East Naples business owner bounces back after losing home to Ian

Reporter: Michelle Alvarez Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

Like many others, East Naples business owner Maria Vilella lost her home to Hurricane Ian and had to live in a camper van on her property. But, also like her neighbors, Vilella has not given up.

Vilella, the owner of La Bella Apulia Gourmet Italian Market, survived Ian, but her Bayshore Drive home did not.

“We had 3 feet inside and 5 1/2 outside,” Vilella said. “Yes, pretty awful. I lost everything. Everything that was in the house.”

Vilella and her dogs lived in a camper van outside their old home for four painful months.

“I just rented a new house,” Vilella said. “Finally, I find a place after being, since October, in a little camper van with no bathroom and no water, so I was using the bathroom inside the house. It was completely destroyed, of course.”

La Bella Apulia Italian Gourmet Market and Apericena is located at Shoppes at Dockside in Old Naples. After Ian, there was water damage underneath the dock, causing Vilella’s business to close for two months.

“No work, no business, no money—nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing,” Vilella said. “It’s been awful because you don’t have any comfort; you don’t have anything besides a bed to sleep on.”

Vilella says she knows it will take a long time for things to return to how they were. But, despite everything she’s been through, Vilella says she’s still a fighter.

“God helped me… he did, he really did,” Vilella said. “Hopefully, we can make it, and next year it will be a little bit better. I know it will take a long time to recover for everybody. This has been really a major disaster. Bad, bad, bad. But we’ll see; I’m strong, like I said. We can make it.”

Vilella is now working a second job at Collier County Domestic Animal Services. She looks forward to brighter days ahead and is thankful to be alive.

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