Thursday, March 12, 2015

2014 changes in Key West

Key West 2014
What in Key West changed for the better and what changed for the worse in 2014? Here is my annual review of Key West changes - a personal selection. If you want a comprehensive list then read the Citizen! I do this every year and you can see links to previous years' reviews at the end of this post.

The two anncouncements offering the most impact were not new or surprising and had been brewing for years:

US to normalise relations with Cuba - 90 miles from Key West
Cuba came whole lot closer to Key West in December when President Obama announced more normal relations with Cuba, including relaxing travel barriers for vacations to Cuba. Subsequently, Cuba was named the #2 top destination in the New York Times's 2015 list.

This has potential for profound impact on the closest US real estate to Cuba (e.g. Key West) and could well mean a lucrative tourist route starting between the two. Day trip to Havana, anyone?

The alternative prediction for Key West is a reduction in cruise ship traffic because they choose to stop off / divert to new, interesting, different Cuba rather than good ol' Key West (which regrettably is looking more indistinguishable from all Caribbean / sunny destinations with each passing year).

Walmart store to open in Rockland Key (maybe) - 9 miles from Key West 
10x closer than Cuba, we're going to have a Walmart. This has not yet been officially confirmed by Walmart and so it's less of an announcement and more of a long standing rumor that got much stronger in November 2014.

Some Key West retailers fear for their livelihood as a result of this retail giant pitching up next door and no one coming into Key West ever again.

La Concha hotel sells out to the power of the dollar
The greedy, money grabbing owners of La Concha closed the viewing platform in May 2014 and built a hideous spa on the roof instead. No, I am not surprised, but I can still be disappointed, right?

OK, so no one is going to say that La Concha is a good looking building but the not-so-pretty landmark on Duval Street just got ugly thanks to a totally incongruous, black glasshouse spa built on the very top of the hotel. As Key West's tallest building the roof deck was a great place to see views of Key West and especially the sun set. And it was FREE. You don't get much for free these days and now one thing less.
La Concha hotel on Duval Street with the new spa at the top replacing the viewing deck which is now closed 
Folks, this REALLY annoys me (and I know I am not the only one). I am thinking about why.

First, because I had a cool times up there with beer beer in hand, watching many sunsets with people dear to me. And the view was great.

Second: it's another nail in the coffin of Key West being a little eccentric and different. Giving something for free, people able to meet together and watch the sun set. Now it's a spa. In a hotel. Just like every other hotel. Key West takes a step towards becoming just another vacation destination.

La Concha top floor viewing platform before the spa
La Concha Sunset at the Top, which closed  for good in 2014
Obvious news
To state obvious news, the road work on N Roosevelt Blvd has been completed after 2 years of roadworks. The new road is lovely, they've done a great job. Wasn't it worth all that moaning and disruption!

The total refurbishment of the 4 dilapidated hotels in the north-east of the island is nearing completion.

Key West had a good year for tourism thanks to the recovering domestic and world economy. There were lots of tourists, lots of cruise ship arrivals, lots of parties - I noticed a more international feel to our visitors, too.

Pizza disaster - Upper Crust gone
Now I did warn you that this list of changes was VERY personal to me. And so this one might not mean anything to you and it probably seems small and petty....

Upper Crust take away pizza on Duval Street has closed (actually closed in late 2013 but I did not record it properly in my changes list last year). Best pizza place on the island gone.

Looking for pizza now? I can recommend Onlywood at 613 Duval Street. But it's sit down rather than take away and it's quite expensive for pizza. But very nice. I don't like the other pizza places in Old Town.

Thank heavens: another CVS [this is sarcastic]
The fabulous and much missed Fast Buck Freddies closed in 2012 and has been empty ever since. In another sign of the normalisation and commercialisation of Key West an eccentric and charismatic store (Fast Bucks) will be replaced by a boring and standard one: CVS will be taking over 500 Duval Street.

Do we really need another CVS on Duval Street a few blocks from the other CVS, and also a stone's throw from the Walgreens over the road?
Fast Buck Freddie's on Duval Street Key West will be replaced by a CVS
Key West Island Books hangs on
The first thing to say is: please go to this bookstore at 513 Fleming Street, 10 seconds from Duval Street.

In November they downsized, losing the half of the bookstore on the right of the entrance. So all those books crammed into half the size makes it even more fun to browse. The picture below is really unfair because it was taken when they were still re-sorting the books after the move.

For roughly 3 years, this has been Key West's ONLY bookstore. I love the internet but the closure of bookstores in Key West, and around the world, is surely one of the worst side effects of the internet?

I really hope this shop never closes. And, yes, I did buy some books there (as I do every time I go in).
Inside Key West Island Bookstore on Fleming Street - lots of fantastic books
Fairvilla also divides in 2
Fairvilla Key West, the regular and also slightly kinky fancy dress store located at 520 Front Street, has also had to downsize loosing half of the store which currently stands empty.

This is both predictable (the store was huge and the many items beautifully spread out) but also surprising (because in terms of customer demand, can there be any other city which has a greater number of events, festivals that require fancy dress than Key West?).

Key West has a new fire house about to open. I know it's about function rather than design, but in my view it's not very in keeping with Key West and it's quite ugly. I'm sure it's useful though.

Retail news
In January 2015, it was announced that Gap was to open on Duval Street (yawn, boring!).

I think it's much better that new, non chain stores open in Key West. So it's good to see Tucker's Provisions shop at 611 Duval Street is a new entry to the retail on Duval Street. This is where Upper Crust used to be (see above). They do men's fashions. I wish them well, but the guy in there was really miserable when I visited. I hope it works out for them.

Talking of retail. I see Evolution on Duval Street, located at the epicenter of Gay Key West, is doing so badly catering to gay men that it's had to diversity and has enlarged its range to women's clothing.

A new hotel has just opened called The Marker Waterfront Resort. It's brand new. Much better than the condos that were being built until they went bankrupt. 
In November 2014 they were still finishing the Marker Hotel off William Street in Key West. It's now open
These rooms in the Marker Hotel will have a great view of Key West Bight
Montage has moved to 704 Duval Street. This is a super cool store that make small wooden replica signs of famous Key West signs that you can buy and take home. What's really cool is that they are a local Key West company of long standing. I hope they do really well in this new location.
Montage Key West in their new store at 704 Duval Street Key West
Finnegan's Wake, the Irish pub on 320 Grinnell Street, has closed. There was lots of activity in it in Novemb but I don't know what it will become once the work has finished.

The distinctive fence at Finnegan's Wake in Key West on Grinnell Street, now closed
La Te Da hotel on Duval Street has had a makeover since having new owners in January 2014. It is looking much nicer, especially the pool which is now actually looking like a pool again.

La Te Da hotel has had some TLC
Talking of hotel refurbishments, my 2014 best hotel in Key West, Pier Houser hotel (oops, sorry, resort) has a new owner and they have been spending some money on the hotel. Some of the money was spent on new branding, which I don't actually like. Too minimal and not Key West tropical like the old signage - which was funky and fitted Key West vibe. Picture coming.

Old Bones on Fleming Street closed. Which was a shame, it also was funky and fun.
Old Bones closes on Fleming Street Key WEst

That's enough changes for 2014. Here are reports from previous years:

Here is my list of Key West changes in 2013

And if you are really keen: here is my list of Key West changes 2012