An artist or a welder? Don't make him choose
Hot Shot 's owner - whom employees have nicknamed "boy genius" - puts both personas into every piece of his work.
By CHRIS MOORE
Published January 10, 2007
The brighter-than-the-sun white lights firing from the TIG torches in Steve Aretz's welding shop catch your eye when you first walk in.
Machines with rollers and big wheels that bend steel rods with the slightest of ease also grab your attention. And you can't miss Elwood, a massive brown and white American bulldog that immediately wants to introduce himself to you.
Be careful, though. Don't stare at those ultraviolet rays, or you'll scorch your retinas. And all of those machines - avoid them, too. The metal they shape likely was just in a molten state with temperatures exceeding 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.
As for Elwood, the worst he'll do is attack you with big, wet, slurpy dog kisses or give you a vigorous lashing from his overjoyed tail.
Aretz owns Hot Shot Welding. His business specializes in decorative work for homes and businesses, focusing on railings and elaborately designed staircases.
Looking at some of his works in progress, including an elegant floating grand staircase, you might wonder if he is a welder moonlighting as an artist, or vice versa.
Aretz will tell you he's both.
"I like to view concepts in a three-dimensional perspective. I'm able to visualize what a client wants and make it come to life. I think that's where the artistry of my work comes into play."
Hot Shot takes on projects big and small, ordinary and complex.
The company started in 1991 with just Aretz and has grown to 15 employees. His clientele includes the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, former Buccaneer Keyshawn Johnson and Hooters' new corporate offices in Clearwater.
Employees say Aretz clearly is the brains of the bunch, and they've nicknamed him the "boy genius," after a TV character.
The boy genius artisan welder may have just completed his masterpiece. Aretz teamed with Hennessey Construction Services to renovate the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.
Mark McClearnon, senior project superintendent with Hennessey, accepted Aretz's bid to re-create the monumental staircase and other columns and fixtures throughout the theater.
The Mahaffey is known for its magnificent architecture and spectacular views of Tampa Bay, McClearnon said, and Aretz had the daunting task of seamlessly interjecting new construction into a theater that has stood since 1965.
But McClearnon and officials from St. Petersburg's Capital Improvement Department agreed that the welder's work was phenomenal.
"I guess the biggest compliment I can pay him is to say how remarkably photogenic his work is. To me, that really says a lot," he said.
"His challenge was to match the existing metal work, which was very intricate, and Aretz did an outstanding job," said Meg Lashley, capital improvement manager for the city, which owns the theater.
Phil Santmyer, a Hot Shot sales associate, said Aretz is not only a good man but "he's a man of high moral fiber."
"I've never seen him leave a customer dangling. He works hard to make sure everyone is happy."