They fascinate tourists and frustrate locals. They appear in nearly every visitor's vacation photos and are ridiculed by residents who know better than anyone that roosters rarely reserve their cock a doodling for the daybreak hour.
Love 'em or hate 'em, Key West's chickens are here to stay.
Duval Street retailer Larry Winters recognizes -- and now celebrates -- their place on the island with his new shop The Funky Chicken Store, located at 814 Duval St., where until last month Winters operated Cuba! Cuba!
"We were closed for one day," said Winters, who retired from the pharmaceutical research world 25 years ago at age 40. "We had the last sale day at Cuba! Cuba! on Sunday, Aug. 18. We closed on Monday and then reopened as The Funky Chicken Store on Tuesday, Aug. 20."
If you blinked, you would have missed the "chicken transition" in the 800 block of Duval Street, but Winters had been noticing his customers' interest in chicken-themed merchandise that he had subtly introduced at Cuba! Cuba!
"It takes an unusual idea or item to do well on Duval Street," said Winters, who operated the Cuban-themed shop for 19 years and still will consult with would-be Cuba travelers. "And when I opened Cuba! Cuba! I didn't know if people were going to throw rocks through my windows or what, so I learned long ago to keep politics out of the retail experience."
And he has.
The Cuba shop focused on art, history and culture, with customers never knowing Winters' political leanings. Similarly, he takes no stand about the proliferation of chickens on the island.
"Love them or hate them, they are here and they're part of what makes Key West, Key West," he said, adding that he is not a chicken advocate, thereby dispelling any comparisons between the new Funky Chicken Store and a former chicken boutique on Duval Street that fostered live birds and encouraged donations for their protection.
The Funky Chicken Store focuses on folk art, upscale gifts, T-shirts and fine art by local painters who also celebrate the island's feathered friends on canvas.
"It's a fun, casual, upscale shopping experience on Duval Street," Winters said, adding that the creation and design of the new store is something he has always enjoyed. "I also designed my own line of original T-shirts with a chicken theme."
The shirts have proven popular in the shop, as have the metal chicken -- both hen and rooster -- sculptures.
"And I was truly delighted that local artists such as Pam Hobbs, Sally Binard, Maggie Ruley, Kevin Peterson, Cindy Kulp, Antonio Rodriguez and others have agreed to show their chicken-themed work in The Funky Chicken Store.
From fine art to budget-friendly coffee mugs, souvenir tiles, tote bags, books, hats and figurines, The Funky Chicken Store has items for all wallets.
"People have been asking why we closed the Cuba store, and all I can say is there appear to be more people interested in chickens than in Cuba these days," Winters said, adding that the new shop still houses a Cuban corner for some of the most popular Cuban items, such as shirts and coffee.
The Funky Chicken Store at 814 Duval St. is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. An online catalog is available at www.funkychickenstore.com, although online ordering is not yet possible.