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A Sarasota farm market reopens one year after Hurricane Ian forced its closure

Hurricane Ian hit Sarasota and left families and businesses upended in its wake. A year and a day later, Detwiler's Farm Market reopened its flagship store to the community.

Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida one year ago, leaving families and businesses upended in its wake.

Detwiler's Farm Market in Sarasota experienced so much damage at their flagship store off Palmer Road that it was forced to close.

The store celebrated its long-awaited reopening on Friday.

Dozens of customers lined up outside the market in the early morning hours, stretching all the way to the street. Many of them shopped there before it closed.

Customer Gloria DeHaven said she hadn’t been inside Detwiler's in a year.

“The day before the hurricane, getting ready to pack up, Mrs. Detwiler and myself were the last ones out the door with our bananas,” she said.

Now 12 months and a day later, she and dozens of other customers queued up with small black shopping carts nearly an hour before the doors officially reopened.

Dozens of customers wait in line early Friday, Sept. before Detwiler's Farm Market opened early Friday morning.
Meghan Bowman
Dozens of customers wait in line before Detwiler's Farm Market opened early Friday, Sept. 29.

Inside the store, director of marketing Amanda Ballard remembered the damage Ian caused.

"The roof peeled back, there was water leaking down into the building and water just pooling on the floors,” she said.

Ballard said the other four locations in Sarasota and Manatee counties lost power and some products during the storm, but were not damaged by Ian the way the flagship store was.

Manager Pam Wisniewski started working at the Palmer Road market just before the storm.

“I had just been promoted to assistant manager, moved to this location, was here two days until Ian come through," she said. "I wasn’t expecting to come back to the store, but with another promotion, I’m back.”

Owner Henry Detwiler Sr. said he was frustrated at some of the things they had to do to get the store reopened, but added the process reminded him of how the business started in a 10 by 20 foot tent on a little egg farm almost 15 years ago.

"We came in here on a shoestring budget, I think we had all of $2,000 to spend and I think we spent upwards of a million dollars rebuilding (this location)," he said. "We've come a long way.”

Detwiler Sr. said it took “all hands on deck” to get the last-minute touches done before Friday morning.

And the store is a family affair. All of Detwiler Sr.'s nine children were involved in reopening the store.

Detwiler Sr. and other family members made impassioned speeches to the staff before the doors opened a few minutes after 8 a.m. to cheers and applause.

Henry Detwiler Sr., owner of Detwilers Farm Market, thanks his staff and family moments before reopening the Palmer Road location. The store closed from damages caused by Hurricane Ian one year ago.
Meghan Bowman
Henry Detwiler Sr., owner of Detwilers Farm Market, thanks his staff and family moments before reopening the Palmer Road location. The store closed from damages caused by Hurricane Ian one year ago.

“I'm really thankful to God and my family and all my staff and all the customers. Always before (the store) opens I say, ‘Will anybody come out?’ I don't know, maybe I should get over that one of these days,” Detwiler Sr. said.

People streamed inside with their shopping carts. Within minutes of opening, the new full-service meat counter was already calling customer No. 18, while lines were forming at the newly added bakery and sub shop as well.

Son Henry Detwiler Jr. surveyed the scene, saying he’s “ecstatic” the store is open again.

“Different people ask what's the secret, and it's simply treat them like you want to be treated," he said. "We hate lines, like even seeing people waiting, I’m like, how can we get them through? It's just trying to take care of them and love them.”

But on Friday, customers didn’t mind the wait — most were just thankful the store was back open.

Cindy Sontag was among the first group through the doors.

“I’m thrilled because I like their products, I like their honesty, I like the way they really look out for the customers,” she said.

Jim George lives near the store. He came with a friend who flew in from Maryland for the opening.

“It just feels closer to home," George said. "It’s a local community. I feel like it’s all the people that I hang out with around here, they’re all shopping here. Feels like it’s almost like family.”

Dulcy Kushmore said she missed shopping at the Palmer location. She said she liked Detwiler's over other big-named grocers.

"It's so much less money, it has such a variety, and the people are great," she said. "I think it just feels like everything is farm fresh."

And Gloria DeHaven, the last customer before the storm, said she was the first sale of the morning.

"I found my bananas, they’re in there!” she said as she left the building.

DeHaven said in the years she’s known the Detwiler family, they’ve always gone above and beyond for the customers and the community.

“Its a beautiful, beautiful thing… and this family, they’re good people,” she added.

Along with their own products, Ballard said the store carries a lot of private label items and tries to work with "smaller, like-minded businesses."

The store is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In the next few weeks, the Detwiler family plans to announce the opening date of a sixth location in Bradenton.

Customers try free samples at the reopening of Detwiler's Farm Market on Friday, Sept. 29.
Meghan Bowman
Customers try free samples at the reopening of Detwiler's Farm Market on Friday, Sept. 29.

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.