Sanibel businesses are still fighting hard to survive after Hurricane Ian and hoping 2023 will bring fewer twists and turns in the road to recovery.
A massive 15-foot sinkhole mere steps away from Floral Artistry of Sanibel, owned by Frans Kox and his wife Jana Telecka, is the least of the store’s worries.
“That morning and that night, especially seeing some of the pictures and videos, and some friends that saw little snippets, all of a sudden you realize there’s nothing to go back to,” Kox said. “You have to start from scratch.”
In a matter of hours, 150-mph winds and surging water took the whole business away, everything the couple had worked so hard for across 16 years.
“You see the damage, you see all the stuff that’s gone, you see the mold starting to grow already,” Kox said. “Beyond recovery. You see all your hutches and your decor is all gone.”
Kox says he and Telecka returned to their business by boat a week after Ian and saw all the unique trinkets and memorabilia that made their store special in ruins. Still, they decided to start over.
“How do you give up?” Kox said. “How do you do that? You have 22 people, it’s me and Jana… but it’s 22 families. It’s not just us: We have two families that lost their house.”
Kox and Telecka’s employees have been able to continue their hard work at a property Kox purchased one year ago in Estero.
“We are basically 17 miles away from where we were before,” Kox said. “Yes, in January we will open a tiny little store closer to the islands and only basically three miles away from Sanibel. So, that gets us a little bit closer to home.”
His staff continues to make beautiful bouquets and show off all the items they salvaged, ready for purchase.
“We’re physically running full blast, seven days a week, 20 hours a day, with everybody that can keep up with us,” Kox said. “Because if we don’t do that, then there is nothing else on the other side.”
Kox says the best way to support Floral Artistry of Sanibel is to keep calling the company for flowers and by purchasing the merchandise it’s selling online.
Many other entrepreneurs suffered the same nightmare, returning to find a business smashed open and filled with mud and detritus.
“I was like, do I give up?” said 20-year-old Jianna Senkeleski. “Do I not? Like, it kind of just made me feel like, ‘Was this the right thing to do?'”
Senkeleski took over the Sanibel Sprout one year ago and used every bit of her savings on that dream. But Hurricane Ian brought it all crashing down.
“I didn’t experience it, but when I came back a couple days after, I came—and I actually live on Sanibel, so my house was also damaged—and this had six feet of water in it,” Senkeleski said. “All the machines and everything was flat on the ground. And yeah, all my merchandise, everything was covered in muck; that was the grossest part. There was just so much muck everywhere.”
Senkeleski had no choice but to gut the Sanibel Sprout and tell her staff there would be no work for them there for the time being.
“That was probably the hardest part,” Senkeleski said. “They’re my family and my team. I worked with some of the girls before I even owned this, and so they stuck with me through all that. And I think that was the hardest part… we just had the dream team.”
Six feet of water inside the store meant counters, shelves, drawers and everything she needed to stay in business had to come out, and customers could no longer come in.
“There was days where I was like, ‘How am I supposed to be motivated when I’m trying to fix my house?'” Senkeleski said.
Senkeleski says she is taking her business’ recovery day by day and working with the community to make it happen. While she lost a lot, certain memories were spared: a menu still hanging, wind chimes outside and photos on the wall that remain untouched, reminding Senkeleski of the people who support her.
“Just such a family effort,” Senkeleski said. “My sister worked here. That’s my boyfriend, best friends. My other sister… it was just a big, you know, family effort. That’s my mom. And yeah, shout out to my dad as well, because he did like all the… when I needed something fixed, he was always there for me.”
Senkeleski says a food truck was donated to her. She is working closely with Sanibel officials to get a permit. She hopes to open after April 2023. In the meantime, she’s babysitting.