WRIGLEYVILLE — When Todd Hyatt, owner of Trader Todd's, left Chicago for Fort Myers Beach, Fla., last week to prepare his marina for Hurricane Irma, his wife wasn't too worried — at the time, the storm was predicted to hit the east coast of Florida the hardest.
But after Hyatt departed on Wednesday with a truck full of plywood, bottled water and $300 worth of canned goods and dry food for himself and others, the record-setting storm's path had changed, and Fort Myers Beach was suddenly under greater threat than the couple had anticipated.
"It was a real emotional roller coaster," said Virginia Carstarphen, Todd's wife and co-owner of Trader Todd's at 3216 N. Sheffield Ave. "Even though I wasn’t there, just knowing he was in the path of that storm, there’s a lot of anxiety about it.
"When you hear about these things on the news, I think everybody can have some empathy, but when you have a loved one who’s right there and you’re familiar with the place, I think it really brings it home in a way that is just emotionally different. It was pretty intense, even at a distance,” she said.
Hyatt rode the storm out in Cape Coral, which is about six miles inland and north of Fort Myers Beach.
Hyatt and Carstarphen have a long history with Florida. The two took their first trip together to Key West about 20 years ago, and two years ago they bought a marina in Fort Myers Beach. They have a boat there and own apartments with both long-term renters and Airbnb guests. Hyatt decided to make the trip down to be sure their tenants were all right and to prepare the marina for Irma.
Trader Todd's owners Todd Hyatt and Virginia Carstarphen have been visiting Florida together for two decades and bought property there two years ago. [Provided/Virginia Carstarphen]
"Ironically, he had lived through the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew," Carstarphen said. "He lived in Miami the year after Andrew hit and worked with a roofing contractor, so he kind of knows what needs to be done. So he took those supplies down with him as well."
Lucky that he did, too, because Irma destroyed the roof of the couple's boathouse, including the apartment units they list on Airbnb. The two apartments with long-term tenants suffered almost no damage, and those tenants safely evacuated to Tennessee and a local shelter and were not harmed during the storm.
Though Carstarphen feared the worst, Irma was only ("I can't believe I'm saying 'only,'" she said with a laugh) a Category 2 storm by the time it got to Fort Myers Beach.
The marina is still standing, and the boat is still floating, but there's a lot of work yet to be done.
Even when Hyatt finishes the work on his own property, he has plans to travel to Marco Island and help with cleanup there as well, as it took a much bigger hit than Fort Myers Beach.
Carstarphen said the last time she spoke with him — via his satellite phone because there still wasn't cell service — Hyatt said he planned to be back in Chicago in a week or two. Carstarphen hopes to fly down to Florida to accompany him on the drive back up.
In addition to Hyatt being in Florida ready and willing to help where he can, Trader Todd's is raising money for organizations that help in the aftermath of hurricanes with a recently re-named drink: the Hurricane Relief.
"It was something we had in the works before Irma even became the threat that she was," Carstarphen said of the drink.
"When Harvey hit, I really wanted to do something. We had done a major fundraiser after Katrina many years ago, and we had kind of tossed around the idea of doing something more," she said. "We have a tiki-themed menu and have about 10 specialty drinks that are all Caribbean and Polynesian-inspired drinks, one of which of course is called the Hurricane. So we thought, we’ll just call it the Hurricane Relief.”
From now through the end of hurricane season on Nov. 30, $2 from every Hurricane Relief sold will be donated to the American Red Cross and the Gulf Coast Humane Society.
"We’ve always loved Florida, and when we opened Trader Todd's here in Lakeview, we had collected so many things from our travels there, and we decided to go with an American-Caribbean theme in terms of our decor," Carstarphen said.
"It only seems right based on that love for Florida that we should do something to help.”