Eddy Rodriguez sits among the charred remains of his American dream.
On Friday, Oct. 18, a fire in the repair shop behind the La Teresita strip center on Columbus Drive in the heart of West Tampa’s Hispanic community destroyed much of Bayside Scooters, 3304 W. Columbus Drive. Eddy sits on a blackened frame of one of the fire’s victims.
“Fortunately, it didn’t go anywhere else,” Rodriguez said of the fire. “That was my biggest fear — for the rest of the businesses.”
The next day, it was back to work.
“We salvaged what we could, filled trucks with the scrap metal,” he said. “It’s work or die.”
An immigrant from Cuba — Eddy’s father brought the family to Tampa in 1984 after a short stay in Panama — work has been a constant for the Rodriguezes.
“My parents worked during the day, then they’d take us kids with them to the offices they cleaned at night,” he said. “They worked and paid off every cent they borrowed to get us here.”
Hard work turned the Rodriguezes into small-business owners. First, his father opened a jewelry store. Eddy struck out on his own four years ago, starting Eddy’s Pawn and Gun. Scooters, at the time, were just an item to pawn.
“An old man in the neighborhood was in an accident on his, and while he was recovering, his family asked me to sell it,” said Eddy. “After he healed, he wanted another one. And there was no one in the area selling them.”
After a little research, Rodriguez bought his first batch of 10, which arrived in boxes.
“We put them together in the parking lot,” he said.
In two weeks, they were all sold, so he ordered another batch.
“And they were sold in two weeks,” he said. “And then people were looking for service. I found there was a need.”
Soon, Bayside Scooters opened just a few doors down in the same strip mall. That was years ago. As the economy took its toll on the pawn business, Rodriguez went into the scooter business full time. What inventory he had left from the pawn store — tucked away in a storage container next to the workshop — also was lost in the fire.
“Two generators, lots of holsters ... along with the eight new scooters I had and six customers’ bikes,” he said. “I plan on replacing them all.”
Married and a father of two, he and his wife waited a few days before telling their children, a 7-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.
“My son, first thing he asked was if people had their bikes in the shop,” he said. “It had been his birthday earlier in the week. He went and got the $40 someone gave him and gave it to me. It broke my heart.”
As for the future, his business is open. The repairs are trickling in, and he already has some stock out in front of the storefront that was once Eddy’s Pawn and Gun, 3310 W. Columbus Drive.
“Work or starve,” he said. “What else can you do?”
And while his future may not be in the same strip mall, he’s certain the business will thrive once again.
“There are people who need scooters to get around,” said Rodriguez. “They can’t afford a car. These hardly use any gas, and the insurance is cheap.”