provided to The Santiva Chronicle
Recent opening events hosted by the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce demonstrate the vigor of hurricane recovery and the breadth of its range. On Feb. 24, a ribbon-cutting celebration took place at Bell Towers shopping center in Fort Myers at the temporary relocation of Congress Jewelers. Starbucks at Chadwick’s Square on Captiva held its grand opening Feb. 28. On March 2, Tower Gallery at 751 Tarpon Bay Road on Sanibel cut the yellow ribbon, and Bell Tower dedicated a Little Free Library to Sanibel’s Children’s Education Center (CEC), which lost all its books to the hurricane.
After 40 years in business at Periwinkle Place on Sanibel Island, Congress Jewelers was forced to move its store due to severe storm destruction. Owners Scot and Melissa Congress reopened on Dec. 2, leading a movement of now six Sanibel-based businesses to Bell Tower to serve customers during the rebuilding of their island venues.
“We are planning to open by Thanksgiving with a brand-new store in the same location at Periwinkle Place, being designed now,” said Scot Congress, president of the family business.
Knowing their clients would want to play a role in the Sanibel rebuild, the Congresses had their jewelry designers create Sanibel Strong, Captiva Strong, and Florida Strong pendants in silver and gold, with a portion of the proceeds from the collection, already amounting to $20,000, shared with island non-profits FISH of San Cap and the Sanibel-Captiva Recovery Fund.
Congress’ philanthropy through the years has extended to many other nonprofits including the Rotary, BIG ARTS, the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, and the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, to name a few.
“All of these charities are in our hearts,” said Congress. “We have participated for decades. We serve on their boards, run fundraising for them. and each charity is for the locals.”
“Congress Jewelers has always been a community leader when it comes to civic pride and generosity,” said John Lai, chamber president and CEO. “We’re so happy to see them continue flourishing in a location where their wide client base from Sanibel to Naples can find them, and we look forward to their return to Sanibel.”
“The chamber has been a terrific advocate,” said Congress. “They worked with us to create the Sanibel Holiday Luminary event in the Bell Tower, which was a huge success. They have been incredible supporters of all of the businesses that are doing what they can to survive after Ian.”
As part of its Read Across America kickoff, Bell Tower celebrated its free library initiative on March 2. The shopping center will donate spare children’s books collected by its book drive to replenish CEC’s school library.
Observing Hurricane Ian’s five-month anniversary on Feb. 28, the Starbucks at South Seas Island Resort reopened its doors with a full menu and complimentary coffee and specialty drinks daylong.
“Our Keeping Captiva Caffeinated slogan was simply a fun and playful twist on our opening,” said Verdell Ekberg, director of sales and marketing for South Seas. “All of us in the community have worked so hard in clean-up efforts and now recovery efforts of businesses and homes, we thought it may put a smile on someone.”
The resort suffered significant damage and is hoping to start reopening other facets this fall. “Nothing like a jolt of caffeine to kick South Seas’ recovery into high gear,” said Lai. “On the same day our Sanibel Lighthouse was relit, we applaud all signs of moving forward in the recovery process.”
Another example of the Sanibel Island-Bell Tower connection, Tower Gallery opened at the Fort Myers shopping center 40 years ago and, in 1993, the late Sanibel artist Ikki Matsumoto moved it to a relocated beach cottage on Tarpon Bay Road.
The gallery today represents 26 local artists in mediums from oil and pastels to ceramics and photography. Miraculously, the storm spared the art, but the gallery needed deck railing and air conditioning replacement. The artists cleaned and painted the interior in time for its March 3-5 Art from the Attic Sale.
“Nothing brightens the recovering retail landscape like the beautiful and diverse art at the Tower Gallery,” said Lai. “It’s another important piece of island history restored, and we salute the artists’ efforts and community support.”
“Never have I seen a community come together so strong,” said Kelly Morrison, a Tower Gallery artist. “We support our neighbors and cheer each other forward as we see businesses open. We lean on and with the chamber to keep us notified of progress and to help spread the word that we are open for business.”