Local Color Featured

Islander Energy: Fort Myers Beach shop remains a beacon of light after disaster By Abby McGarry

View virtual 3D tours of The Islander, Local Color and The Pier Peddler before Hurricane Ian.

As seen in Waterfront Living 2023.

On Sept. 28, 2022, everything changed for Anita Cereceda, owner of three specialty retail shops in Fort Myers Beach, Florida. Hurricane Ian hit, and the next morning, Cereceda woke up to the reality that her stores were no longer there.

Photo courtesy of Anita Cereceda
All photos courtesy of Anita Cereceda

The Pier Peddler had been a staple in the community for 38 years, Local Color for 20 years and The Islander for five years. Although the first two have no viability for rebuilding, The Islander will open its doors once again next year in its same location on the south end of the island.

“The sense of community that these regular spots bring to a place is so important,” Cereceda said. “The customer base has been nothing but supportive and shown me an outpouring of tremendous affection.”

The Islander is not only rebuilding but also expanding to 4,500 square feet — twice its original size — allowing for more storage, offices and selling space, including adding a kids’ section and broadening its men’s assortment.

A WELCOMING RETURN

The Islander Front ShotAlthough there have been many difficult moments in the past year, Cereceda says she has never lost hope, which was apparent as she talked about plans for the new store.

“What I love is designing the store, and even more than anything, dealing with customers, helping them,” Cereceda said. “I just can’t wait to be standing in the store listening to people talk about it again.”

When a customer enters the store for the first time, Cereceda wants them to breathe in and think, “Oh, what smells so good?” She likes to hit all the senses with a mixture of fragrant items and carefully selected music.

When asked about the vibe of the store, Cereceda described it as “peaceful and yet really engaging, where you want to see what’s next.”

She thinks of her customers as her guests, planning everything from welcoming and thoughtfully positioned fitting rooms for the store’s substantial apparel collections to restrooms that are not for employees only.

“Above all, when I hire somebody, I tell them that the single most important thing to me is when somebody comes in the store, they’re glad they’re there, and when they leave, they are happy they visited,” Cereceda said. “If they buy something, that’s an added bonus.”

THE RIGHT PRODUCT MIX

Photo courtesy of Anita CerecedaThe coastal feel of the store is something customers have come to love. “To me, everyone is an islander,” Cereceda said. “Once they hit that beach, visitors and residents are one and the same for me.”

As the island rebuilds, Cereceda recognizes how many people will be redecorating their homes without even a single dish to put in their kitchen, so she has started to think about how the store can help.

“What do I need to have to help the people in my community stabilize their lives?” she asked herself. “Maybe that’s a new dress or maybe it’s a new set of plates or some glasses or placemats or a wind chime to hang on their lanai.”

Cereceda makes it a point to source local products to help add to the eclectic feel of the store. This mission really started with local artwork from Fort Myers Beach when she opened her Local Color shop, and it will continue at The Islander.

She has a clear understanding with her vendors that satisfying the customer comes first. If, for example, a piece of jewelry breaks, the local artisan must agree with The Islander’s policy to refund them.

SILVER LININGS

The Islander coastal artThere’s still a long road ahead as both The Islander and Fort Myers Beach work to rebuild and then to get residents, snowbirds and visitors to come back.
Both the industry and the local community have rallied behind Cereceda and her store.

The nonprofit Heart on Main Street — with funding from Indie & Main and the Dallas Market Center — awarded Cereceda $10,000 to help rebuild, and customers have been showing up on social media in a big way.

“It’s like one door closes and 57,000 open,” Cereceda said. “You just have to be willing to see them.”

Cereceda said she has made many connections that wouldn’t have happened before Hurricane Ian, and she continues to get goosebumps of affirmation each time she vocalizes a good idea for the business.

“I think that all retailers would agree we’re always looking for the next opportunity. We’re looking for a great buy. We’re looking for new customers. We’re always in search of something,” Cereceda said. “We must remember to be in search of those opportunities that are less tangible. The connections that we make with customers and new friends and new acquaintances and opportunities — those are the most valuable connections of all.”

Abby McGarry

Abby McGarry is the editorial director of the Retail Group, including Gift Shop Plus, Stationery Trends and Lawn & Garden Retailer. She can be reached at amcgarry@greatamericanpublish.com.




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