Best Of 2012

"We have a small zoo at our house. We share that passion" —Erin Bentley, w. Scott and Bat.
Photo by Todd Bates
"We have a small zoo at our house. We share that passion" —Erin Bentley, w. Scott and Bat.

Scott Bentley has been rescuing animals since he was 7. He and wife Erin will have been married 7 years on Oct. 30. Their son, Asher, is 2.

The Bentleys run Bentley Salon, owned by Scott, and a Tampa animal rescue group called Hoodratz ( They have four dogs of their own and usually up to three or four extra temporary houseguests of the furry kind.

By day, Scott cuts hair, trains and supervises at Bentley Salon on Kennedy Boulevard in South Tampa. Erin does the books. By night, and in between it all, they work together to foster stray animals and enlist their friends to take dogs and cats in.

“People call me, and if I’m not available, they call Erin,” he said. “Sometimes I feel as if Erin gets pushed into the shadows. It’s nice to know she will be recognized. She really is amazing.”

When asked Erin’s age, Scott responded, “343.7 years.”

Certainly, she gives the impression of wisdom beyond her years. Erin is calm, less reactive, where Scott is sometimes like the pitbulls he champions. He attacks injustices and can bark loudly when animals are mistreated. Erin is just as passionate but more stoic. She’s the backbone of the pair, researching, calling and doing the legwork needed to find dogs home.

What makes them work as a pair? “Our communication to each other is key,” Scott said.

“Clearly we both love animals,” she adds. (Oh, and Erin’s actually 33.) “We have a small zoo at our house. We share that passion. I was thinking the other day about how it is wonderful that we feel the same way about that. My friend was talking about how her husband would be less than happy if she just picked up a dog off the side of the road and brought it home. My husband wouldn’t have one unhappy thought about that. That is why we have four dogs and two cats. I couldn’t imagine not being able to bring home an animal in need for fear it would cause tension in our home.”

When Scott and Erin can’t take in another dog or cat, the two call a pool of friends. Some foster regularly; others occasionally. But many do their best to try. Call after call, they don’t give up until they can find someone who will take in the latest neglected, abused or starved canine roaming the streets or illegally tethered to a post.

Speaking of it being illegal to tether a dog, the couple, with the help of Barbara La Presti, worked long hours seeking legal assistance, wading through paperwork and dealing with commissioners to make that happen: Leaving dogs tied up or chained outside is now illegal in Hillsborough County. The County Commission approved the ban on Jan. 20.

The slideshow did them in, Scott said. “I ran the images [of tethered dogs] by Erin to make sure they would get the point across,” he said. “Sadly, there were many to choose from.” Erin is able to be more detached when dealing with the gruesome details. Their strengths differ and complement one another. “I am not emotional; my mother calls it Being Scottish,” Erin wrote in an e-mail.

“I am not a crier. I bottle up my emotions most of the time. I am very sarcastic. I also think of things in a technical way. I love math. Scott loves art. This is why we play the roles we do in the salon. He is artistic and does awesome hair and educates his staff and puts on a hair show all by himself with over 100 people involved.”

The couple has hosted community-minded events for the needy at the salon, and Bentley’s is the only local hair and beauty spot to host an annual hair show with an educational component in Tampa Bay. It’s called AMF for “Always Moving Forward” — Scott and Erin’s motto. The next one is scheduled to be held at Czar in February.

“One thing we have in common is that we love our kid about a million times over,” Erin said. “He has brought a whole new level to our world.

“We don’t fight. We have been married for seven years and I don’t recall a single fight. We may disagree, but it is never yelling, screaming, name-calling. Before Scott, I was a fighter. I dated some not so great people. When he came along he was a breath of fresh air. I have no need to be a fighter with him. We started dating in Jan. 2005 and were married by Oct. 2005. I guess we just work.”

Bat, the active, 1 1/2-year-old pitbull in the photo, was adopted soon after we took his picture. He was so friendly that we almost adopted him at CL, but that’s the way it is when you hang with the Bentleys. In fact, it’s kind of an occupational hazard — or maybe a perc — of working at Bentley Salon: Everyone who works there has adopted a rescued pet through Scott and Erin.

Goods & Services

Goods & Services

Whether it’s your compressor or condenser that’s spent, you won’t spend your entire paycheck here — ICA beats competitors’ estimates by 20-50 percent. They also offer routine maintenance, in addition to air-conditioning repairs. There’s nothing chilly about the service you’ll receive — customer satisfaction is priority to owner Kevin O’Donnell. ICA also contributes to the community through Toys for Tots and other programs. 5890 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park, 727-545-1107,

Billiard balls, bird cages, modern industrial furniture, gym lockers, old projectors and telephones: St. Petersburg's Paper Street Market boasts an inventory you can get lost in — whether you're browsing through an old violin case to find your favorite religious or Florida-themed postcards, or digging through the huge collection of large commercial lettering to find just the right capital "A" for the baby's room. 915 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-894-7777,

Runners-up: Fusion 1560 Apartments, Post Harbour Island

Best Artistic Repurposing of a School Bus

Shelving her dream of owning a retail bookstore, Mitzi Gordon created something even better — the Bluebird Books Bus, a formerly-yellow short bus painted blueberry blue (Pantone 301, to be exact) and stocked with new and used books, artists’ publications and books about art. A frequent sight at cultural events on both sides of the Bay, the Bus has become a mobile icon and champion for visual and literary arts.

Watch: Mitzi Gordon, Elizabeth Williams and David Durney — Bluebird Books Bus founder, project librarian and "the guy in the back of the bus," respectively — talk about going mobile, suffering book-related injuries and hanging with The Moth in Georgia. CL's David Warner interviewed them during the Best of the Bay awards reception on Sept. 19 at Creative Loafing.

Photographers Matt Larson and Rebecca Sexton Larson converted their silver bullet — a gently used, custom-decorated Airstream trailer — into what may be the sexiest miniature photo gallery ever imagined: Boxfotos Airstream. Bonus: Their photography, packaged in specially-designed boxes and displayed inside the trailer, is awesome. Boxfotos will present an iPhoneography & Photo Safari workshop for Hillsborough County art teachers at the Ruskin Firehouse Cultural Center. Call the Tampa Museum of Art’s Education Dept at 813-421-8397 for information.

Watch: Matt & Rebecca Sexton Larson talk about Boxfotos Airstream, their sexy little gallery on wheels, in an interview with CL's David Warner during the Best of the Bay awards reception on Sept. 19 at Creative Loafing.

Runners-up: Marpena's Auto Repair, Bob Lee's Auto Repair

It’s not easy to become a competitive lender alternative to the private banks. Grow’s beating the odds with special volunteering initiatives in our community; plus, their loan rates are outstanding. Their fresh and catchy green ads give you the illusion that you could possibly “achieve your dreams” one day, whatever that means.

Runners-up: Fade Masters, Gandy Barber Shop

These big cats are not your typical fat cats — they include lions, tigers and lynx. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, this sanctuary houses over 100 abandoned, abused, orphaned and retired big cats and saves them from extinction. A variety of guided tours are available, including day, night, kids, wedding and private. Hop on the golf cart if the idea of the 90-minute walking tour makes you cringe. 12802 Easy St., Tampa, 813-920-4130,