Sam Frederick has been the owner and operator of Little Sam’s Island & Beach Fun for 25 years. He started as the manager at Mike’s Bikes in 1993 and became the owner of the newly named Little Sam’s in 1997. A charismatic Coronado local since he moved here in ’93, Sam believes in having fun. That is apparent to everyone who walks into his shop. While I waited for our interview, Sam chatted up customers about their Navy service while he prepared to rent them wetsuits. A mother came in with her children looking for kids’ bathing suits and Sam pointed them down a few blocks to Emerald City. When you put out good in the world, good seems to have a way of finding its way back to you. That’s how it feels to be at Little Sam’s.
25 Years at Little Sam’s
While Coronado public has talked loudly over the years of big competitors beating out the little guys, Little Sam’s sticks around. “I don’t have competitors, I try to help everyone out,” is Sam’s philosophy. Aside from adding a credit card processor, not much has changed over the years. The TV from 1993 is still hanging on the wall and the shop looks pretty similar to when it was Mike’s Bikes.
Little Sam’s rents all your needs for a day at the beach at an old school price. Bikes, strollers, beach chairs, umbrellas, wetsuits, Sam has it all. Between 1993 and 2021, his prices went up an average of about $3, way below inflation rates. Of his 2022 slight price increase he admits he “doesn’t like it.” In addition to rentals, Sam sells Coronado t-shirts and sweatshirts as well as tourist-y items like mugs, shot glasses, stickers and more. He also sells boogie boards, skim boards, beach chairs, towels, and beach games like Smashball and Spikeball, and much more.
Sam shares that of Coronado in general, many of his friends have left and the dynamic of the town has changed. But he’s still here, “I’m still just Little Sam.”
In Sam’s early days at the shop, he wanted the business to be successful for his children. He shared that he did not move homes as a child and wanted his son to be able to stay all the way through the Coronado school system. His son Gino graduated from CHS at the start of the pandemic in 2020. Yet, Sam still takes things one day at a time. “I was in it for my son to graduate. Then I met a woman, happiness. Your plans change. I live one day at a time, maybe that’s a weakness,” Sam laughs.
Surviving and Thriving in a Pandemic
Two years into the pandemic, the business has certainly been on a rollercoaster ride. When Sam and I spoke in June 2020, he shared, “Without tourists in the hotels, weekdays are horrible for business. The hotels are losing their reservations. You wish people could still come and visit.” The business that had been open every day since January 2, 1997 suddenly was forced to closed on April 6, 2020. A time Sam calls “the worst month” of his life. As someone who enjoyed each day at his shop, he felt like his purpose had been stripped of him.
However, things did get brighter. Sam explains that last year, “people were eager to get out and it ended up being my second best year ever. Life is unpredictable.” While he faces adversity he concedes, “I wouldn’t trade my job for anything. People make it more fun. It’s not perfect, there are rough years, but I have met good people.”
What’s Next to Come for Little Sam’s
From a guy who used to rollerblade down Orange Ave in Charger gear (“when they were good,” he remarks), to operating his own business in Coronado for 25 years, the journey has been enjoyable. He shared that he just got his lease renewed and looks forward to continuing to serve customers, tourists and locals alike. Proud to be 57, Sam shares that he can still do the splits as well now as he could at 32. “I’m all about having fun.”
When I walk out of Little Sam’s, Sam points to the water fountain in the square, “I wish in the fountain every day, 85% of my wishes come true.” That’s just him being Little Sam.
Little Sam’s Island & Beach Fun
1343 Orange Ave