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Piper Castillo, Times Staff Writer

Piper Castillo

Piper Castillo grew up in Ft. Lauderdale and received her English degree from Florida Atlantic University. As a community news reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, she covers north Pinellas County. She also writes the "Nightstand" column for the Sunday book pages and thinks the only thing better than a good read is a day in the sun with her family.

Phone: (727) 445-4163


  1. New Safety Harbor post office will be on McMullen-Booth Road

    Local Government

    SAFETY HARBOR — Although a move-in date is months away, representatives for the U.S. Postal Service recently signed the lease for the city's new post office.

    It will be at 1703 N McMullen-Booth Road, just north of State Road 590. Before any grand opening, the site, a former Fifth Third Bank bank branch, must undergo an interior build-out, including renovating the back area of the property where four drive-through teller lanes were located, according to Marshall Harris, president of Harris and Co., the real estate brokerage firm who managed the transaction for owners 590 Enterprise LLC....

    In June of next year a new post office will open at the site of a former Fifth Third Bank branch at 1703 N  McMullen Booth Road, Safety Harbor.
  2. What's Madeleine Blais reading?



    Madeleine Blais

    Journalist Blais spent many summers with family at Thumb Point. It was a beach house on Martha's Vineyard built by her father-in-law, former U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. However, as will happen with families, once the patriarch died, the decision was made to sell Thumb Point. Her new memoir, To the New Owners, is Blais' ode to summers gone by as well as a detailed look at the island's secret spots and hodgepodge of celebrity inhabitants. Blais, who is married to novelist John Katzenbach, is a journalism professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In 1980, as a staff member for Tropic, the Miami Herald's Sunday magazine, Blais won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing....

    “To the New Owners” is journalist Madeleine Blais’ new memoir.
  3. Wanted: New businesses on Safety Harbor's Main Street

    Local Government

    SAFETY HARBOR — A green grocery store, a hardware store, restaurants, boutiques and multi-use buildings are all wanted downtown, according to discussion at a community redevelopment workshop held last week. And to bring them to the Main Street district, city commissioners, led by Mayor Joe Ayoub, gave City Manager Matt Spoor and community development director Marcie Stenmark an assignment: Get the ball rolling....

    Whistle Stop Bar & Grill is one of the main stops on Main Street in Safety Harbor. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
  4. Organic supermarket Earth Fare to open in Oldsmar


    OLDSMAR — Although talk about a potential arrival started 10 months ago, it is now official. Earth Fare, an Asheville-based organic supermarket chain, is going to open up shop at Woodlands Square, currently being redeveloped by Palm Beach Gardens-based Ram Realty. According to a news release, the 24,000-square-foot store will be adjacent to Beall's.

    This will be the second Tampa-area location for Earth Fare, which opened in Seminole last September and also has locations in Gainesville, Tallahassee, Ocala, and Jacksonville....

     Earth Fare opened in Seminole last year and will open another store in Oldsmar. EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times
  5. What's Fred Van Lente reading?



    Fred Van Lente

    Van Lente, a graphic novelist known for Odd Is on Our Side with Dean R. Koontz, Cowboys & Aliens (made into a feature film starring Harrison Ford) and Weird Detective, spent most of his childhood in Ohio.

    He is a graduate of Syracuse University as well as Chagrin Falls High School, whose alumni include the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson, and Carol Burnett's funny man, actor Tim Conway. In a recent phone interview, Van Lente admitted he hopes going to the same high school as the two legends rubbed off on him, even though he now lives in Brooklyn. "Of course I live in Brooklyn. It's federally mandated by law that all writers live within the confines of the borough. You either live here on your own or the law will send guys with nets out to drag you here,'' he said....

    Fred Van Lente’s newest book is “Ten Dead Comedians.” Next he turns to middle school readers with “Action Presidents,” a graphic novel series.
  6. What's Alexandra Fuller reading?



    Alexandra Fuller

    Fuller, best known for her memoir Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, was born in England and spent her childhood in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) before moving to the United States in 1994. The impetus for her first novel, Quiet Until the Thaw, came from a 2011 assignment for National Geographic on the Oglala Lakota Sioux Nation's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. After riding horseback with 400 Oglala Lakota across a large swath of countryside to commemorate the murder of Crazy Horse, Fuller lived on the reservation for several months and, for the first time since leaving Africa, she felt at home. In the book's introduction, she writes: "To be back among people who know Time the way I'd known it as child and a young woman was to find myself shocked into a completely unexpected homecoming, if home is where your soul can settle in recognition." The book, which incorporates the 1973 siege at Wounded Knee, centers on two Oglala cousins who were raised as brothers. One chooses a life path of peace while the other chooses violence. Fuller, who attended Acadia University in Nova Scotia, now lives in Wyoming....

    Alexandra Fuller recently published “Quiet Until the Thaw,” her debut novel.
  7. Oldsmar proposes flat property tax rate

    Local Government

    OLDSMAR — City officials are proposing the same property tax rate that has been in place since 2008, but because of rising property values, city homeowners most likely will be seeing higher tax bills.

    The proposed rate of $4.05 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property means the owner of a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay $405 in city property taxes.

    The proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, is for about $38 million, an increase of about $3.4 million from this year's. The increase will help with rising health insurance costs, an increase in funding employees' retirement funds and continued work on projects started in the past few years....

    Al Braithwaite
  8. Safety Harbor proposes a higher property tax rate


    SAFETY HARBOR — City officials are proposing a higher property tax rate next year, which would bump the budget up and include money for economic development and for the second phase of Waterfront Park.

    That proposed rate of $4.20 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value is the highest in at least nine years. According to City Manager Matt Spoor, it is still the lowest of the cities in North Pinellas. That means the owner of a home valued at $100,000 after exemptions would pay $420 in city taxes. Even if the rate remains the same, most people will see higher tax bills due to increasing property values....

  9. Trees have protector in Safety Harbor's arborist

    Local Government


    Times Staff Writer

    SAFETY HARBOR — After sharing just a slight smile when a visitor compared him to Dr. Seuss's Lorax, Art Finn walked up to the oak tree with one of his tools, a rubber mallet.

    He began tapping.

    "I was asked to do an evaluation in order to see if the homeowners should receive a permit to take the tree down,' he said....

    Art Finn, Arborist for the city of Safety Harbor, dumps used coffee grounds from a nearby Starbucks Coffee shop at the base of the Baranoff Oak, reported by the city of Safety Harbor as the oldest living live oak tree in Pinellas, with an age estimated to be between 300 and 500 years old. Finn routinely fortifies the soil around the tree with organic materials to help the tree's root system stay healthy. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times
  10. Oldsmar promotes Al Braithwaite to city manager

    Local Government

    OLDSMAR — He's a self-proclaimed "numbers guy,'' who holds a master's degree in public administration from the University of South Florida. Al Braithwaite is also a basketball fan who played hoops at Eckerd College while earning his bachelor's degree in management with a minor in finance, and he is a native New Yorker who, after 40 years in the Sunshine State, still has his Long Island accent....

    Al Braithwaite  has 18 years of experience with Oldsmar City Hall.
  11. What's Darrin DuFord reading?



    Darrin DuFord

    As summer travel season winds down, we caught up with travel writer DuFord, 46. In his book, Breakfast for Alligators: Quests, Showdowns, and Revelations in the Americas, he shares his adventures traveling throughout the Western Hemisphere, from boiling poison in Guyana to tracking nutria through the New Orleans suburbs. DuFord makes it clear that, even for the typical middle-class American, strapped for time and cash, a vacation can be far from mundane. We caught up with DuFord by phone while he played with Legos with his son, Ryker, near Madison Square Park in New York....

    Travel writer Darrin DuFord is the author of “Breakfast for Alligators: Quests, Showdowns and Revelations in the Americas.”
  12. What's Gabe Hudson reading?



    Gabe Hudson

    When it came to creating the title character in Gork, the Teenage Dragon, Hudson says, it was like Gork just popped up in his life one day. "I felt like I was a tool and Gork was telling the story,'' he said. "Of course, I had to work through the story, but the voice arrived fully formed."

    Hudson is also the author of the story collection Dear Mr. President, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award and winner of the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. For many years, he was editor at large for McSweeney's. Hudson will appear with Matthew Klam (Who Is Rich?) at 1 p.m. July 30 at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa. We spoke to him by phone from his home in Brooklyn, N.Y....

    Gabe Hudson will appear with Matthew Klam (“Who Is Rich?”) at 1 p.m. July 30 at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa.
  13. Epilogue: Henry Skwirut, Largo Army veteran known for his photos of Gardelegen


    LARGO — Henry Skwirut found the Verlander camera in an abandoned German village during World War II, and as he worked as a radio operator and driver in the Army's 406th regiment of the 102nd Infantry Division, he often used it to document what he saw. Once a week, he would mail the photographs home to his new wife, Jane, in East Orange, N.J.

    Sometime in the early morning of April 14, 1945, he heard a report on the radio that U.S. soldiers were working at a horrific scene. He grabbed the Verlander and with his sergeant, rushed to the immediate aftermath of what would come to be known as the Gardelegen Massacre of April 13, 1945. Nazi soldiers had led more than 1,000 prisoners into a barnlike structure and then set it on fire....

    Henry Skwirut, right, and his brother Edward Skwirut after they signed up for the Army.
  14. What's Robinne Lee reading?



    Robinne Lee

    Lee recently published her first novel, The Idea of You, a steamy story about a mom, a daughter and a singer in a boy band that also serves as an interesting look at both parental and societal pressures. Lee, a graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School, is a Los Angeles-based producer and actor recognized for roles in Hotel for Dogs, Hitch and Fifty Shades Darker. Her newest project is 'Til Death Do Us Part, a psychological thriller with Taye Diggs that will hit movie theaters in October....

    Robinne Lee, a Los Angeles-based producer and actor, recently published “The Idea of You,” her first novel.
  15. After growing pains and pushback from neighbors, Oldsmar Cares pushes forward with new building

    Local Government

    OLDSMAR — When she saw the standing room-only crowd inside City Council chambers, Brenda Gaulin, the vice chairperson for Oldsmar Cares, was surprised. But she sat down and listened to what residents had to say.

    The public hearing had to do with plans for a sidewalk variance and a second entry and exit on Jefferson Avenue, part of Oldsmar Cares' new building on State Road 580. But neighbors wanted to share their concerns about having the social service organization so close to their homes....

    Volunteer Jim Hummel of Tarpon Springs signs in a visitor before helping them pick out food at Oldsmar Cares.