Sanibel businesses fighting to recover and find their new normal

Reporter: Emma Heaton Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:

The island that was one of the many places hit the hardest after Hurricane Ian is dealing with the fact that they are recently opened.

Sanibel is still a place where it feels like the hurricane was just days ago in some spots, and in others, it feels like the island is miles ahead of where people may have thought it would be three months later.

Too many businesses on the island were ripped out of the hands of business owners, managers, and employees who loved the place they worked. Some threw in the towel, while others pushed on and will continue to do so until they find a new normal.

Three businesses shut down by Hurricane Ian are now working hard to survive. The Blue Giraffe Cafe, a Sanibel staple, is one of them.

“Our lives have been completely uplifted in ways that the normal mind can’t just comprehend,” said Michael Puente, manager at the Blue Giraffe Cafe.

The Blue Giraffe is currently doing as much as it can from a food truck.

The Pecking Order, which boasted the best fried chicken on the island, is also fighting its way back, having to start from scratch.

“I can’t sit and dwell on the devastation at all,” said Bridgit Budd, owner of The Pecking Order.

A fisherman’s asylum, Whitney’s Bait and Tackle, is also pushing through the devastation toward the future.

“All the hard work we put into it to get it to where it was… in just 24 hours, it was ruined,” said Jim Bryan of Whitney’s Bait and Tackle. “Totally devastated the island, which everybody knows. We were lucky we only had about 3 1/2 feet of water on in the building here.”

When Bryan looks outside of Whitney’s Bait and Tackle, he sees and feels a constant reminder of the hurricane that spun Sanibel around and closed his business for months. With minimal damage, Bryan’s store was able to open again. Ninety percent of his merchandise survived Ian’s Category 4 winds and storm surge.

Two minutes away, though, Puente can’t say the same, but giving up was never an option for him.

“As soon as we were able to make landfall here on the island and assess it with ourselves, you know, we did come up with the commitment for rebuilding and stuff like that,” Puente said. “It’s not easy. And we’ll take those challenges as they come.”

Puente, Budd and Bryan have something in common. They decided to push forward after the hurricane despite debris, loss, and overwhelming damage.

A big challenge is the beaches that are closed which means fewer tourists and fewer customers.

“We’re doing a little bit of business. We’re doing what we can. But nowhere near what it was on the island was booming before the hurricane,” said Bryan.

The reality now won’t stop these three from doing what they do best; serving their customers.

“I personally have just been looking forward to the future,” said Budd.

The Blue Giraffe is operating out of a food truck on Periwinkle Way. Whitney’s Bait and Tackle is open, and Budd hopes to make fried chicken again by Mother’s Day.

What they all need now is support. Bryan said if you have money to spend, spend it on Sanibel.

“Just buy fishing stuff,” Bryan said.

“We’re going to bounce back,” Puente said. “We’re gonna make things happen for the people that love the island.”

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