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Times of the Islands Magazine

Suncatcher's Dream: Sanibel 'Must-see' Quietly Celebrates 15 Years on the Island

From left to right: Karen Johnson of Suncatcher's Dream, Holly Christensen, founder of Dune Jewelry, Daniel Thompson, Suncatcher's Dream owner, and Moira Yon Garcia of Dune Jewelry.

Suncatcher's Dream owner Daniel Thompson stands behind the Dune Jewelry counter donning a mask during the global pandemic of 2020.

It was late October 2005. Dan Thompson, only a resident of Sanibel Island for five years at the time, was all set to make his dream come true—to open his own unique gift shop. Mother Nature may have had other plans for Thompson and the rest of Southwest Florida, as Hurricane Wilma—noted by Wikipedia as the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic basin and the second-most intense tropical cyclone recorded in the Western Hemisphere—was looming. Yet, Suncatcher's Dream still opened its doors for the very first time.

"Jim Cantore showed up at my store that day," Thompson said. "He's a storm chaser on The Weather Channel now. That's a bad sign when he shows up. We were open because it was supposed to be far away, but we ended up losing power. So, my first day open was during that storm and that's how I started 15 years ago."

The shop, known as a "must-see" on Sanibel Island, has grown into a unique spot to find not-so-common items that you certainly wouldn't find in any old coastal gift shop or on Amazon. Customers can find such gems as handmade wood boxes, spectacular glass, painted steel drum, exclusive jewelry, kitchen accessories, tiles, candles, spinners, chimes, our famous catnip, and, of course, suncatchers for the window or garden.

Thompson came to Sanibel after stepping away from the corporate world, having run successful Pier 1 Imports shops in Pittsburgh and State College, Pa. While he enjoyed it and thrived in the setting, he realized he didn't fit the corporate realm as easily as other people.

Some simple Dune Jewelry pieces laying on a Keith Johnson watercolor with a junonia and seahorse that Suncatcher's Dream owner Daniel Thompson found.

In 2000, a friend of Thompson's owned The End Result, a gift shop in State College, and when she was opening a new location at Periwinkle Place on Sanibel, she asked if Thompson would run the State College store. He obliged and was delighted when his friend quickly asked if he'd be willing to run the Sanibel location so that she could return to State College.

Thompson fell in love with Sanibel the first time he visited as a child when his mother first moved to Southwest Florida. He always knew he wanted to ultimately end up on the island. Five years later, his friend decided to shut down the store on Sanibel because of Hurricane Charlie. That was the catalyst for Suncatcher's Dream to open in 2005, but he decided not to take over the space in Periwinkle Place.

"Back then, if you wanted to retail, you had to be in Periwinkle," he said. "Over the years, they filled it with good little shops and restaurants. The Over Easy Cafe had been open for a few years and it had become so popular there in the Olde Sanibel Shoppes. The parking lot was always full! I would come up to Bailey's and always notice it."

The shop next to the cafe was a video store that went out of business, which was a growing trend at the time, and Thompson jumped at the opportunity to plant his roots in a growing lot.

"Many of my friends thought I was crazy because that plaza wasn’t that busy in the past, but Over Easy took off and that’s now one of the most popular spots on the island. It's the best move I ever made. I have great neighbors. The Over Easy Cafe has been named the best breakfast on the island for many years. I’ve been a number one gift shop for many years, too, and just got awarded again for that. So it works out great having the No. 1 breakfast restaurant next to the No. 1 gift shop."

Foterra photograph, jewelry custom for Suncatcher's Dream, and a lighthouse photo by Angelika Geerlof, an employee at Suncatcher's Dream

During busy times, it can be an hour wait to be seated at The Over Easy Cafe, so Thompson knew customers would come into his store and get some cards, gifts, and odds and ends. He had already built a rapport with other customers from running The End Result. Thompson has also built up an elaborate artist-vendor dealing over the years. Suncatcher's Dream carries lines that have good followings, including Dune Jewelry, founded by his friend Holly Christensen.

Many of the items found at Suncatcher's Dream are mid-range in price so that families can shop at the store—kids and adults alike.

"It is hard to describe to people what I do," Thompson said. "When they walk in, they get it. They can feel it. There’s a lot of little funky, different things."

Thompson also prides himself on the staff he calls family.

"My employees have been working for me forever," he said. "They’ve built very close relationships with my customers."

Despite a global pandemic, Thompson continues to see positivity and growth into the future after reminiscing of years past. "At least we're doing business—better than anticipated," he said.

"Even going through hurricanes and natural disasters and recessions and all the stuff you go through like oil spills and the red tide, it seems like every couple years is another wrench thrown into the machine," Thompson said. "We’re used to that, especially being on a tropical island. Right now, the rest of the country is going through what we go through every couple of years. I feel like we’ve been tested in the past and are now better equipped to handle something like coronavirus."

Still, it's the biggest challenge Suncatcher's Dream and many businesses nationwide have ever faced and there is still plenty to learn.

"I know from being through hard times off and on, we rebound quickly from it," Thompson added. "People want to be here. Sanibel is their happy place, their peaceful place. Whenever we come out of what’s going on that’s bad, people gravitate here. This was a new learning experience during high season. One thing I have learned is that we have to be on our toes all year round. Now we have to have a better emergency plan for all year round."

Suncatcher's Dream owner Daniel Thompson with Moira Yon Garcia from Dune Jewelry.

Thompson expressed his gratitude for his life on Sanibel and still pinches himself at the thought that this could all just be a dream. His appreciation flows from his mother who first brought him here to his employees to his customers.

Local businesses have had to abstain from holding/participating in charity events in 2020 due to the global pandemic, which has made it difficult for a shop like Suncatcher's Dream, which actively participates in supporting organizations on the island like CROW and events like the Sanibel Island Luminary Festival. That is why Thompson made the decision to celebrate Suncatcher's Dream's 15th anniversary quietly.

"We have to make that sacrifice to be responsible," he said. "I wanted to have a 15th-anniversary party at the end of October. I said it wasn’t the right time to celebrate that. I didn’t want to put my employees and customers at risk. They mean too much to me. For now, I’m quietly celebrating my 15th anniversary, just like my 50th birthday that was this summer. I’m going to turn 50 again next year and I’ll have a 15th-anniversary celebration next year when we’re 16. I’m grateful even in the midst of all of this."