Nov. 10, 2019 -- Mexico Beach has been known for its fiery sunsets, laid back, old Florida lifestyle and absolutely gorgeous beaches. It was a well-kept secret, known to North Florida residents, visitors from Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Illinois. It was part of the "Forgotten Coast" and we all kind of liked it that way. Mexico Beach was and still is, a remnant of Florida the way it used to be. A small beach town, friendly and safe. Generations of families claim Mexico Beach as their home away from home.
From the looks of it, that's not going to change. Many described Mexico Beach as "magical", a credit to both the beautiful environment we are blessed with and the small town feel where families felt safe, kids ran to Tommy T's for ice cream, and a walk out on the pier to watch the fisherman was a night of memories.
When Hurricane Michael hit, you might say we became infamous. We were Ground Zero for the dastardly Category 5 hurricane. The first Cat 5 to hit the North Florida coast in memory - and it left us with quite a lot of memories - some pretty terrible, and some, magical - there's that word again.
Mexico Beach is only 2 miles long and we're at least 10 miles from anywhere, and that has always helped us keep our small town feel. We are not an island, but it certainly has the feel of one.
Because the storm flattened and washed away many of our concrete block homes, leaving empty slabs behind (including our beloved Water's Edge condo), our community had to quickly come to grips with the new reality we were facing. We lost our sand dunes, our restaurants, our gas stations, and even our grocery store. The storm took away many things, but it also gave back. Suddenly, we met our neighbors. We broke bread at community meals, organized by the guys at Killer Seafood. We created Facebook groups to problem-solve and to help each other out. This community is united as never before and when someone needs help, we organize to get them help.
Ace Hardware took on a whole new role in our lives. Mango Marley's opened up in a food truck almost immediately with a dining room that is a military tent, repurposed just for us. When the Mexico Beach Marina reopened, they added a convenience store type market so we can get bread, milk and eggs as well as ice cream, water, and tuna fish. It continues to add inventory and will be our go-to market for the time being. Clementinez expanded its produce and market options so we can get fresh fruits and vegetables and a variety of other local country store type items there. The Family Dollar store in Beacon Hill opened up with expanded food sections. Killer Seafood will be up soon in the same location. He's bringing in a pole barn and some picnic tables and before long, I think it will feel very much like the old Killer Seafood. Different, but with the same key ingredients. And still magical.
As always, our sister city, Port St. Joe, has rebounded out of sheer determination and good luck. Reid Avenue is packed every night and the restaurants and shops all seem to be doing well. All your favorite places to eat, from Provisions to Peppers Mexican Restaurant and many more, some new, some old.
We haven't fully recovered and that's understandable. Our community was covered, top to bottom, with debris and sorrow. It's been a rough year. We're glad to have some of our condos back up and running and happy to get out of our trailer. It was a "fun" experience to camp on our slab, but I'm glad to be back in a real home.
The sea oats have been planted and our sand dunes are growing taller, a little more each week. Our beach walkways are almost completely rebuilt - some a little shinier and some a little simpler. Highway 98 has been fully repaired. Houses are being restored, condo buildings like Paradise Shores and Summerhouse are reopening. Tranquil Harbor is not far behind. We still look a little scraggily around the edges and there are still some structures that need to come down. They will be down soon I am sure, if the insurance companies will cut us a break. It's heartbreaking to see them come down, but it's also a good time to celebrate a new beginning. Every day it seems, a new set of pilings goes up and everyone cheers.
A year after Hurricane Michael hit, some things about Mexico Beach have changed, but the things we've always been known for are still here - our beautiful beaches, our fiery sunsets and the warm, friendly people. It is true that in times of disaster, the true nature of a community shows up. In our case, the community was at its finest and we have held each other tight. We've been amazed at how many people are ready to get back here as soon as they can. We are #MexicoBeachStrong.
We are proud and we are getting back to business, which for us means creating more unforgettable memories for the families and friends who have always called us home.