After 27 years of selling UF merchandise to fans, students, families and tourists, Gator Mania closed its doors at Butler Plaza for the last time last week.
Gator Mania was one of the last local family-owned UF merchandise stores in Gainesville. Over the past year, the city has seen the closure of many other basic businesses near the university, such as The Swamp Restaurant and Daybreak Pleasant Street.
This week, the store is auctioning off all of its merchandise and store fixtures, which include shelving and shelving holding items, through Kincaid Auction Realty, a service in Lakeland.
Gator Mania and Kincaid held an in-person auction Saturday and Sunday, where approximately 80 bidders visited the store to participate.
The company released a preview of the merchandise online on Friday. Online bidding will continue throughout the week until all are claimed. Winners can pick up their items at the store this week until the auction ends. On Tuesday, the online auction received more than 430 bidders.
Gator Mania owner Jenice Bushnell said more than 75% of all merchandise was sold; However, there is still a large amount of items such as clothes, accessories and household appliances for sale. Store fixtures, such as shelves, racks, fans and security tags sold out at Monday’s auction.
In 1995, Bushnell and her ex-husband opened their first Gator Mania booth in Oaks Mall. By the time their store reached its peak at the mall, they had 10 kiosks, each selling different categories of UF merchandise – men’s clothing, women’s clothing, baby clothing, Nike products, home appliances and more. In 2005, Bushnell became sole owner of the store, and Gator Mania found its permanent location in Butler Plaza.
Randy Kincaid, founder of Kincaid Auction Realty, said the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on small businesses like Gator Mania. His company held about eight auctions with small businesses directly impacted by the pandemic.
Kincaid has been running almost exclusively online auctions for the past two years.
“We have very few live auctions, but we thought there would be a lot of attention and attraction from local residents because Gator Mania is located right here at the University of Florida,” a- he declared.
Governor Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order in April, and Gator Mania had to shut down as a non-essential business. After the lockdown, the store owed three months’ rent with no sales to pay.
“We weren’t the only ones impacted by COVID,” Bushnell said. “Money was also very tight for a lot of our normal customers. Instead of walking in and maybe buying three or four different items, they would just buy one, or maybe they just didn’t. could buy anything at all.
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The cancellation of many UF events also affected Gator Mania sales. The company took out a small loan from the Paycheck Protection Program to cover payroll for eight weeks. But, there have still been no sales after the University Athletic Association canceled its 2020 Orange & Blue Debut game and UF canceled student graduations, tailgating parties, parents’ weekend and the return home.
Gator Mania also relied on excess sales during the football season to keep business going during its typically slower months: January, February and March.
“When we came out of Christmas and had no savings, we knew we couldn’t go on,” Bushnell said. “We were still in the pandemic. We were still working with shortened hours and there was no end in sight.
Since the store moved in 2005, Bushnell’s eldest daughter, Lisa Blum, has served as operations manager at Gator Mania. Blum said she had worked at Gator Mania all her life.
“I grew up there,” she says. “Even when I was a 6-year-old, on game days I was in the back lane evaluating shirts.”
Blum, 32, began working full-time at Gator Mania after beginning dual enrollment at Santa Fe High School in her freshman year. She worked there throughout college, graduating from UF with a master’s degree in information systems and operations management in 2011.
“I loved working with my mom,” she said. “I think that was the hardest part of closing down, because my favorite part of my job was working with my mom and my two kids.”
Blum’s 5-year-old son, Blake, and 2-year-old daughter, Grace, came to work with her every day until they started school.
For over two decades, Gator Mania has been a staple in the community. Although the family business has closed its doors once and for all, Bushnell and his family will have a generation of memories to cherish forever.
This article has been updated to indicate that Lisa Blum started dual enrollment in her freshman year. The Alligator originally reported otherwise.
Contact Jiselle Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @jiselle_lee.
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Jiselle Lee is a second-year journalism student and East Gainesville Reporter. It’s her second semester at The Alligator, and she’s excited to continue her work at the subway office. In her spare time, she likes to eat in Gainesville.