Hurricane Irma spared the island.
The Rod & Reel Pier in Anna Maria and the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach were nearly unscathed.
But Irma didn’t spare the Anna Maria City Pier. Now the City Pier Restaurant is likely to be shut down for a year or more while the city undertakes repairs.
Restaurant manager David Sork said he’s still “trying to absorb what has happened.”
“Right now I’m kind of scratching my head about it all,” he said.
The popular dining spot “looks like I left it the night before” the hurricane, with “absolutely no damage” that he could find within the restaurant, Sork said.
“I had no hope at all of ever seeing that place again at one point,” he said, recalling the meandering path of Hurricane Irma, which at one point looked as though it would pass almost directly over Anna Maria as a Category 3 storm.
“All the utilities and stuff seem to be in place,” he said. A few waterlines had to be replaced and reattached, and the gas and electricity has been turned off. But, “in general, the damage was much less than I expected when we came back.”
“It’s bittersweet,” Sork said. “It’s there but we can’t use it.”
The roof was ripped off from the bait shop and the metal roofing was peeled back in portions of the restaurant. Planks were damaged on the dock, and pilings and bents that support the walkway are broken, sagging or missing.
According to a report by Ayres Associates, who examined the pier Sept. 15, it will take “12 months or more” to complete repairs and open the pier again to the public.
In the meantime, Sork said, he’s trying to figure out a way to keep his 35 full- and part-time employees solvent. “I’ve advised all of them to apply for unemployment, but the reality is unemployment payments are relatively low,” he said. As an alternative, he has been negotiating assistance for his staff, including groceries from the Roser Food Pantry at Roser Memorial Community Church.
“There’s a whole lot of unanswered questions at this point, but we’re trying to get it together,” Sork said.
FEMA can connect small business owners to low-interest loans from the federal government for disaster recovery, and in some select cases will offer grants to small business owners suffering from the effects of a hurricane.
But Sork said he hasn’t had time to look into potential relief options for the restaurant yet. Nor has he had time to examine the possibility of a temporary location or pop-up restaurant.
“It’s a learning curve for me, honestly. I haven’t had to deal with this ever before,” he said. “I’m grasping at straws.”
Luckily, Sork said, his own home in Holmes Beach was undamaged in the hurricane. He said neither his power nor his internet were disconnected throughout the storm.
Whenever the restaurant does re-open, he said, he will certainly bring back any of his employees who are still available. But a year or more from now, he said, is a long time to wait around for a job.