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Jerry’s Foods Reflects One Year After Destruction Of Hurricane Ian 

Rick Winningham of Jerry's Foods
Rick Winningham

Last updated on June 14th, 2024 at 10:42 am

One year removed from Hurricane Ian, Jerry’s Foods on Sanibel Island, Florida, is seeing its community slowly return to normal. 

“Each month that goes past, there are more businesses that are able to open,” said Rick Winningham, general manager. “And as the resorts start to come back…The vegetation that survived is coming back…I think the future of Sanibel will be better. It’ll be bigger and stronger.”

Edina, Minnesota-based Jerry’s Enterprises opened the store on the island nearly 40 years ago at the behest of its late founder, who had a vacation home there, according to a previous article in The Shelby Report. 

Jerry's Foods logo

The store itself fared better than others. Many homes, hotels, restaurants and businesses across the 15-mile-long island were rendered uninhabitable following the devastating storm surge on Sept. 28, 2022.

“That was the game-changer,” Winningham said. “The storm surge. We’ve never seen anything like this before. That was what was so devastating to the island, and it caught everybody off guard.” 

Winningham recalled the hurricane’s aftermath as “nothing like I’ve ever experienced before.”

“The best way I could describe how the island looked was almost like a war zone,” he said. “The vegetation was gone. Buildings almost looked like sticks. It’s a very dismal view of a beautiful island that was full of vegetation.” 

Famously, the island made national headlines when the only bridge linking it to Fort Myers on the mainland was partially destroyed. However, crews were able to reconnect the island within a month, Winningham said.  

“I think the local government, city of Sanibel, the governor, everybody of that nature did a really fantastic job of getting the causeway passable…Miraculously, when I think back when it happened, they were talking about it would take up to a year.”

The shopping center that houses Jerry’s Foods and the connected restaurant, Jerry’s Cafe, is two stories high, which spared them from the most dangerous part of the storm. Still, they didn’t escape entirely. 

“We did have some roof damage, and we had some air conditioner damage that flew off and a lot of debris. But the water didn’t come up into the building,” Winningham said. 

Less than a month after Hurricane Ian, the grocery store was able to reopen on a limited basis. That provided residents with a sense of security and normalcy. Powering refrigerators was still an issue, but the grocery store and eatery were able to prepare hot meals and offer grocery items. Winningham said it took about two months to get “confident that we were back.”

“A year later, we’re still chasing things…We have a conveyor system that gets grocery downstairs. We just got the up-and-down belt working,” he said. “We’re now landscaping outside of our store. We’ve had some refrigeration issues that we’ve tackled.”

Similar stories can be found across the island. According to Winningham, only 4-8 percent of resorts have reopened and about 20 percent of residents have returned. 

“The city of Sanibel has been resilient in its efforts to provide resources to the community, for all businesses to try to rebuild,” he said. “Each business is different in the amount of damage that they’ve suffered and their ability to come back. 

“Each shopping center is a little bit different as well. [The city] has been very resourceful in providing information and knowledge to the community…We’re still struggling today.”

Citing a statistic from the Sanibel Chamber of Commerce, he said only 4 percent of short-term rentals are available. 

“Tourism is certainly taking a hit this year. However, as each day goes by, as each month goes by, it gets better and better. It certainly takes patience and virtue. And you can only go so fast with rebuild. It’s a slow, slow process.” 

Still, the team at Jerry’s Foods is optimistic going forward. 

“We feel confident in what we’re offering … We do have somewhat limited hours that we’re operating the store out of, but we have a full-service restaurant that’s open for breakfast and lunch,” Winningham said. “We have a deli that offers Boar’s Head lunch meat and hot foods. We have a self-service meat department that offers fresh-cut steaks and seafood.

“We feel that we’re providing the necessary food for our community that’s coming back. We feel good about where we’re heading.”

The grocery store will celebrate its 40th anniversary Oct. 15. Winningham didn’t go into detail about the planned celebration, saying only it “should be fun.”

Read more market profiles from The Shelby Report.

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