A Love Letter to My Neighborhood

This is the complete text and selected photos from April’s piece that ran in This Week in Sarasota on Valentine’s Day. For the complete picture gallery go to http://www.thisweekinsarasota.com/neighborhood-love-letter-dear-gillespie-park/.  


Ten Things I Love About You: A Love Letter to Gillespie Park


Dear Gillespie Park,

Since the day we first met, when I was visiting my friends at the blue house on 7th St., I have nurtured a strong and enduring love for you. I hope you won’t think me presumptuous in sharing my feelings so openly, but I can’t shake this feeling that we are made for each another. My greatest sadness would be for you to never know how very special you are …  So here are ten things I love the most about you:


1. Your Face

Houses from the early 1900s, friendly front porches, expert detail …  Spanish-style stucco houses in white, brown and red …  Yards that range from delicately manicured to sometimes old-Florida wispy, sometimes lush and funky foliage. Hidden lanes, oak canopies, a convenient street grid that gives me about 300 options for getting in and out.






You’re flanked by inspiring industrial eye-candy both old and new—including my favorite building in Sarasota, the Binz Building—and by a clever little creek that has entertained some of my afternoon wanderings reminiscent of my East Coast Florida childhood.



Historic Binz Building


You are eclectic, exotic, traditional, industrious, domestic, inviting and private all at once. For this, I love you.


2. My Neighbor Leo’s Home-Based Chocolate Factory

The underground Willy Wonka of Gillespie  Park, my friend Leo Rojas makes the MOST INCREDIBLE chocolates!! Hand-crafted with love and years of culinary experience, his line of “Porcelana” chocolates are made the way candy should be: all pure ingredients with little to no artificial additives. Flavors are distilled in the old-fashioned way, and Leo achieves flavor, texture and an experience that will literally blow your mind (I promise).

Chocolate and process photos by Melissa Enders

Wanna try?  Contact Leo at (941) 780-5867 or Andrea at (941) 586-8873 for deliveries or special orders.

Gillespie, you house creative entrepreneurial spirits building toward big dreams with humble means. For this, I love you.


3.  Our History Together  (That Room of Pain and Triumph)

Gillespie Park, you and I go way back. After our dating period of several months, I moved in with you …  remember? That little yellow house on Osprey with the orange trim and many cats.

The house faced your lovely park, and the birdsong, squirrel-din and warming banter of families and passers-by outside my window made infinitely more endurable one of the most intense and challenging periods of my life (getting divorced and writing a New College thesis simultaneously).

You got me through … and every time I pass that little room in which I nearly lost my eyesight from three unslept days of sociological final writing, I feel strong, accomplished and well-lived.

For this, I love you.


4.  The Children’s Garden

Years ago, a group of artists and gardeners got together and made their own magical wonderland … They invited others to enjoy it and play—thus was born The Children’s Garden!


How lucky am I to have this at a 10 minute walk from my doorstep?

Located next to West Coast Black Theater Troupe on 10th Way (the antique brick-paved road just north of 10th St. on Osprey), this secret indoor-outdoor dream-space features all kinds of fantastical coves and play-places, including “Hobbitville,” a labyrinth, a pirate ship and—my two personal favorites—a dress-up room and a tire mountain for climbing!

It also has a bar and room for entertainment for those in adult mode, and can be visited during its open hours or reserved for special events such as children’s parties, fundraisers or big-people parties. Go visit and you can see what’s beyond the entrance-way!


5.  Bianca’s Mexican Store

Walking into Bianca’s, I’m enveloped … the smell of freshly made tortillas, the warm banter among regulars and a feeling of community and distinct identity that’s hard to come by in most of Sarasota.

This place is all-around great—$1.60 tacos and equally affordable burritos, quesadillas and special plates that you can combine with an intriguing selection of imported Mexican drinks (Jarritos, for example; “Tamarind” flavor is my favorite) or snacks or with some locally made desserts and pastries. Beats Taco Bell any old day …

Grocery-wise, Bianca’s has a good selection of veggies, meats cut to order, cheeses and eggs. I’m working myself into the habit of buying my groceries here—it keeps more money in the community than shopping at Publix, and is a fun experience every time. And it’s just a short walk or bike ride from my house!

Bianca’s has one more enchanting quality—it’s magically expansive. If you have ever watched Dr. Who, this place will remind you of the Tardis—appearing small like an English phone booth on the outside, but is actually magically expansive and huge on the inside.

Address:   903 North Washington Boulevard  Sarasota, FL 34236-4247   ~  (941) 316-9599


6.  Gillespie Park  (that is, the actual park)


















7.  The Breakfast House

Also a short walk from my house, this quaint and delicious little nook is located on Fruitville near 301, and is always bustling with business because it is AWESOME!

Apart from its quaint cotttage-style housing, I love the friendly service and delicious fare, with traditional favorites, fancier treats such as Eggs Benedict and Southern specialties such as Shrimp and Grits. For a Florida girl raised on grits, this is a true treasure!


8.  Your People — My Neighbors

Gillespie Park, I love your people.  Of all kinds of means, ages and ethnicities, we may not cross these typically strong boundaries, but we are all here. This is a start. In particular, you house these people who I have come to know admire, and appreciate (unfortunately I can’t name everyone, but stay tuned for future neighbor stories):

Jen Nugent: Talented artist and low-key organizer, Jen founded Joint Collective Artspace and is now a member of S/ART/Q.

Mike and Erin Murphy: This amazing bro-sis duo rolls out constant creativity and party times in our town and beyond. Not only are they key members of multiple bands themselves, but they organize shows that feature indie bands both local and out-of-town through their grassroots promotion company the Closet. Plus, Mike reminds me of a muppet (who doesn’t love muppets??) and Erin’s always got the greatest outfits and a quietly charming, no-bull way about her.

John Sims: Non-stop curator and creator of thought-provoking art and mixed-media creative experiences, John teaches me a ton about being clear, focused and vocal within the community about your products and your reasons for doing them. Most recently he produced emerging artist Aaron Blackall‘s show at his gallery, featuring a collaboration between painter Aaron and local poet-musician Matteo Kelley (S.N.A.P.M.).  (www.johnsimsprojects.com)


John Sims’ studio and gallery on 10th St.

Fancy Rat:  These awesome kids make some of the best indie music in Sarasota, and they live right down the street from me! (Well, most of them do.)

Victor Jr.: Victor is my co-artist hunter in the neighborhood. He’s about 8. We first met when I was painting a mural on a door outside my house for the SRQ Connects World Cafe project. Victor approached us on the way to the park with his family.

“What are you doing?” he asked, totally un-shy. I explained and he got very excited, and offered his contribution to the door mural. I told him about my interest in meeting other artists in the community and doing things together. The other week, he caught up with me to tell me of an artist that he had found. “Come on, let’s go meet him! He lives right over here.”  Victor’s older sister pulled him back home before we could get to the house, but as he ran back home he advised, “You can go right up and knock on the door, I bet he’ll let you in!”  I was overjoyed to have met someone even more bold than I in pursuing neighborhood connection, and look forward to learning more from him in the future.

Don Hall:  One of the hardest working and most focused people I know, Don Hall is founder and director of Transition Sarasota. If you don’t know about this wonderfully forward-thinking organization yet, read about it now here!


9.  A New Discovery:   Canta Rana Peruvian Restaurant

New member of the Breakfast House-led compound of fun little businesses just north of Osprey on Fruitville, this friendly spot serves up amazing Peruvian fusion food in a colorful, cozy setting.

Happy Hour is 4:30-6 p.m., and there’s live music Friday and Saturday evenings in the courtyard outside. website:  www.cantaranarestaurant.com

Photo by Sarasota Observer


10. Your Endless Possibilities for Exploration, Discovery and Delight

Finally (“por fin“), I love that our life together is unfolding daily. Just as great as the nine things listed above is the fact that there are still so many neighbors, shops, corners and angles yet unknown to me (I have a few pegged – “Beautiful Blessings” day-care on 10th, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, MarchE’ shop on Fruitville, and my neighbor Pat across the street).

Thank you for being an unfolding adventure…  I look forward to many more happy days together, unfolding to each other.

What are ten things YOU love most about your neighborhood?


Photography by April Doner, Aprilart Studios, unless otherwise noted.


Originally published February 14, 2012 by This Week in Sarasota. Excerpted and re-posted with permission.


About the Lead Author

April Doner
April Doner lives and works as a Roving Illustrator, telling stories of community thriving, abundance, and people-powered change through writing, photography and art. Originally from the wave-kissed east coast of Florida, April has found her way to Indianapolis, IN to join community-based innovators De'Amon Harges and Anne Mitchell at Tesserae Learning. April is especially passionate about revealing and engaging the strengths of people, groups and neighborhoods who have been marginalized by labels of deficiency, and in working to redirect channels of faith and funding from deficiency-based approaches and into the lives of the "positive deviants"--the unseen and under-celebrated organizers, story-tellers, healers, artists and others who are actively making changes in their communities and neighborhoods. Through Tesserae and Aprilart Studios, she offers services to strengthen community including documentation, facilitation, trainings, workshops and consulting in Asset-Based-Community Development, Theory U and other practices, as well as a full range of artistic services. April is a Fellow with the Asset-Based Community Development Institute and a Steward of ABCD in Action.

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