EDITOR’S NOTE: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insights on various topics in Marketplace column.
___ STEVE’S MARKETPLACE ____
Don Shaw believes you have to eat, sleep and drink any activity or endeavor to succeed at it. Yet, Shaw rarely sleeps. The consummate entrepreneur, his mind is awake and attentively perusing the next business deal or investment. And even though his plate has been heaped with success, he thirsts for more.
Shaw was recently recognized for his substantial contributions to the community. He received the prestigious “Business Leader of the Year” award from the local Amelia Island-Fernandina Beach-Yulee Chamber of Commerce.
To realize Shaw’s financial commitment here, take a stroll down Centre Street. In his latest venture, he purchased the outdated Bank of America building and retrofitted it into a quaint general store and a trendy restaurant.
Shaw revels in reinventing old or inferior buildings into viable, profitable places of business. He built the self-named Shaw Building on Centre Street, and owns buildings where Wadsworths clothing store and Lindy’s jewelry are located, for instance.
Probably the city itself is the only owner of more property in downtown Fernandina Beach than Shaw. He also owns buildings at 111, 206 and 208 Centre Street, as well as 21 North Third Street (former location of Olde Towne Title) and 8 North Second Street. And he just added 503 Centre Street to his holdings.
The bookstore that Shaw founded, Books Plus, is located in the Shaw Building. Shaw owned the book store for 13 years, and used its central location to gauge the heartbeat of a changing community.
Visitors and businessmen and politicians would parade in and out, conversing or seeking his input and his refreshing perspective. It was like presiding over a court of public opinion.
“Interacting with all the people of Fernandina Beach was a great experience,” Shaw says. However, he knows things change over time. “I had my run,” he says about deciding to sell the store (he still owns the Shaw Building).
It makes sense that Shaw started a book store. An avid reader, he sharpened his business acumen in his early years, buying every non-fiction book he could find at the Harvard Business School library. The library was near his home in Lexington, Mass.
Shaw and his wife Margo came to Massachusetts from their native country of Canada around the late 1950s. An opportunity caught his eye — the emerging coin laundry business. He eventually became president of Mac-Gray, a commercial laundry company that is publicly-traded and operates in 40 states.
Like an analogy Shaw uses — of fresh inflows feeding a body of water so it doesn’t stagnate — success runs through his family. His oldest son Richard is a vice president for a growing biotech firm outside of Boston. His youngest son Andrew has been the co-CEO of ING Aetna, overseeing operations in all of Thailand.
It doesn’t surprise Shaw that his sons have also struck success in the business world. “That’s the environment we tried to create,” he says.
Shaw came to Amelia Island 16 years ago, and tirelessly runs most of his operations through Cambridge South, a company he created and named after the town in Massachusetts. He holds real estate investments locally and through a partnership in the northeastern U.S.
He believes in constant education, hard work, and the ideals of capitalism. And he believes in Fernandina Beach. Still, Shaw’s cup is running over with new ideas, new challenges — and Fernandina Beach stands to benefit.
“I think Fernandina Beach’s best days are ahead of it,” Shaw says. “It’s a very exciting place to be.”