The Fort Myers Beach Town Council is exploring options for a possible Veterans Memorial as part of the Bayside Park renovation. At the other end of Old San Carlos Blvd. in Times Square, a former Town Mayor already hosts a colorful tribute to law enforcement, firefighters, first responders and military service members. There, former Mayor Anita Cereceda’s shop, The Pier Peddler, founded by her late parents in 1985, is home to roughly 2,000 police, fire and military patches from throughout the nation and internationally!
“Anyone who ever worked at The Pier Peddler knows this story, because we tell it constantly,” laughed Anita! “The first patch came from the Chicago Police Department about 1990. It was from a regular visitor named John who came down every year and always told my Father how much he looked forward to retiring one day and living the life of a beach bum, as he assumed my Dad and all of us here did. Then one year, he came into the store and – lo-&-behold – walked behind the cash register and thumbtacked his Police uniform patch to the wall, saying proudly to Dad, ‘I told you so!’ John’s retirement led him to stake his claim to that spot, and the tradition took off. People from then on would ask Dad if he collected the patches and he would reply, ‘No – they collect me!’”
From that humble beginning, other officers, firefighters and military personnel would stop in and contribute patches, “especially in season,” Anita recalled, “then others began arriving in the mail. There was a mirror here and we attached them to that, but the badges soon took on a life of their own and we began putting them up everywhere in the shop. Over the ensuing years, hardly a week goes by that we don’t receive one or two, and folks who contributed to the collection over these past 30 years will stop in often to see their patch and all the rest. Others hear about our tradition and come in to look at them all, and before too long, we receive a package from them with a patch of their own to add to the display.”
The Ultimate Sacrifice
When Anita renovated The Pier Peddler last year, “the Number One Question people asked me by far was what would I do with the patches, and of course the answer was we would rehang them! Other questions I frequently receive are if we place them alphabetically – No; or by state or region – No! Still others ask if I would ever sell or give one away or trade one for another in someone else’s collection, but I never have and never will. It is an honor to display them, as every single one is a symbol of dedication and courage, and those that actually have a name on them is usually someone who lost their life in the service to their community, and that is the ultimate sacrifice.”
The patches come not only from throughout the United States but around the world. “We have some from Germany, Spain, Africa and many other places,” Anita marveled. “I performed a wedding for two Czech Republic police officers who saw the shop after the ceremony, and it turned out she is the Chief of Police from her small town and they sent me one. While each patch has its own story and a special place in my heart, we do have what I consider a ‘Wall of Fame!’ That remains right behind the cash register, where John thumbtacked the original thirty years ago. Hanging with that original one, is one from the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department; another from the Dayton Fire Department given by my great friend, Jan Fleming, where her husband Ron, an FMB Fire Commissioner, retired from and their son is still a member; and three from New York City in tribute to officers and firefighters who gave their lives in the 9-11 attack. When Jan and I sorted through the collection and hung the Dayton badge, we broke down and cried, as there is no way to underestimate the significance of these relics.”
Anita does not have patches filling drawers or closets. “When we receive a new one, it goes right up within a day or two,” she confirmed. “We are proud to display them, and not hanging one would seem like a sin. While each has its own story, almost every one is visually striking and just beautiful, so it is like we have an art display and provide a pallet for all of these magnificent colors! I love to look at them from an artistic point-of-view, as they are super cool and their colors and designs are amazing; it is common for someone to come in and just inspect them for an hour. When you do that, you discover that mixed in with the police and fire badges are ones with a military flavor, like from the SEAL Dive Team, National Guard, and all the Service branches.”
The Pier Peddler recently reopened, following coronavirus restrictions, and is now open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Anita’s other Times Square location, Local Color has the same hours, while her Santini Marina Plaza shop, The Islander is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“I have spent more than half my life in The Pier Peddler,” she observed, “and retaining the patches display was the most important part of our recent renovation. My parents loved all of them, with Mom appreciating the artistic elements and Dad the stories behind each. We are so grateful people want to share this aspect of their lives and in many cases their sacrifice with us so we can in turn share it with others. Over the past 35 years, The Pier Peddler has been through a lot of storms and hurricanes, yet made it through them all; I like to think all these patches are the ‘Guardian Angels’ of this little store!”