Gas was 25 cents a gallon and you could buy a home for around $21,000 in 1964 — and on a stretch of sand near the Gulf of Mexico in Holmes Beach, West Coast Surf Shop opened i’s doors for the first time.
It was one of the first surf shops to open in Florida and is now the oldest and longest running surf shop in the state.
On April 15, a fire broke out in the electrical wiring around a window on the second floor with employees and customers inside. As everyone evacuated the building the wind from a squall line blowing over the island swept inside the building and the small fire quickly began to get out of control.
“It was the scariest thing ever,” said Kaitlin Kee, an employee, the day after the fire.
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No one was injured and first responders had the fire out in under five minutes from the time the first flames were spotted. But the damage had been done.
“We were coming back from the east coast watching our grandson compete in a contest and we saw the pictures,” said Jim Brady, who has owned the shop for all of its 55 years with his wife. “It was pretty tough. We thought it was destroyed but fortunately the Holmes Beach Police Department got here fast and got all the customers out. It didn’t burn long but did a sizable amount of damage.”
Brady said the fire was so short that structural damage was kept to a minimum, but between the fire, smoke and water, they lost most of their inventory.
“It was pretty tough,” Brady said. “We didn’t know what to do. All kinds of things go through your mind. We’ve been here so long, this is what we do and we hope we can rebound. I think we can, for sure, but it was difficult going out of business for that period of time.”
Initially, Brady had hoped it would only take a few months to get back in business, but insurance delays have left the store closed for 10 months. Brady, his wife and employees, as well as the occasional volunteer have been working hard filling the store back up with inventory. All repairs are completed and they have the certificate of occupancy in hand.
“We should be open in the next 10 days to two weeks,” Brady said.
Having family grow up in the surf shop business has paid a different kind of dividend for the Bradys. Their granddaughter currently travels the world for paddleboard surfing competitions and is a four-time world champion in APP surf competition for the World Surf League, a gold medalist in the Pan-America Games and has won gold medals in the International Surfing Association competitions.
Their grandson has won a silver medal in ISA competition and took home the bronze medal in the Pan-American Games.
It’s a historic store that has produced surfing legends but most importantly, it is a beloved Anna Maria Island family business. Shortly after the fire, the Island community came together for a fundraiser that gave Brady a chance to make it through the lengthy insurance process.
“I can’t thank everyone enough who helped us through this period to the point where we are now on the verge of reopening,” Brady said. “There are so many to mention, as well as the city of Holmes Beach, the fire department and police department who have all been great through this. I just want to thank them all. It’s taken longer than expected but we couldn’t have done this without all of our friends behind us.”
Asked if there was ever a chance he would close the West Coast Surf Shop after the fire, Brady said it never even crossed his mind.
“This is what I’ve done all my life,” he said.