Life is steadily returning to normal after flood waters surged down Fifth Avenue South in downtown Naples nearly two months ago.
Two longtime Fifth Avenue South restaurants — Pazzo! Cucina Italiana and Chops City Grill — reopen at 4:30 p.m. today for the first time since Hurricane Ian flooded them on Sept. 28.
“I’m so proud of the hundreds of staff working around the clock for more than seven weeks to help us restore and reconstruct our restaurants,” said Skip Quillen, founder and owner of Culinary Concepts restaurant group that also owns and operates Yabba Island Grill, which reopened Oct. 4 on Fifth. “The day after the hurricane, the one thing we all agreed upon is that we were not going to just reopen; we were going to reopen with a bang and make our restaurants better than before — on every level.”
The reopening restaurants include completely refurbished walls and floors with all dining room furniture reupholstered and remade. Restoring both restaurants also included replacing cooking equipment and coolers.
Monday also was the first day for the Brandy Melville store on Fifth Avenue South to reopen after Ian’s storm surge damaged its interior and inventory. The brand’s first regional clothing and fashion accessories store for young women had only launched a year before the hurricane hit.
Although all businesses have not reopened, the Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District thinks it’s important to celebrate the holidays this season. “We’re going to do our Christmas event as usual there. ‘Christmas as usual on Fifth Avenue South’ is going to kind of be our concept because we just want to promote it and show everyone that we’re back in business and it’s Christmas as usual,” said Christopher Shucart, president of the Business Improvement District.
Holiday events begin tonight with the tree-lighting, snowfall and Santa’s arrival off Third Street South. The Fifth Avenue Christmas Walk and Dining on the Avenue is Dec. 2. Other holiday events also are planned.
Quillen said he is behind Christmas as usual as much as possible on Fifth. “I think it’s a good idea,” he said, noting that overwhelming community support has been motivating and encouraging for him. “We’ve received thousands of messages from around the world with phone calls, texts and social media posts. Customers walking along Fifth Avenue South stop by just to tell us to keep going.”
It’s counterintuitive that businesses closer to Four Corners on Fifth Avenue got hit harder by the storm than those closer to the Gulf on the city’s main street. The Four Corners area was developed first many decades ago and is not elevated as much as other areas of the avenue, plus it’s closer to the water of the Gordon River and Naples Bay. Some businesses had flood panels to keep water out, while others didn’t.
“It’s just different blocks got hurt more than others. It’s just kind of a case-by-case basis,” Shucart said.
Although many of Fifth Avenue’s succession of retail stores, restaurants and businesses have reopened, many other shops, eateries, art galleries and real estate offices have yet to relaunch following the storm. Retailers with inventory on shelves or racks near the floor suffered more water damage than others. Steady work is underway to return the upscale stretch to business as usual.
“The problem is we’re fighting over the same six workers,” Quillen said. “The town, construction-wise, was on fire anyway and it was hard to get materials and stuff and, then, you put this on top of it.
“So, everyone is doing the best they can to get help and get open. Some were more damaged than others. If it’s possible, get the word out that Naples and Old Naples are going to come back and it’s going to be better than ever. We just got to get through the choke point. Everybody took a major hit mentally, too.”
Vineyard Vines, which opened its new clothing store on Fifth Avenue at the end of July 2021, just 14 months before the hurricane, temporarily closed Monday night before the storm hit that Wednesday. The retailer had to start from scratch rebuilding its wood cabinetry and interior after flood waters nearly 3 feet high seeped into the store.
“We are taking this opportunity to remodel and bring it back better than ever,” said Chris Disselhorst, the general manager of Vineyard Vines’ Fifth Avenue and Waterside Shops stores. The Waterside store reopened in October, but the Fifth Avenue store missed the chain’s optimistic goal to reopen ahead of Black Friday sales.
“We are looking at the middle of December, perhaps January,” said Disselhorst regarding the target reopening date of her store on Fifth Avenue near the entrance of the Inn on Fifth Club Level Suites.
The Gulf storm surge affected retail stores differently. “Coming from the bay, as well, it was almost like the perfect storm,” Disselhorst said.
Gallery One also optimistically had hoped to reopen its local art gallery on Fifth Avenue in November, but it’s still a work in progress, said gallery manager Deb Wade, noting that customers have been calling to inquire about the status of the gallery, which has been in Naples for 30 years.
“We got all of our inventory back in the gallery but it’s kind of a disaster area,” Wade said. “We were lucky there was a unit near us that we were able to put our inventory in. It’s just a process of waiting. We are trying to be patient. We are going to be back up and fully open.”
A couple of restaurants on Fifth Avenue have plans to reopen soon. Nosh on Naples Bay will relaunch Tuesday in Naples Bay Resort with happy hour at 2 p.m. and dinner service starting at 4 p.m.
Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro, near Four Corners, hopes to reopen its dining room before Jan. 1, owner Michael Mir said. “In order to remediate and be certain that there will be no mold and health hazard to you and ourselves, we have decided to completely gut the restaurant and renew everything. This will take a while, but Bha! Bha! will return fresh and renewed. Looking forward to continuing to serve all of you again,” Mir wrote in a note to his guests.