Emporium to relocate into former antiques store
The Bubble Room Emporium will soon have a new home – and feature some exciting upgrades.
Tentatively set for Aug. 24, the restaurant’s beloved gift shop will reopen across Captiva Drive at the former site of Albert Meadow Antiques. Owned and operated by partners David Doherty and Josephine Anderson, she sold the building to the Bubble Room’s owner in 2018 after Doherty had passed away.
“It’s been full on the whole time,” Bubble Room Manager Stephen Peach said of refurbishing the exterior of the structure and renovating the interior since the switch in ownership last year.
The site was actually part of the original Bubble Room properties.
Artist Katie Gardenia founded the restaurant in 1979, owning the main structure, the separate 200-square-foot building to the north – which has been serving as the Emporium – and the 6,000-square-foot site across the street. When she sold the business in 1989, the new Bubble Room owner took over the main restaurant and smaller building, while Doherty purchased the adjacent land and structure.
“But the owner of the Bubble Room always wanted this place,” Peach said of the site.
In fact, he and Doherty came to a verbal agreement that if the property went up for sale, he would be allowed to put the first offer down. When Doherty passed away, Anderson honored the agreement.
“It never even hit the market,” he said of the land.
Dating back to the 1940s, the building had been converted into a commercial-residential set up by Doherty. Albert Meadow Antiques occupied the front space, with a two-bedroom cottage created in the rear. Peach explained that one of the first steps in renovating the structure was opening up the area.
The building also needed insulation – Doherty did not occupy the property in the hotter off-seasons – replacement of the original wiring, installation of a fire suppression system and a new HVAC system.
“There was much work that needed to be done,” he said. “A full remodel.”
However, they prioritized trying to retain the Old Florida style, the Captiva style.
“We were careful with the historical integrity. We tried to maintain its original state as much as possible, especially the exterior,” Peach said of the structure, noting that the outside only received a fresh new coat of paint. “We value the significance of how it looks and how people remember it.”
There are even elements inside that they preserved. For example, there is a floral mermaid design on the walls in the front area – now slightly faded – that was painted by Gardenia. Doherty left the work untouched, as has the new owner. The wood slate walls that existed in the front area have been extended into the back space for a uniform look.
As for the use of the new space, it will feature all the fun and unique Bubble Room souvenirs and merchandise, toys and games, and gift shop items that the Emporium has become known for carrying. However, some big updates are planned for the new shop thanks to the increase in square footage.
In line with what makes the Bubble Room what it is, the Emporium will house a handful of antique exhibits. There is a working, cast iron shooting gallery from the Oceanside Pier in California from the early 20th Century, which is set up behind the cashier’s counter, plus a wooden carousel board hanging above. Nearby, visitors to the shop will discover a 1919 fortune teller machine that also still works.
“It’ll tell your fortune for a nickel,” he said.
Also on exhibit is a gas-powered tether racing car originally purchased for Shirley Temple for her birthday. She drove the vehicle around 20th Century Fox’s lot, which a book on display will explain.
While these pieces are not for sale, an area of the shop will be sectioned off and filled with large collectable-quality antiques that are priced to sell. There is a Chris Craft coin-operated boat ride and 1950s dime-operated Ride the Space Ship ride, motorized Citron and Austin J40 mini-cars, a Clark Jewel cast iron range, two Wurlitzer jukeboxes, a mini shooting gallery, claw machine and more.
“This will be a revolving antiques display of items for sale,” Peach said.
At the back of the store sits a Gasparini orchestrion – being sold with 100 songbooks.
“It’s a full orchestra on this machine,” he said.
Peach noted that all the items will come with full-service maintenance contracts.
The idea to offer the sale of large antiques actually came about as a result of years of requests from Bubble Room customers. He explained that the restaurant consists of three floors and five dining rooms filled with toys, games, photos and such from the 1930s to 1950s, the “Golden Age of Hollywood.”
“People see it and they become nostalgic,” Peach said. “They want a piece of it.”
Another upgrade to the new shop will be some higher quality merchandise.
“We’re bringing in some more upscale lines,” he said. “It’s going to be more of a boutique feel.”
For example, the existing Emporium sells coastal or seashell jewelry within the $10 to $15 range. The new location will sell the same themed jewelry, but made out of gold and other precious metals.
“Leather handbags,” Peach cited as another example.
In addition, the new shop will have a dedicated spot for the Bubble Room founder’s art.
“We’re reserving a special space for original owner Katie Gardenia’s fiber art gallery,” he said.
Once open, the operating hours will be seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
For more information, call 239-472-6545.
Management is searching for three or four part-time employees.
The Bubble Room Emporium’s new location is at 15000 Captiva Drive.