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Showing Off Her Cigar City Heritage

YBOR CITY - YBOR CITY - Rose Barbie, 61, grew up in Tampa and had grandparents on both sides of the family who worked in cigar factories. Her heritage is Sicilian and Cuban, meaning she speaks three languages.

So the Forest Hills resident stepped with ease into managing the Ybor City Visitor/Information Center, 1600 E. Eighth Ave., in the Centro Ybor complex.

When family and friends mention that nightclubs dominate in Ybor City, Barbie likes to emphasize that nightlife accounts for only about 10 percent of what the historic district is all about.

"It's three nights a week with about five hours each evening," said the divorced mother of two and grandmother of one. "So what do you do with the rest of your time?"

Hopefully, the answer begins to unfold the minute a visitor steps into this cigar-box themed center run by the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce.

Q. How did you get the visitor center job?

A. I retired in 2003 from the Hillsborough County school system after 35 years of teaching kindergarten through third grade. I soon became good and bored. So I applied four years ago for this job. I didn't have a management background but I felt confident I could run this office. After all, I was in charge of lots of children in a classroom for years.

Q. So this is a paid position?

A. Oh yes. I work Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I have two on my staff, Rosalie Simms and Connie Gass.

Q. Locals may not realize what a sizeable gift shop you have here. Is it new?

A. Yes and no. When Centro Ybor opened after its renovation in 2000, this center was included in the property. But when I came four years ago, the gift shop was small, nothing like it is today. I have to credit my staff as well. They love ordering items, plus Rosalie makes some incredible gifts out of cigar boxes. She does the purses and trinket boxes, plus makes book markers out of cigar labels.

Q. What services are visitors seeking?

A. We offer streetcar and Florida Aquarium tickets. And lots and lots of brochures, maps and guides. Visitors usually start out by saying, 'How do you pronounce Ybor?' We have an excellent seven-minute video shown in this small theater area in the back. Viewers sit on chairs once used by cigar-rollers and learn about the history.

Q. Who are your visitors?

A. You'd be surprised at the diversity. I had a man from Czechoslovakia come in the other day. In May, which is a slow month because the warmer season isn't as busy, we had visitors from 42 states and 24 countries. Guests sign in so we can record this. In May, we had a total of 1,372 visitors but in the winter the monthly numbers are between 1,900 and 2,000.

Q. What are the center's hours?

A. We're open six days a week, closed Sundays. We are open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and then Saturday noon to 6 p.m. The center's phone number is (813) 241-8838.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Source: Tampa Tribune

Showing Off Her Cigar City Heritage