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North businesses hit hard by Ian

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The outside of McDaniels Insurance Solutions on Hancock Bridge Parkway. The inside of the building sustained flooding from two feet of storm surge.

We have all seen the havoc and destruction Hurricane Ian has created, with homes and lives being flipped upside down — some literally.

Businesses in North Fort Myers were not sparred from the wrath of the near Category 5 storm, with many of them out of commission for weeks and some, perhaps, permanently.

The North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce is doing what it can can to help these businesses by offering the use of its office at the Shell Factory for members to use to stay open as businesses stake their first steps on the road to normalcy.

The amount of damage was tied to proximity to the Caloosahatchee River. Those who were relatively close or on lower ground were hit the hardest with flooding and storm surge. Those that were further away from the river (maybe) avoided the flooding, though that didn’t guarantee the ability to re-open once the power came back on.

Some North Fort Myers businesses share their stories.

Sign-a-Rama/ All American Printing

Bruce Vanderveen, owner of Signarama and All-American Printing on Bayshore Road, did not do so well. His business suffered substantive damage.

“The roof is gone, we cut drywall out to dry it out, and all my machinery is gone. My copiers and everything like that is history,” Vanderveen said. “I wanted to sell the business. I didn’t realize the insurance company wanted to buy it so badly.”

Whether that happens or not remains to be seen. Adjusters came in and spent three days doing inventory on the business from the machinery to the paper plates, Vanderveen said.

As far as moving the business, Vanderveen said there aren’t many buildings available because many of them have roof issues as well.

Until then, he will have to play the waiting game and be thankful that no friends and family were hurt.

“It will probably be March or April before we get a roof. I can’t put equipment in there because I don’t know if it’s going to leak,” Vanderveen said. “It hasn’t happened so far. We’ll see what happens. You can replace equipment and buildings. You can’t replace people. That way, we were blessed.”

True Eye Experts

Unlike Vanderveen’s business, a half-mile down the road, Terry Tucker’s old office on Bayshore Road did a pretty good job handling the storm. It’s proximity away from the river as well as its elevation allowed True Eye Experts to get away, dinged but OK.

Tucker, who works at True Eye, said there was some tree damage and the air conditioner on the roof got twisted and tore a hole, but a new AC was installed within a week and some electrical work had to be done.

“There was no real major water damage to the practice itself. That was good,” Tucker said. “We were back at work in about 10 days. We were fine.”

Lee County Insurance

John Gardner, owner of Lee County Insurance wouldn’t say that he got hammered by Ian. He used the work “annihilated.” Not only for his business but his home.

When he saw the disaster in front of him at the office on Pondella Road, his thought was figuring out a way to get them open as fast as possible, since customers were going to want to contact them with their own claims.

“We wanted to see what we had to do to get back in place. We had tons of customers to deal with. You’re dealing with your own needs and when you’re in the insurance world, your job revolves around that promise to be there at claim time,” Gardner said.

To do this, they have had to work remotely as best they can. The office didn’t have power for nearly two weeks and there were people at the office if someone was to show up in person and ask how to file a claim or had other questions.

The office has been gutted and the company will move into a temporary unit so the gutting can be completed.

“It’s a challenge to navigate these waters. We had damage with Charley in 2004 at the house, but not at the office. That was an easy one to get through,” Gardner said. “This is different. Flooding is different than wind.”

Gardner said Lee County Insurance is doing things in phases. They were expecting be ready to go in their temporary home by the beginning of December. It will be months before they get the approvals for the remodel of the primary office, which means it will likely be late spring before the office reopens.

McDaniel Insurance Solutions

Another insurer, McDaniel Insurance Solutions, didn’t fare much better, as their office on Hancock Bridge Parkway got flooded and was forced to close.

“We had to remove flooring, carpeting, drywall, furniture. We’re in the process of building back and we’re one of the few agencies that was able to open immediately in a temporary location,” said Reid McDaniel, owner. “We have people working from home remotely.”

McDaniel said he expected the damage, considering his proximity to the river on Hancock Bridge Parkway. But he did learn some lessons from this experience.

“We could have prepared a little better and we can take a few more preventative measures. I’m happy where we’re at now and still able to serve clients,’ McDaniel said.

McDaniel said he has spoken with other businesses who said they did not suffer as much physical damage. The problem has been the burden of getting their work in.

McDaniel did not have a timeline on when the office will reopen.

SeaCraft Waterfront Tiki

With its location right on the water in Marinatown, you would have thought the relatively new restaurant would have been inundated. And, indeed, it took an eight-hour beating and sustained serious damage.

Blake Morris, manager at SeaCraft, said after the storm, everybody checked things out, saw it was salvageable, and went to work on getting the restaurant back in shape.

“Our staff was incredible. Everyone showed up and we cleaned and knocked things down and got everything bleached,” Morris said. “Honestly, we were waiting for the power to come back on so we can get to work again.”

The roof to the tiki was damaged, which was fixed within four days. There was water from the canal through the restaurant to the parking lot.

They waited 11 days for the power to return. Once it returned, it was time to rock. However, being a restaurant and needing refrigeration to keep food from spoiling, when the refrigeration went, so did the food, which is usually their biggest expense.

“Again, the staff showed up and the owners did a real good job. But we lost about $30,000 to $40,000 worth of food. Still, we wouldn’t be here without them,” Morris said.

Eagle Roofing & Restoration

As December began, Melissa Martin and her family’s company was working from their kitchen table after their house was flooded and remained in the recovery process.

However, being a roofing company and the fact that most homes in Southwest Florida need some kind of roofing repair or replacement, things have been really busy at the Martin household.

“At first, we were getting between 75 and 100 calls a day. Now, it’s slowed down to about 25 to 30. People need roofs,” Martin said. “We don’t expect to slow down anytime soon. Not within the next two years I’d say.”

Martin warned homeowners there are scammers out there claiming to be roofers. The local companies are reaching out to warn people to make sure they are local roofing companies.

“Make sure they have a license. Make sure they are with the Better Business Bureau. Make sure they’re legitimate,” Martin said. “We just had a neighbor sign with someone from Colorado. You can’t do roofing if you’re not licensed in Florida.”

Mary Lou’s Western Wear

Mary Lou’s Western Wear not only sells cowboy boots and hats at the store on Bayshore Road near the interstate, but also sell hay for horses, which is very important because they have to be fed, too. Which is why they opened two days after the storm.

Mandy Duet, co-owner of Mary Lou’s, said the inside of the store also did well. They were without power for about five days, but ran on a generator.

There was some damage to a gutter and a bit of a drip in front but, despite their proximity to the river, there was no water damage. They were able to sell clothes and everything on Friday and put a clearance rack outside for discontinued boots.

“We had a hay truck come in on Friday because people need to feed their horses. We were open, but running on generators until we got power on Monday,” Duet said of the week after the storm, which hit Lee County’s islands on Wednesday, Sept. 28 with winds of 150 mph. Sixty-one people died in Lee County alone.

When asked how the were able to get open so fast without a whole lot of damage. Duet had a theory.

“The good Lord above. He’s watching out for us,” Duet said. “And my mama. She’s watching out for us. She started the business.”

The Chamber of Commerce

Being a member of the North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce can be a real benefit to those companies that suffered from Hurricane Ian. Of course, with these companies having lost power and internet service, it was probable that the Chamber office would have the same issues.

Wendy Murray, executive director of the Chamber, took whatever action she could by forwarding the Chamber phone to her cell phone so it would automatically ring to her.

“We didn’t have electric for 10 days at the Chamber, but after the second and third day we got calls,” Murray said. “I was able to refer a lot of chamber members. Every third call I got was for a refer. I referred them to roofers, gutter people, AC, construction, handymen.”

Murray was also able to find volunteers to check on people’s homes because some people were still up north, worrying about the condition of their homes.

And as soon as they were able to safely open their office at the Shell Factory, Murray allowed those whose offices were destroyed or uninhabitable to work out of the chamber offices.

“At one point we had five businesses using our office, out computers, phones and whatever to run their business,” Murray said. “We still have a couple businesses running things out of our office.”

The perks of being a Chamber member are getting around, as 10 new businesses have joined, Murray said, many of whom just came from elsewhere and wanting to be in the chamber.

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