’s oldest business — has seen it all since arriving in what was dubbed the “Waterfront Wonderland” at just 8 years old in 1960. 

The original Metz Funeral Home on Lafayette Street. PHOTO PROVIDED

His father opened the first grocery store in Cape Coral when there were just 13 families. Elmer’s Supermarket would remain in business until 1966 before a change of ownership and location to Big John Shipping Center until 1987. 

Tabor’s grandfather, H. D. Anderson, started Cape Coral Bank with Lowell Mills, as well as Wonderland Realty. Tabor and his wife Gail bought the business from his mother in 1978 who had previously purchased it from Anderson in 1968. They’ve owned Wonderland ever since. 

Tabor prides himself of being a true connoisseur of Cape Coral, and even has a pet peeve for local agents who haven’t changed to a 239 area code. 

“I know every area of the Cape,” said Tabor, who often gets calls from colleagues with a question or two. “I never realized how much growing up here has helped me in the real estate industry over the years until I get calls and hear some feedback. A major part of this industry is the full knowledge of ‘how’ and ‘when.'”

Tabor said while the real estate market can often fluctuate, working in one of the fastest-growing cities in America always gives them the opportunity to bounce back. 

“Yeah, you can have inactive real estate or a drop in the activity, but within three years we always came out of it,” Tabor said. “There’s always new people that want to live in sunny, Southwest Florida. There’s always more people who want to retire and come down here and we’re seeing a real boom of it again right now.”

 

Zak’s Jewelry

Zak’s Jewelry, a Cape Coral business pioneer and the city’s first jeweler, remains a go-to icon more than four decades after opening here in the Cape. 

Now in their 43rd year in business, the location was opened by Mike Zak and is now owned and operated by his granddaughter, Alison Polo.

Zak visited Fort Myers on vacation in 1975 and the first time he drove over the bridge, he was instantly stunned by the beauty of Cape Coral, “and knew this was where he wanted to be.” 

Mike Zak and his family immigrated to New Jersey from Argentina in 1963. He began working in a factory, but Zak and his cousin dreamed of manufacturing jewelry. 

Zak, who graduated as a mechanical engineer, designed the tools he needed to create one-of-a-kind, handmade hammered mesh designs. 

One year later, the two rented a 3,000-square-foot space on West 48th Street in Midtown Manhattan. The mesh watchbands were sold to companies like Piaget and Hamilton and the rest, as they say, is history.

Zak and Polo’s father, Thomas Rosanio, took a trip to Cape Coral in August of ’77 where he helped to build-out their original storefront on Cape Coral Parkway, now adjacent from their current location. Rosanio and wife Lillian moved to the Cape in the fall of ’77 and, on Nov. 1, Rosanio joined Zak for the grand opening of the store.

“What I remember is just a lot of nothing in Cape Coral,” Polo said. “I remember as a child being able to, from south of Cape Coral Parkway off of Skyline, watch my father come home from Pelican on the parkway, that’s how empty it was.

“My father and my grandfather used to both joke about how come the end of the day, you could just lay down on Cape Coral Parkway no problem, and you’d be fine. There was no traffic.”

Zaks has been in the same spot at 1314 Cape Coral Parkway E. for years, with the original location just right across the street. 

“Over the last 20 years, I would say I have seen just an exponential amount of growth,” Polo said from a business standpoint. “I remember summers when our season would end and just sitting around in the store and we would see maybe a handful of customers. In those summer months, you really had to prepare back then. You knew there wouldn’t be very much business to be had in the summer; that’s not the way it is anymore. Our offseason time is leaps and bounds different.”

Polo attributes a more steady shop to population growth and local organizations that help promote one another. 

They host an annual anniversary sale in October where throughout the entire month everything in the store is up to 60 percent off. 

“Our customers look forward to it, they plan for it, and it kicks off our season,” Polo said. 

Polo said what sets them apart is their family-oriented operation and touch.

“People have been coming into the store and seeing the same faces for the last 20-something years,” she said. “Aside from the family, they have seen the same employees for a long time. That translates to the customer that we are trustworthy and we can handle their most precious belongings.

“People can feel that when they walk in the door. It feels like you’re walking into somebody’s home — it is our home.”

The Cape’s first jeweler has also been quite involved in the community over the years. Rosanio, who passed away earlier this year, was a big supporter of the Cape not just in his craftsmanship, but also through his philanthropic efforts. Many Cape Coral organizations, groups and charities have felt the generosity of Zak’s Jewelry over the years.

“We do a lot within the community, and I really think that transcends through our business,” Polo said. “We donate a lot to the schools, to the churches, to little leagues, to charities — it really never ends.”

Polo said her father loved giving back to the city, especially when it would help the local youth. The family has also enjoyed seeing the city grow immensely, not just in population but in development as well.

She hopes that her business and other downtown continue to provide that “small-town” feel as the city continues to progress.

“I hope we continue to keep that small, hometown feel that we’ve always had,” Polo said. “So that businesses like mine can be comfortable here. I hope we continue to see the generations of our customers and continue on what my father and grandfather started.”

Zak’s buys, sells and trades all types of jewelry, coins, antiques and estate jewelry. They also do appraisals and evaluations, jewelry cleaning, redesigns, custom-designed jewelry and gold buying. 

 

Fuller Metz Funeral Home

Fuller Metz opened its doors in 1967 as Metz Funeral Home, founded by Don Metz, in downtown Cape Coral on Lafayette Street. It was the Cape’s first funeral home established in the new city and they even used to provide ambulance service. 

In 2010, Metz and Fuller funeral homes merged to become Fuller Metz and relocated to 3740 Del Prado Blvd. where the business continues today.

Fuller Metz has served a number of families over time — “thousands” — according to managing partner and funeral director in charge Timothy Hauck.

Hauck takes pride in the work Fuller Metz does for the community.

“A funeral home is a community resource,” said Hauck. “People can put faith and trust in us during life’s most stressful times. We can’t change what has happened, but we try to lighten their burden.”

A Cape Coral resident for going on 50 years and an employee since 1981, Hauck started off washing cars for the business and worked his way through the ranks.

As a youth, he remembers riding his bike around the city with his friends and exploring the woods in the north Cape as a young adult when the area was totally undeveloped. 

“We would just ride our bikes everywhere,” Hauck said. “We’d go down to the Rose Gardens which at that time was closed, but it was great. We’d ride all the way down to the end of Cape Coral Parkway and fish on the outer canals.

“We had that small-community feel, the whole town was kind of our playground.”

Fuller Metz is a top-notch facility, both in size and infrastructure. It can serve any size funeral or service for families. Burial, cremation, or sending the deceased “back home” are all among their services. They have a large ability to pre-arrange, which brings an extra sense of security to loved ones, Hauck said. 

With longevity in the community comes experience, as many Fuller Metz employees have been with the home for 15 years or more. 

“All together we have over 100-plus years of experience in the funeral industry; even our part-time staff has been with us for years and years,” Hauck said.

That experience is what Hauck believes sets them apart, and why they’ve been around for as long as they have.

“We merged the two most prominent names in the community to provide the best services we can to our residents. Quite a few funeral homes have come and gone, but we remain because of our service, stability, dependability and location,” he said.

As the times have changed, Fuller Metz has not lost a step, with its website being a big part in the remembrance of a loved one.

“We provide the deceased with an online memorial tribute that can last forever. It is an important piece for families. They can post pictures, videos, and loving words to their page, and it plays a huge role in the remembrance of someone they’ve lost.”

It’s a fact of life that as the population grows in the Cape, so do the number of deaths. Hauck said often times when the funeral home started they would prepare the deceased to be returned “home” — somewhere other than Cape Coral. Now, generations of families dwell in the Cape and that’s where they want their loved ones to rest. 

Another service Fuller Metz has provided to families and loved ones in the ability to live-stream a funeral. With COVID-19 present in the community, many gatherings have not been permitted or individuals have not been able to travel to pay their last respects. 

“We’ve seen people really use the live stream as a way to memorialize and have funerals despite COVID,” he said. “It’s also a great tool to use when families can’t come down to Florida, COVID-related or not.”

Hauck is a past president of Cape Coral Rotary and Jaycees and currently serves on the board of the Chamber of Commerce and Cape Coral Community Foundation. 

“Our staff has lived in the community, they participate in the community, that’s important. We branch out to many different organizations over the city, such as Wolf Hounds Legacy and Citizens Police Academy,” Hauck added. 

One program Fuller Metz has been running for 10 years is its Flag Day program. 

“Every June 14, we encourage people to bring their worn, torn and tattered flags to us and we replace them with brand new ones,” Hauck said.

The event has been such a hit, they are seeing people return flags to them that they gave them years ago. 

Fuller Metz also is proud to recognize veterans, and anyone who has served in the military. 

“We arrange for a color guard, whether it be the local VFW or active military personnel. We also service the VA cemetery in Sarasota, where the body or ashes of military members can be buried at no cost. We also provide free transportation for the family of the deceased veteran,” Hauck said. 

Ken’s Auto Repair

Ken Schuman arrived from Ohio in 1972 and started an auto electric business on Del Prado, and for eight years rebuilt starters and alternators before becoming Ken’s Auto Repair, a full-service repair shop, in 1983, making his shop among the oldest businesses in the city.

When he first came to Cape Coral with his wife and three children (at the time), he had plans to start his own business and that’s just what he did. 

“Del Prado was one lane north and one lane south,” Schuman remembers from a vacation to the area before moving down full-time. “Once you got past the hospital it was really a dirt road. By ’72 they were widening Del Prado, and it was nice because there was an opportunity to do almost anything you wanted to business wise because the city needed so many things. I was the first rebuilder in the city.”

Schuman did his homework, realizing there were no true auto electric shops in the city. Many of the garages had the lifts and gas pumps where workers would fill your tank (those are all convenience stores now), but only dabbled in electric. The shop opened in 1973. 

“My family has been in automotive industry since 1929,” Schuman said. “I came down here and my dad and I started this thing together (until Schuman bought him out) and then we went into full automotive repair about eight or nine years later. When we stated we were just an auto electric shop; we rebuilt starters and alternators for garages and gas stations in the Cape and Fort Myers and all over.”

Schuman said he had the wherewithal to change with the times and branch out to become a full automotive service.

“It was a changing market,” he said. 

Schuman spoke highly of his clientele over the years and said that’s a reason why he’s been in business for decades. 

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have some of the greatest customers anybody could ask for,” he said. “We did all the Highway Patrol cars –the starters and alternators and all that. 

“Like every business it was slow to start off, but it just kind of took off after a while and as the population grew.”

Continuing to change with the times, Ken’s became familiar with imported makes and models, something he says other local automotive shops weren’t too keen on adopting at first or at all. 

He also learned to multitask, selling and repairing boats as well as opening an insurance agency in 1986 that his oldest daughter runs today.

Schuman has been involved in the community of Cape Coral, having supported local Little League and Babe Ruth baseball. He said the growth has been unbelievable. 

“I think when we first vacationed here the population was 10,000,” he said. “Everybody knew everybody. And even when we moved down in ’72 the population wasn’t very big and you knew everybody in town. That was the neat part of it. 

“Cape Coral was just unique. The Rosen Brothers in my opinion were visionaries; they could never do what they did then today. It’s just a brainstorm of a community that turned out really well.”

–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj

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