Post-hurricane business reopenings continue to inspire ribbon-cutting celebrations for the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce. On Thursday, Dec. 15, The Shack of Sanibel at 1219 Periwinkle Way and Sanibel Captiva Community Bank’s main office at 2406 Periwinkle Way brought the community out to honor the occasions.
“Ice cream and money!” said John Lai, chamber president and CEO. “Of course, we would celebrate the return of two such important institutions on Sanibel Island. They were both highly present and community-supportive on the island since the hurricane. Congratulations and thanks to all involved.”
Sanibel Captiva Community Bank never really closed; it only suspended banking services for seven days. On Tuesday, Oct. 11, it reopened in the main office parking lot under a tent with limited cash services and access to safe deposit boxes.
For the next seven weeks, bank staff was present on the island several days a week. The bank’s renovated boardroom opened Nov. 7 to serve as a temporary branch until the rest of the building is completed.
During the days and months following the storm, the bank supported the community in numerous ways. It ran boat trips to the island while the causeway was closed to help employees and customers start the rebuilding process. Staff immediately began working on forbearance requests for loan customers affected by Hurricane Ian and has already approved and processed tens of millions of new loan requests directly related to Hurricane Ian.
The bank donated $100,000 to 13 nonprofit organizations to assist with hurricane relief and recovery efforts. Employees have volunteered at various nonprofits. They’ve served more than 1,500 hot dogs and hamburgers, often jumping in a bank truck to deliver them all over the island to residents, business owners, and recovery workers.
“Sanibel and Captiva islands are our home and where we started this bank,” said CEO Craig Albert, whose operation has spread to eight branches throughout Southwest Florida. “To immediately begin helping any way we could in the aftermath of such a devasting storm was second nature for us. We were determined to not skip a beat taking care of our customers, employees, and island communities. It’s what we do and who we are.”
“SanCap Bank helped out nonprofit organizations whose offices were damaged or destroyed in the storm – including the chamber – with the use of office space and conference rooms,” said Lai. “Always a team player above and beyond.”
“The chamber has always been a good friend to our bank,” said Albert. “We found ourselves in the unique position to help the chamber in its recovery by offering available office space at our Gateway location, rent free, until it can get back on its feet. Supporting fellow island businesses and organizations is what makes our islands so special. Pay it forward – right?”
“We began by handing out Gatorade to residents cycling or pulling wagons,” said The Shack owners Chuck and Lisa Whitman. “We used a friend’s grill and cooked up some hot dogs, and it morphed into 25, 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, with a high service day of over 1500 meals! Initially, it was all transported by boat until the bridge opened. We wanted to help residents and first responders by bringing a hot meal and a bit of community.”
Because it was a new build, The Shack, which first opened in May 2021, had relatively minimal damage. It required electrical repairs, landscape cleanup, pressure washing, refrigeration cleaning, and the typical interior mucking.
For the community, which supported the business with donations post-hurricane, Ian brought welcome changes to the operation. It has added lunch items and Snow Shacks, its rendition of Hawaiian shaved ice. The Snow Pack specialty couples a scoop of The Shack’s signature custard with shaved ice.
“What a welcome addition The Shack has become to the island business landscape,” said Lai. “Their hot meals literally sustained residents and business owners when all seemed so despairing out on the island.”
“Moving forward, the role of the chamber is going to be vital to let visitors know what newly renovated vacation spots are taking reservations and letting folks know that there are restaurants and other businesses open and ready to serve, even as we rebuild,” said the Whitmans. “We’re so grateful they’re one our side.”
ABOUT SANIBEL & CAPTIVA ISLANDS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. With over 560 active Chamber members from both islands including businesses from Lee and Collier counties, the Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. The Francis P. Bailey, Jr. Chamber Visitor Center is located at the entrance to Sanibel Island and welcomes over 160,000 visitors each year. VISIT FLORIDA named the Visitor Center one of thirteen official Florida Certified Tourism Information Centers. The Visitor Center is open 365 days a year and provides visitors with comprehensive information about things to do, places to visit, where to stay, shop and dine. The Chamber website http://sanibel-captiva.org receives over 1.3 million website visits per year.