Rebuilding from Charley
Kim and Gerard Campanella were at a bike show in Wisconsin in 2004 when Hurricane Charley blew away their Bicycle Center business in Port Charlotte.
The business they had grown and nurtured since they started it in 1992 with an inventory of seven bicycles was wiped out. Their rented building was in shambles. Ninety percent of their inventory was destroyed or severely damaged.
The saga of their recovery to today’s business approaching $1 million in sales this year has earned them one of five finalist slots in the annual Southwest Florida Blue Chip Community Business Award competition, sponsored by BB&T-Oswald Trippe and Co. and BB&T Bank.
What followed Charley were three frustrating years of operating out of a tent and five shipping containers in a parking lot with no electricity or air conditioning, and no way to process credit cards. The saga included:
• A lack of sufficient insurance to cover their losses.
• Promises by their landlord to rebuild the shop, but it never happened.
• A last-minute turndown by the Small Business Administration of a preapproved $300,000 loan because their inventory was now in containers rather than a building.
• The purchase of an old Dunkin’ Donuts location at 3795 S. Tamiami Trail through a bank loan and the hiring of a contractor to build a new shop, all of which went sour for a variety of reasons, including when the contractor failed to complete the job and the bank foreclosed on the loan; the contractor sued the business for money he claimed he should have made if the Campanellas didn’t cancel the contract; the loss of that case in mediation; having to take an equity loan on their home; and the death of Kim’s mother and father.
At that point, Kim said, they were ready to throw in the towel. But she said her “woman’s intuition” told her to plunge ahead. One of her favorite sayings, she said, is “life is tough, but it’s not the situation, it’s your reaction to the situation.”
So they moved ahead — along with their loyal customers.
On a brief trip to Manasota Key to escape the pressure, providence — or something — brought them in contact with a contractor friend of a friend, who immediately took charge of finishing the shell from the original contractor for a reduced fee, and deferred payments for him and his subcontractors.
The contractor, Don Weiler of Weiler Bach, had been a Bicycle Center customer 10 years before. “He was a blessing. We call him Charley’s angel,” Kim smiled.
They then transferred the inventory from the trailers to the unlocked shop under construction, with Gerard standing guard through the nights with a baseball bat.
“People were wonderful to us,” Kim said. The container company forgave a $7,000 debt. The Trek bicycle company, for which the Bicycle Center is a distributor, sent in a team free of charge to design the interior of the building.
Then on the day the bright, new 6,000-square-foot facility opened in October 2007, a $300,000 SBA check arrived in the mail. The check, Kim said, “gave us a leap of faith.”
The long ordeal has taught her, she said, to “look at everything as an opportunity, not a hardship.”
The Campanellas have their fingers crossed; the Bicycle Center also was a finalist in the competition in 2008.