"We're not closing," says owner of oldest store of its kind in the state.
HOLMES BEACH – The morning after a fire extensively damaged the landmark West Coast Surf Shop its owners vowed to rebuild and get back in business.
“We’ve got to get back in the door and get it cleared out,” said Jim Brady, who owns the store next to Manatee Public Beach patronized by generations of surfers and other beachcombers. “Hopefully all of our insurance covers us well.”
“We’re not closing,” his wife, Ronee Brady, stressed.
At about 2:40 p.m. Sunday, six-year employee Kaitlin Kee said, she detected a slight odor of smoke. Within moments “windows were breaking and flames pouring in,” Kee said.
Kee, fellow employee Anna Rehorn and Benny Webb, who operates a rental paddleboard and bicycle concession at the Anna Maria Island store, evacuated an estimated 30 people. No one was injured.
“I knew it was out of control,” Kee said. “It’s crazy how fast it started moving.”
Kee called 911 and the Bradys, who were traveling on the east coast.
West Manatee Fire and Rescue is investigating the blaze. It appears to be electrical and originated upstairs on the east side of the building.
Kee suspects it may have been caused by a neon “open” sign on an upstairs window that could be seen by traffic passing the store at 3902 Gulf Drive.
West Coast is considered the oldest surf shop in Florida, Ronee Brady said.
Established in 1964, the store originated at a location now occupied by the Anna Maria Chamber of Commerce.
In 1979, she and her husband purchased the current site, sold “a little house” that was moved by trailer to Myakka City and built the elevated framed structure with three upstairs apartments, Ronee Brady said. They had no tenant residents displaced by the fire.
Shortly after the business relocated, County Commissioner Carol Whitmore and her daughter Janae resided in a two-bedroom apartment facing Gulf Drive extensively damaged by the blaze.
They stopped by Monday morning to comfort the Bradys.
Whitmore described her former home and her friends’ business as “very near and dear to our heart.”
Whitmore, a former mayor of Holmes Beach, said she contacted the city staff and asked them “to please make sure they (the Bradys) get their permitting streamlined” so they can rebuild.
Seeing the damage through an open downstairs door, Whitmore described it as “totally black.”
Whitmore urged islanders and the store’s patrons “from all over the world” to be supportive of the Bradys as they relaunch their business. “We are here as a community and we are going to help them however we can to rebuild this iconic structure,” Whitmore said.
Jim Brady said a “for sale” sign outside the business has been there for years in case he encountered an interested buyer and decided to retire. Yet he doubts that will happen soon.
“This is our 54th year,” he said. “We’ve got a few more years left.”