Don Eichar's path to bamboo began with a complaint 13 years ago.
The phone systems installer told his wife that he would just like to get out, go to Costa Rica and surf for a year.
To his surprise his wife said: “OK, let’s do it.”
So in 1999, with their 6-year-old son, they moved to Quepos, Costa Rica. They spent a year traveling, surfing, biking and day-dreaming about what to do when they returned to the United States.
Eichar tells me:
Our experiences in Costa Rica were one-of-a-kind. For example, everyone hitchhikes and since we had a van, it was customary to pick up anyone on the side of the road. You would exchange stories and then drop them off “aqui.”
Or how our son’s friend, whose family owned a hotel, started a foundation Kids Saving the Rain Forest that built monkey bridges across roads in order to help monkeys and sloths get safely over the highways. The hotel also rescued orphaned sloths and monkeys.
While we were there, we traveled all over the country. I rode my bike across Costa Rica, then down into Panama and then back up.
Eichar was not keen on installing phone systems when they returned. He wanted something different. In Costa Rica, he had fallen in love with the tropical feel, and began importing bamboo furniture.
Even though he quickly realized that being an importer was not as lucrative as he had expected, he was hooked on bamboo. He read everything about working with the material and carried "The Book of Bamboo" with him everywhere.
Then Eichar began building with it, crafting structures and learning by doing. Teaching himself how to design beautiful, well-made and functional art.
He went on a 10-day trip to Colombia to build a recreation pavilion for a local community. There he met a cattle rancher who grew guadua bamboo, the large diameter Colombian bamboo best-suited for building. Through this contact, Eichar started importing bamboo into the states and crafting his own furniture.
Eichar opened Bamboo Tropical, a showroom and workshop in Dunedin on Lyndhurst Street and the Pinellas Trail. Customers can come in and shop from a selection of handcrafted bars, barstools, couches, chairs, bed frames — almost anything you can imagine. Or you can custom order pieces. He also creates amazing bamboo ceilings.
When I met Eichar, he was gracious and informative. He was passionate and creative. With the recession looming around us, just like Eichar’s beloved Costa Rican rainforests, so many artisans have been threatened with extinction. And it is a hopeful sign to see him still — after 11 years — running his business.
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