Downtown Fort Myers businesses hoping to rebuild and reopen after Hurricane Ian

Some downtown Fort Myers business owners are rebuilding and hoping to reopen after Hurricane Ian slammed into Southwest Florida nearly a month ago.

Robert Podgorski and his girlfriend Jennifer Carbajal, co-owners of the Green Cup Cafe, are looking for ways to keep their restaurant going after losing about $80,000. This happened after four feet of water rushed through their building. Accounting for the loss of manpower, Podgorski and Carbajal expect a possible $100,000 in losses.

“It just looked like someone went in there and turned everything upside down,” Podgorski said. “You could just tell the force of the water and just the waves and the movement knocked over all the fridges full of muddy water. You could literally say he looked like a little baby ocean in the restaurant.

Podgorski said it would take some time before he would consider reopening.

In addition to the cafe, Podgorski’s historic Dean Park home and two cars were deemed a total loss. He and Carbajal escaped an eight-foot storm surge with their dogs by climbing onto their balcony and swimming to their neighbor’s house.

Now, nearly a month later, Podgorski is eager to get back to business. He wants to hire his restaurateurs to operate a food truck at various locations in the area. He said The Martinez Family Foundation is helping him in that effort.

“[This] not only can we give something to our staff and bring in some money, but we can also help create some foundation and we can help people who have had it worse than us,” Podgorski said.

Quartz and Clover, a crystal shop run by women, was also flooded. Whitney Hackett and her mother, Sharon Kiesel, co-own the business. The day after the storm, Hackett asked a friend to drive her to her shop, which is just a quarter-mile from the Fort Myers Marina. Ian caused a lot of damage to the pool, sweeping even large boats like toys.

Hackett went to the store and said she had walked into silt from the Caloosahatchee River. She said the store was flooded with 16 inches of water.

“It’s really a waste of business — it needs to close,” Hackett said. “That was really the biggest setback for us.”

Hackett and Kiesel say they never thought the store location would flood. Their building dates back to the 1800s, and Kiesel believes it was one of the first times it flooded. Hackett said he plans to reopen Quartz and Clover soon, possibly in early November.

Cafe owner Robert Podgorski doesn’t have flood insurance, explaining it’s too expensive. Flood insurance is a policy that must be paid for in addition to homeowners insurance. To be eligible for assistance, Podgorski had to purchase a policy before the hurricane.

“The insurance coverage would be pretty astronomical,” Podgorski said. “It’s pretty out of reach, and we’re priced out of it.”

Podgorski wants to stay as debt-free as possible, but plans to apply for a small business loan for the cafe.

“We try not to go into debt after a crash,” Podgorski said. “We’re trying to find other resources and outlets to refinance first, but it’s kind of comforting to at least know that we’re borrowing at a low enough interest rate.”

Small business loans are available in three categories: economic damage, physical disaster and emergency bridge. Emergency bridging loans are interest-free for up to one year, allowing for $50,000, with the other two having a fixed rate of 3.04%. The deadline to apply for a physical disaster loan is next month – November 28th.

“We encourage small businesses affected by Hurricane Ian to seek available disaster assistance,” Florida Small Business Development Center spokeswoman Amanda Simat said. “We currently have consultants working at the Business Recovery Centers in Lee and Collier counties. In partnership with the SBA, we help small business owners complete disaster loan applications.”

Disaster recovery specialists from the Florida Small Business Development Center at Florida Gulf Coast University are available to provide confidential free consultations to help affected businesses prepare for disaster loan applications and other challenges after disasters.

Visit https://fsbdcswfl.org/ for more information and https://www.sba.gov/ to apply for a loan.

This story was produced by Democracy Watch, a news service provided by journalism students at Gulf Coast University in Florida. The reporter can be reached at [email protected]

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