John Lucas and Brandy Santiago, a father and daughter team, own and operate Pickers Paradise on Park.
PINELLAS PARK – John Lucas learned how to pick from his father at a young age.
At age 6, he’d sift through seeming junk with his father in search of treasure, vintage items they could resell at local flea markets. He’d help carry their finds home.
At first, it was just another chore for him. But this attitude changed when he was 10 years old and was visiting his grandmother in Iowa. He was helping bring her garbage to a local dump when he spied an old Sucrets cough drop box. He opened it up and inside were gold rings, a crucifix and coins.
“I got hooked at that point at looking at this stuff,” he said. “I still have that box to this day.”
He started his daughter, Brandy Santiago, early in the picking business, as well.
“She’d say to me, ‘Dad, do I have to go look at rusty stuff today?’ And I’d say, ‘Yes, you do.”
She said, “He sort of embedded it in me.”
Her most memorable find? A Paco Rabanne metal link bottle cap dress from the 1970s that she found at an estate sale.
“People were picking it up and putting it right back down,” she said. “When I picked it up, I was like, ‘Oh my god, I have to have this.’ I knew it was cool. I knew it was different. You don’t find a bottle cap dress every day.”
Through research, she discovered it was “a piece of history” and wound up being valuable.
“[Rabanne] was really known for pushing the envelope,” Santiago said.
Today, the father and daughter team operate Pickers Paradise on Park, 6300 and 6314 Park Blvd., where they share their love of history and vintage items with shoppers seeking unique pieces.
Lucas, born and raised in Tampa, where he still lives, had always wanted to open a flea market. He spent most of his career as a maintenance supervisor for the women’s health club, Shapes, and was also in the grocery business.
Still, in his free time, he picked and brought his findings to his father, who set up at flea markets.
When Lucas retired, he dedicated all of his free time to setting up his own booths at markets and in vintage shops.
Santiago, who lives in St. Petersburg now, previously worked as a medical biller. She fell in love with picking as well and helped her father on the weekends.
Lucas never forgot his dream of opening his own space. In 2015, he found a 1,500-square-foot space available to rent at the intersection of Park Boulevard and 43rd Street. By October of that year, Santiago and her father established Pickers Paradise. In addition to selling their own finds, they also rented space to several dealers.
“Our goal was always brick and mortar,” she said. “We were doing great there from the beginning. We were established as a business. It really blossomed and we had a huge following.”
Then, they were informed that the landlord wouldn’t be renewing their lease. They were left scrambling to find a new home.
“Your world sort of breaks down and you have tears in your eyes when you look at what you have and think it’s going to be over,” Santiago said.
Three days before they needed to make a decision, Lucas found their new space on Park Boulevard. It was the perfect space for them on the busy thoroughfare. A former Zenith electronics repair shop, the building also had a bit of history itself, he said.
“We tried to keep a little bit of that history with the building. We still have some of the signs up,” he said. “We want to preserve history and things like that.”
They opened in the first building, a 2,400-square-foot space, in October.
“We were even able to bring in more dealers,” Santiago said.
Two months ago, they expanded to the first floor of the building next door, also owned by the same landlord. The additional 1,500 square feet allowed them to rent space to even more dealers.
Lucas built walls and partitions to create each unique vendor space.
The shop, which is open seven days a week, has been slowly building up its following again. Santiago utilizes social media to get the word out there and also relies on word of mouth.
They have several programs in place, including a loyalty card and a wish list, where customers can add what they’re looking for to a database. They’ve been able to connect several customers with their sought-after items this way, Santiago said.
Twice a month, Pickers hosts a sidewalk sale where vendors can set up a table to sell items for $10.
Each sidewalk sale has a theme. On the second Saturday of each month – which this month falls on July 8 – a vintage market runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“It’s kind of like a treasure hunting market,” Santiago said.
On the fourth Saturday of each month, to coincide with the nearby Pinellas Arts Village’s Fourth Saturday Art Walk, the shop hosts an artisan flea market from 6 to 9 p.m.
The father and daughter love being a part of the Pinellas Park community, Santiago added.
“The connections we’ve made here have been amazing,” she said. “It’s been a roller coaster. We’ve had our ups and downs. He and I have had our tug of wars. But I love it.”
Lucas added, “It’s all about putting smiles on people’s faces.”