As New Jersey couple Mary-Ellen and Don Beston browsed Main Street storefronts, they couldn’t help but be intrigued by the life-sized, aluminum-tube figures lining the windows of 1558 Main St. After walking in the store and taking time to browse the inventory, Mary-Ellen Betson snapped a photo of her husband with his arm around a Navy figure painted white and blue.
“They are so fun and eye catching,” Mary-Ellen said about the metal figures.
Scott Gerber’s Tube Dude showroom moved into the Main Street space Friday, Jan. 18. The space most recently held downtown fixture Sarasota Hardware & Paint Co. for 78 years. Now, instead of mailboxes and address plaques, the storefront is filled with dozens of smiling custom-made metal figures. Though the showroom is new, Tube Tudes are already a somewhat familiar sight on Main Street. Six other tubular figures stand on the sidewalk, including one holding a pizza outside Patellini’s Pizza and another one outside the Main Barber Shop.
Gerber, a former yacht builder, who began welding the Tube Dudes when the boat-building industry fell apart, has additional plans to liven Main Street by placing a 15-foot-tall tube giraffe under one of the miniature oaks beside the sidewalk near his store. But first, he’ll need approval from City Hall.
“It will look like the giraffe is eating a leaf from the tree,” Gerber said.
Gerber says he has a surprise for downtown Sarasota that will be revealed in the next few weeks.
“This whole thing is about Sarasota and art,” Gerber said.
On Wednesday, Jan. 16, about two weeks after entrepreneur Jesse Biter closed on the deal to purchase two buildings fronting 200 feet of Main Street, he contacted Gerber with the idea of a Tube Dude showroom in that space. Biter is a fan of Gerber’s work.
“When you go into the showroom and look at the types of stuff he has created, it’s artistic,” Biter said.
Gerber said he wouldn’t have been able to open a showroom on Main Street, if Biter hadn’t approached him and offered agreeable terms.
Gerber entered into a short-term lease and got the keys to the storefront two days after meeting with Biter. The next afternoon he opened for two hours.
“I did more sales those first two hours we opened than I did in the past two months,” said Gerber, 54.
And by Monday, after just three days open and before the walls were painted, Gerber and his employees were busy.
They’ve continued to get steady foot traffic and window shoppers.
“People take about two-and-a-half minutes to walk by because they stop every 5 feet,” Gerber said.
Gerber sold 12 pieces the first two days in the new location. Some of the more popular pieces in the new showroom include a Dalmatian that “urinates” water on a fire hydrant and a smiling figure holding a functional Weber grill.
“Everyone loves the peeing dog,” Gerber said.
Gerber made his first tube figure in July. After he welded the lone figure holding a fishing rod, he put it on his dock. Someone asked, “Who is that dude?” And that’s how the name “Tube Dude” was born.
He also became known for his controversial decision to have French artist MTO paint a mural for the Sarasota Chalk Festival in November 2011, on the Tube Dude’s Central Avenue building with a message that read: “It’s a Fast Life. Let Love Express It.” Gerber painted over the mural in April 2012.
Gerber will continue to fabricate the figures at Tube Dude’s Central Avenue location in the Rosemary District and use the Main Street location as his showroom.
Since 2010, Gerber and seven full-time employees have built 900 Tube Dudes. He has sold his pieces in 38 countries, including nine in a small town outside Warsaw, Poland. Thirty percent of Tube Dude buyers are business owners who want a metal figure in front of their stores. But in general, about 70% of his buyers are homeowners who design custom Tube Dudes.
Gerber also notes: Not every Tube Dude is a dude. Many are “Dudettes.”
“There is one,” Mary-Ellen Beston said as she looked inside the store last week and spotted a yellow Tube Dudette.