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Billy's Rentals owner weighs what to do in wake of Hurricane Ian

billy photo.jpg
Submitted
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Special to WGCU
Billy Kirkland posing for a publicity photo in front of his bike business a month before Hurricane Ian destroyed his business.

Billy Kirkland stood at the window on the second floor of his Sanibel home watching the waters forced from the Gulf of Mexico swallow a tractor and his Ford F-250 pickup parked in his driveway.

Kirkland, who stared down Hurricane Charley on Sanibel Island 18 years ago, said the hurricane he was watching was a different kind of beast.

“When Charlie came through I didn’t remember the house shaking,” he said. “With Ian I could feel the house shake. And that was for two, three hours.”

Billy is the Billy of Billy’s Rentals and Billy’s Bike Shop, one of the most popular businesses on Sanibel.

He has spent most of his time after the storm converting part of his warehouse off San Carlos Boulevard in the Iona area into a living space for his family and an employee who needed shelter. His Sanibel home is on pilings and water never entered the living area, but six-feet of Gulf water flooded the bottom.

He’s helped around the island. He lent out usable bikes to people needing to get around when it was the only means of travel.

Jennifer Kingma Altergott thanked him on Billy Bike’s Facebook page with the post of one of his bikes. She posted that it made her two days on the island easier.

“He will help anyone,” said Clare Harris, the retail manager for his store in Bailey’s shopping center. “He’s a pillar in the community.”

He is as well-known around the island as his bikes. Harris said the first time they arrived in the Sanibel Marina by boat after the storm, an officer waved him through saying, “Billy you don’t need a pass.”

Kirkland has been making his living on Sanibel since 1985 when he moved his sailboat rental business from Fort Myers Beach. He opened his bike rental shop in 1999 and has built it into a $2 million a year business.

As of October 19, he had yet to go into his rental store on Periwinkle.

“I’ve been taking care of other things,” he said.

The building is still standing, but he didn’t know how much damage the storm surge caused. Both stores took on more than six feet of water. He had 4-feet of storm surge in his warehouse.

He lost about 900 bikes to the storm and nine of 11 vehicles. He had 30 employees before Hurricane Ian hit. He has kept on 10 to do cleanup work.

He’s not sure what might come next.

“We’re readdressing our options. It’s too early to assess that,” he said.

He will need to see what is insured and what isn’t. He will look at the financials and see if it makes sense to start over.

He said many people have said “enough already,” and will go elsewhere.

Visitors on the store’s Facebook page hope Billy will stay. They want to ride Billy’s Bikes when they return.

Starting over after Ian can’t be compared to starting over after Charley, Harris said. Most of the damage from Charley was from wind. Ian’s damage came from water.

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“Water destruction was amazing,” Harris said. “Not a business was untouched.”

Tourists started returning to the island by February after Charley, Kirkland said. It’s unlikely Sanibel will have any kind of tourist season this year.

Bikes or no bikes, Kirkland the entrepreneur, Kirkland the Vietnam vet, Kirkland, the man his wife Salli says “stays calm in situations like this,” will stay busy.

He started Billy’s Tractor Business after Hurricane Charley in 2004 to remove brush and maintain private roads.

He will have plenty of work thanks to Ian. He even has a new tractor.

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