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Lottery winner buys Fort Myers business

Mar 13, 2009, 9:45 am

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After the Big Win

Joining the ranks of the idle rich is often step No. 1 for the lucky few who win the lottery.

But Jason Fry, 35, has chosen a different path after splitting a roughly $47 million Florida Lottery jackpot in December 2007 with a Bonita Springs man.

First, he spent several months traveling and relaxing after leaving his bartending job. Then he had a plan: rejoin the workforce by becoming a business owner.

That decision became reality last week when he finalized the purchase of the Batteries Plus store on Cleveland Avenue, near Page Field.

Choosing the easy life was never a consideration for Fry, who tended bar for seven years at the Stonewood Tavern and Grill in south Fort Myers until hitting the jackpot.

"First of all, I'm really not that type of person," the south Fort Myers resident said about a life of leisure. "I need to be active. I'm just not the type of person to lay around. I know that doing something like that, I'd go crazy."

Fry left his job the day after the win and then took a one-time, lump-sum payment of about $13.6 million. He played golf and spent time with his parents in Indiana while he considered his options.

The 6-foot-5-inch, 270-pounder played football at Cypress Lake High School. Today, Fry enjoys watching college football, especially the Florida Gators. But he's no couch potato.

It was an old college buddy from Orlando who led him to Batteries Plus, a national chain that sells and manufactures batteries and related products.

"After I won the lottery, he told me about it so I went up and visited the store and that's how it started," he said.

Fry bought the 14-year-old business and its building for about $1 million from Kim Stowers of Cape Coral. He said the business appealed to him because batteries are used in a host of products and there is expansion potential in Lee County.

His plans include opening a Cape Coral store around Christmas and eventually adding locations in Lehigh Acres and perhaps Bonita Springs. He's also working to expand the business' commercial side.

The store also enables him to provide employment and boost the economy in the community he's called home since 1988, when his family moved from the Chicago area.

"I want people to know that I didn't run to the south of France," he said. "I put my money back into our economy. Maybe it's not a huge amount of money, but every little bit helps. It's sad to drive up and down (U.S.) 41 and see all the closed businesses."

Fry's community spirit and his return to the work world are no surprise to Jason Hughes of Sarasota, who's known him since 1992, when they were roommates at the University of Florida.

"It's just a great story," he said. "I think a lot of people would rest on their laurels after winning the lottery. But Jason's a very motivated person and I foresee him being very successful in business."

Hughes, a certified financial planner with Morgan Stanley's Sarasota office, helped Fry set up investment accounts for the lottery proceeds, as well as trusts for his children.

Learning of Fry's luck warmed Hughes' heart.

"My initial reaction was wow, the lottery is real, because until you know somebody who's won it, it seems surreal. I'd say he's been very generous to his friends, but at the same time, not irresponsible. He's also been very generous with his family. So, I'd say he's very giving."

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