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Ybor City Walking Tours Explore the Historic Streets of Ybor City on a Walking Tour Back in Time

About Lonnie Herman

Silhouettes- La Gaceta Newspaper
March 30, 2012

Lonnie Herman is a man of many hats. He was in a top position at a building corporation, ushering in sales. He has worked as a bookseller and harnesses his passion for hockey and writing to pen a regular column for a major sports website. He also channels his love of history, theatricality and business into a salesman of Ybor City, winning converts to the historic district one visitor at a time.

“I was born in New York City… which was kind of a nice way to grow up. I’ve always been a city kid. It’s funny growing up in cities… when you grow up in cities you’re used to walking places, never really leaving. You know, kids grow up, can’t wait to get a car? I didn’t care. Nobody I knew had a car. We’d take the bus, train or walk,” he laughed. His nostalgia for traveling on foot around a city as a child would later fuel one of his ambitions.

His father, Morty, was a businessman, while his mother, Lorraine, was a housewife. “My dad- he started off in life as a butcher. He transformed himself into a businessman with really not much education. ‘Blood and guts,’ I always used to say. He just took a lot of risks.” His parents’ influence gave him a lifelong thirst for knowledge. “They always stressed education. That was just part of the culture. Growing up in New York City, you get culture- you can’t help it, you don’t even realize I t. I think that was important.”

Herman attended Nasson College, a liberal arts college in Maine, where he received his bachelor’s degree in English and Theater. “I’ve always had a theatrical [side]… I’ve always enjoyed it.” He said. His theatrical personality would also benefit his career. “I was an apprentice bookseller at a little bookstore in Maine for a long time. I always did writing- I worked for some public relations organizations,” he related. In the early 1980’s, he moved to the Tampa Bay area.

Herman soon caught the business bug from his like-minded father. “I got involved in my dad’s business a little bit, learned a lot about sales. From there, I kind of began a sales career,” he reported. He soon proved to be a successful businessman. “I was working for new home builders and lots of different places. I ended up as vice president of sales and marketing for a major new home builder.” This company was Taylor Woodrow, a British-based house building and general construction company.

In the mid-2000’s, the housing bubble burst and his company found itself being bought by another company. “When that ended… I called myself a ‘corporate refugee.’ That type of business is basically gone… it basically crashed, new home sales,” he said. “ I was looking for what to do next… I realized, ‘I’m going to have to reinvent myself a little bit and get in touch with what I’m good with and make that work.’”

Herman’s next move originated from one of his travels with his wife, Leslie, who is the vice-president of a title company. “We do a lot of traveling… we love traveling,” he enthused. One weekend, the couple visited Savannah, Georgia. “I took a walking tour. I was so impressed with what I heard. I’ve always had an interest in history. I was impressed with how the tour guide made history come alive. It was not dry… it was really stories, just interesting.”

He added, “I realized, that’s the perfect kind of thing for me to do, because I always knew stories are what sell… you always made a story of what was going on [in sales]. I realized the story was already here [in Ybor City]. It’s very dramatic and I can bring in all the elements of things I like- doing what I do.”

The Ybor City Historic Walking Tours started in 2009. The tours proved to be a valuable learning experience for the knowledge-hungry Herman.  “As soon as I began the walking tours, I realized Ybor City was more than what I imagined. You get to know the people. You can’t help it… these people are out here every day working hard, putting their money at risk and putting their heart into this little community. As soon as you start to make that connection you say, ‘Hey this is different… this is a special area. This should be much more than it is.’ People are really trying to make it that way. You can’t help but to be drawn to it and feel you have a connection to the history.”

He added, “I think I really filled a niche, a need, because there wasn’t anything like it… I saw a need. People don’t really know what they’re doing when they come to Ybor City. They walk around and they have no idea what they’re seeing. It’s great when I take them around and they get excited. I always begin every tour by saying, “I’m happy you’re doing this,’ for a specific reason. Ybor City’s had a very strange history and it’s not done yet. It’s still going on.”

The dramatic nature of Ybor’s history draws visitors to Herman’s tour. “Your try to get into what the people were all of these people had stories, hopes and dreams. You convey the hopes and dreams they had to the people that are listening. They’re guaranteed to be drawn in, because they relate to hopes and dreams.  They have them. The buildings have a meaning, Ybor City has a meaning, a greater meaning,” he emphasized.

He is focused on educating his visitors about the struggles and triumphs Ybor City has faced throughout its diverse history.

“I work on the theory, ‘If you learn about a place, you tend to care about a place.’ And I hope that’s what [guests] walk away with. You’re making ambassadors one at a time, spreading the word at a grassroots level… that’s the essence of what I do.

Herman is also enamored of the community-oriented aspects of Ybor City. “When I went to school in Maine, I lived in Kennebunkport, which was right on the water…it was a small little community. That’s also where I worked in the bookstore. You get to k now the community. Well, I saw the same thing start to happen here. It’s a small, little community within the city and it’s its own place…people care about it. You find that connection. It’s a very special place.”

In keeping with his community spirit, his business is a member of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce and the recently formed Ybor Merchant Association.

“I’m happy to be doing those things. The merchant’s association is a growing organization; it just started… it’s good to be part of that. When you get to know those people, they’re all very committed and are trying to do the best for their businesses,” he said. “You see people like Vince Pardo… it’s just incredible, the work they do.”

He smiled and further illustrated his point: “He gets things done, you know? He gets things done. He understands and you can talk to him. I can talk to him about my business and he gets it. There are lots of people like that. Don Barco, right here. You sit down with them and they want you to succeed, because they want Ybor City to succeed. It’s great. Its’ like having a lot of mentors and a lot of partners.” Herman also conducts Ybor City “ghost tours” with longtime Ybor City resident and business manager Joe Howden.

In addition to his tour guide duties, Herman finds time to write a regular column for a major sports website. “I work for I work as a correspondent for them… I write for them, I cover the [Tampa Bay] Lighting during the season, which is fun, because I love to write.” He also pursues his passion for hockey on the ice itself. “I play ice hockey twice a week. I’ve been doing it forever… I’m a goalie,” he said with a broad smile. His longtime devotion to hockey keeps him in shape for the two-hour walking tours.

Herman has a distinct vision of what Ybor City will be in ensuing decades. “If I could see Ybor 20 years from now, I think it’s going to be fantastic. I think it can be like Savannah… it can be considered like those areas. When it gets there, it’s going to be great. It would be great to have had a small part in that.” He added, “I’m kind of a facilitator… I’m winning fans for Ybor City one person at a time and that’s essential. We have to make Ybor City be considered a tourist destination, not as an afterthought.”

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