San Marco community comes together in wake of hurricane disaster

San Marco community comes together in wake of hurricane disaster
Damon Thomas with Liz Murphy Thomas, Grease Rags owner Cindy Platt and Sarah McMillan

San Marco merchants are beginning to see the silver lining, even the hint of a rainbow, as the Hurricane Irma recovery effort turns into an experience in community building.

Kevin and Jeff Burns of Beer:30

It was evident as people gathered Sept. 23 for San Marco Strong, a fundraiser in a parking lot behind Beer:30, along with other businesses that were inundated with knee-deep water 12 days earlier.

Kevin Burns, owner of Beer:30, organized the event to help the other businesses in the area. “We had 20 inches of water but we were lucky. The businesses across the street — European Street, Bistro Aix — had four to five feet.”

Burns said they had to replace the floor and repair the air conditioner but the craft beer emporium is open for business. “We put the beer up and only lost two cases,” Burns said.

Burns said the merchants and their customers are doing what they can to support each other. “It’s really bringing the community together,” he said.

At one end of the parking lot were piles of storm debris; at the other end a field of tents with brews from Beer:30, barbecue from Bearded Pig, t-shirts from Hot Spot Power Yoga, popsicles from Hyppo, doughnuts from Good Dough, and clothes from Grease Rags. In the middle of it all, a FEMA tent dispensing information about resources available to help in the recovery.

The event’s co-sponsors – San Marco Preservation Society (SMPS) and the San Marco Merchants Association (SMMA) – accepted donations that will be distributed through local churches and charities, said Linzee Ott of SMPS. “We all know people who have been hit by this,” Ott said. “There are people who are in need of immediate assistance.”

In addition to the event, about two dozen local businesses and restaurants contributed a portion of their sales through Oct. 1 to #SanMarcoStrong.

Logan Moore of Good Dough serves his creations to Dana Wilson, who came out to support her fellow neighbors and local merchants. “This is lovely, it’s two in the afternoon, how can you not get out and support your local community,” said Wilson, of her visit to the event.

George Foote, SMMA president, said some businesses could be closed for months and even those that have reopened have lost business. “Some people don’t have flood insurance but even with insurance they are forgoing income every day they are closed.”

“People had stopped coming the week before the storm and didn’t come the week after, but it’s starting to pick up,” Foote said.

“We will pull together,” said Bryan Mickler, SMPS president. “This is an opportunity to lift each other up and to feel the community spirit.”

Friends and customers of Dance Trance, one of the shops in the hard-hit northern strip of shops along San Marco Boulevard, started a crowdfunding campaign on to raise $30,000 to help Jay and Beth Handline reopen the popular dance fitness studio.

Three to five feet of water destroyed the dance floor, sound equipment and shop, and damaged the building. The Handlines don’t have flood insurance.

“We lost our life’s work in that studio. Such a pleasure to have it for the last 10 years,” Beth Handline said. “The response has been overwhelming. Hopefully something good will come out of this tragedy.”

Some shops escaped the worst of the storm. Arielle Hinds of Good Dough said the shop at 1636 Hendricks Ave., lost power for a few days.

“Compared to what everyone else went through, we did okay,” Hinds said. “It’s cool to see everyone come together and support each other.”

JD Davis and Michael Schmidt served the crowd barbeque eats from The Bearded Pig.

Meredith Gieger of Hyppo Pops said the shop at 1432 Hendricks Ave. lost power but wasn’t flooded. “We evacuated the popsicles to St. Augustine, so we just waited for the power to come back on.”

Cindy Platt, manager of Grease Rags Clothing Co., 1670-2 San Marco Blvd., said the flooding damaged dry wall and air conditioning and ruined the furniture. But the merchandise wasn’t damaged.

“We raised the racks and then overloaded them so they wouldn’t tip over,” Platt said. “That saved us. It’ll take us a couple of weeks to get it cleaned and painted. We’ve been very fortunate.”

In addition to its website, Grease Rags has been selling its clothing in pop-up boutiques that friends have let Platt set up at Steele Hair Gallery in Murray Hill and Honeycomb Salon.

“As stressful as it is, it is turning out to be a blessing,” Platt said. “It’s exposed us to so many new people. And so many people are helping. It’s really become an exercise in community building. Disasters remind people about what’s important.”

By Lilla Ross
Resident Community News

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