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2018 a transition year for the Shell Factory

Death of beloved co-owner left big shoes to fill

January 2, 2019
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

The Shell Factory & Nature Park had a difficult year in 2018, and it had nothing to do with the numbers.

The death of Tom Cronin in February left a crater-sized hole in the everyday running of the 80-year-old attraction.

Tom's wife and co-owner, Pam, has filled that hole, continuing the mission her late husband had for the place, sprucing up the landscaping, adding new events, and taking the Shell Factory into the future with more events planned in 2019.

Still, Ann Sheridan, general manager at the Shell Factory, said the loss of Tom was an earth shaker for everyone.

"It's like losing a friend, a mentor; he was the symbol of the Shell Factory, and we're happy Pam was able to continue his legacy," Sheridan said. "She continues to make improvements he would have loved. We miss Tom, but he's always here."

Two of the most attended events last year were the "Irish Wake" for Tom and the Budweiser Clydesdales, which was one of Tom's dreams - he had spent years trying to bring the famous horses to the Shell Factory. Cronin died a week before they came.

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Pam took the ride in his place, which thousands of people attended on a day that would have been Tom's birthday.

"It was all about Tom on that day and Pam was such a good sport and so grateful. She rode around all day and that is still one of his greatest accomplishments. He got them here whether or not he was here to see them," Sheridan said.

Revenues and attendance were up last year, with a strong finish to 2018. Sheridan said there is no reason to think those numbers won't continue to trend up in 2019.

But that wasn't all. The Nature Park welcomed three new alpacas, Jack and Jill the donkeys, and continued the "Snores and Roars" event geared toward birthday parties and area scouting programs.

Sheridan said they are always looking for new animals and will let everyone know when they get them.

The coming year also promises to be the biggest ever. New Year's Day started with the first "Hair of the Dog" party, with specials on food and drink and live entertainment.

Another new attraction at the nature park will be "Close Encounters," which provides guests the opportunity to get up close (and even touch) critters such as baby alligators, sugar gliders, kinkajou, agoutis and a bare-tailed woolly opossum, just to name a few.

Gumbofest comes on the heels of that in late January, followed by Fossilfest, Goldenfest, St. Patrick's Day, the Taste of North Fort Myers, Easter, and at least four other events the Shell Factory wants to add, Sheridan said, though they don't know what events they will be.

"We're just trying to make everything more appealing here. We're headed toward that as we leap into the new year," Sheridan said. "We want to increase our events by twofold if we can. We just need to talk about what to do."

Bike Nights have been gotten better every month and will continue to happen the third Thursday of every month as a compliment to the weekly Car Show.

"We're not going to stop. We're going to continue moving forward. We think the Shell Factory will be better than ever,' Sheridan said.



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