Hurricane Ian — One Year Later: Despite Ian, Pine Island Chamber membership continues to increase
Greater Pine Island Chamber of Commerce board member Cynthia Welch said the Chamber is currently working hard to let everyone know that Pine Island businesses are open and ready for business to both locals and tourists alike.
“The Chamber’s focus has been to get the word out that we are open,” Welch said. “A brochure with free advertising for our members has been distributed off the island for the past six months and is continuing. The 10 week, ‘We are open,’ ad campaign, ran in the Punta Gorda and Fort Myers area. The Chamber continued island market and festivals so members had the opportunity to promote their businesses and get in front of island residents and visitors in central locations.”
Events are being widely promoted off the island as well, she added, as an off-island campaign on social media has been launched with posts regarding off-island tourism sites to get the word out that Pine Island businesses are open.
The Chamber also continues its on-island campaign to “Keep it Local” and support island businesses. More events are being planned including the “Adopt a Sea Turtle” art auction in October and Stone Crab Fest in November.
Chamber board member Dave Conner agreed with Welch that things such as running a free ad for members in the brochure as well as the ad campaign have hopefully sent the massage to members that the Chamber is supporting them as they climb back out of the chasm left from Hurricane Ian.
“Many of the businesses out here are struggling, and many are reinventing themselves. When a new business opens, we try to get out as many people as we possibly can to support that business. There are a few restaurants that have bounced back really well, like Blue Dog and the Perfect Cup,” Conner said.
Bringing people out to Pine Island for various festivals and events is one of the keys to showing surrounding areas that Pine Island is open, he said. Even before Hurricane Ian many people would come as far as Miceli’s or Blue Dog and not travel further onto the island, Conner said, adding that is the challenge.
“Our job is to try to get them past that point. Certain areas are still tough — Matlacha is tough, St. James City is tough, Bokeelia is bouncing back a little quicker and so is the Center,” Conner said.
Despite Ian, Chamber membership has continued to increase, which is very encouraging as businesses are learning all the Chamber can do to help them.
“We like new blood, new people, new ideas. We’re moving forward. It’s a slow move, but we’re moving forward. It gets better every day,” Conner said.
One such business that has not only utilized the Chamber, but given back to the Chamber as well as other groups is Salty Girls Island Café.
Owner Lisa Dence, who was also the owner of a previously thriving restaurant, the Olde Fish House, which closed due to Hurricane Ian, has opened this new café and welcomes islanders with open arms.
The transition to the Salty Girls Island Café has found her well, she said, as they are now able to give back to the island by taking part in such things as the Beacon Bites, a program akin to Meals on Wheels, created by the Beacon of Hope.
“It’s been different, but we’re very much enjoying it and we’re very appreciative to the community for all their support. We’re very glad to be back,” Dence said.
In another effort to give back, Dence has launched “The Comeback is Stronger than the Setback” T-shirt campaign, the proceeds of which are to be split between the Greater Pine Island Alliance and the Pine Island Kiwanis Club. Shirts are currently on sale at the Salty Girls Island Café and the Salty Girls Grab and Go located at Pineland Marina in Bokeelia.
Jayson Rider, president of Pine Island Kiwanis Club, explained the utilization of Salty Girls Island Café by the Kiwanis, which had to relocate its meetings from the local United Methodist Church due to summer camp programs.
“We reached out to Salty Girls Island Café, and they were willing to accommodate us for breakfast and a place to hold our meetings. We thank them for their hospitality and delicious breakfasts,” Rider said.