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Galveston business owners on their post-Ike city, its recovery, its future. VJ Tramonte, Club Groove, Mod Coffee, Frank Billingsley, La Kings Confectionary, Rene Wiley Studio, The Barking Frog, Susan Henry Photography & more.

By Steven Foster

VJ Tramonte
Joe Tramonte Realty

How long have you lived on the island? All my life. I’m a BOI [born on the island]. And the two grandmothers were here for the previous hurricanes. We have a bond over storms. What’s the mood in Galveston? Very much upbeat. With the UTMB news, Shriner’s hospital coming back, and the government funds coming in, a lot of good things are happening. How have things changed for your business since the hurricane? Thank God I’ve got a separate rental department. We manage about 300 properties. Things are slow with the sales, but we’ve been busy with the rentals. Personally? Well, I’ve been living with my mother since the storm. [Laughs] What do you think is people’s perception of post-Ike Galveston? A lot of people are under the misconception that we have no hotels or restaurants or attractions. It’s amazing. But the seawall is back. The Strand is a little slow, but most of the places have reopened. Schlitterbahn’s open, Moody Gardens. So many of the restaurants and hotels have been open for a long while now. What do you think will surprise people when they come to the island? That the beautiful old oak trees are going to have to be removed. But they’re going to be pleased with the new beaches, the new sand on the seawall.

John Nagy
Sand Dollar Autoplex

How long have you lived on the island? Guess I’ve been here three and a half, four years now. What’s the mood in Galveston? The mood is upbeat. We’re recovering. It’s incredible, actually. The neighborhoods and the people have come together to help each other. It’s been fun. How have things changed for your business since the hurricane? Of course right after, we were extremely busy because we lost over 5,000 cars on the island. And since GM filed for bankruptcy, we’ve been busy! We don’t get it. Personally? Let’s just say I won’t stay again for a hurricane. I told God during the storm that if I survived this, I would never stay during another one. What do you think is people’s perception of post-Ike Galveston? I think they’re proud of us. They’ve seen we’ve taken care of ourselves. I think it’s very much unlike Katrina where things took forever to start coming back. Galveston’s bounced much faster than a lot of other coastal areas. What do you think will surprise people when they come to the island? How much work we’ve done. How many businesses are back. How everyone is supportive of businesses and they’re keeping their businesses on the island, knowing we need each other.

Jim Nonus
Formerly of Simpson’s Gallery, now at www.galvestonmuseumoffineart.com

How long have you lived on the island? I was born on the island. I’m fifth generation. But I came back to the island in 1993 to open my retail business. What’s the mood in Galveston? I think it’s very encouraging. We’ve gone through many different stages, and one of them was depression. But now that we’re seeing some of our favorite places reopen, it’s excitement. That wasn’t here two months ago. How have things changed for your business since the hurricane? [Laughs] Well, it killed the gallery and I lost my job. So I reopened my own business and it’s steadily grown larger. There are more people coming down on weekends and buying things. I reopened for Dickens on The Strand and have been steadily busy since. Spring break was really good for us. Personally? I’m trying to think how to put this. It was devastating, financially. To lose your job, your car, and 90 percent of your possessions. But there’s a silver lining in all of that. And some blessings. I had to reinvent myself. I’ve been developing an online museum that I’m going to turn into a physical museum and gallery. What do you think is people’s perception of post-Ike Galveston? The Houstonians who are coming in are here to support us. They’re encouraged about the businesses that have re-opened. But it may be Christmas before all the businesses are open. What do you think will surprise people when they come to the island? That the things that have come back have come back stronger and better. Some of the restaurants have a superior look than they did before the storm. A lot of places needed improvement anyway, and they’re seeing a better version of what comes back. It’s just not everywhere yet.

Edward Stanza
Club Groove, formerly on Postoffice, now on Market

How long have you lived on the island? Fourteen years. What’s the mood in Galveston? Hot. Heat. It’s hot. [Laughs] The mood is good, actually. We’re recovering quite quickly, as far as I can tell. How have things changed for your business since the hurricane? Changed 100 percent. I lost three businesses in one whack. Groove was Galveston’s largest gay nightclub. Patrons wanted me to reopen, so I did in a new location. And we’ve been doing well. Personally? For the better, actually. Long story short, I’ve got new [business] partners. It’s working out really, really well. What do you think is people’s perception of post-Ike Galveston? Off-islanders, they don’t know we’re recovering. But the islanders? Positive. They know we’re moving forward. What do you think will surprise people when they come to the island? How quickly we’re recovering, especially in comparison to other coastal communities that were hit by Ike.

Robert Zahn
Karen Derr Realty

How long have you lived on the island? Seven years. What’s the mood in Galveston? Everybody’s kind of excited. I mean, it’s a lively, upbeat sort of atmosphere for the most part. But we are all sort of trudging through post-storm problems. How have things changed for your business since the hurricane? Business has been good and steady. Liveable, high-end houses people are buying. Personally? I’m still in kind of a recovery mode. I work every day. I’ve got a business going. But I’m a little distracted trying to finish my house. What do you think is people’s perception of post-Ike Galveston? I think people are still a little afraid of the storms. But I do see a lot of people looking for second homes there, and investment properties. What do you think will surprise people when they come to the island? How much is open and how much there is to do. I’m real positive about Galveston.

Angela Brown
Mod Coffee & Tea

How long have you lived on the island? I’ve been on the island nine years permanently, and part-time six years before that. What’s the mood in Galveston? Positive and upbeat. It’s amazing. The tenacity of the people is amazing. People are actually talking about the silver lining in the Hurricane Ike cloud. And that’s just 10 months after the storm. How have things changed for your business since the hurricane? We have fresh paint, we have equipment that we thought we would never be able to buy. We are back to doing the same business numbers we did before the storm. I think that’s pretty awesome. Personally? We feel more connected to the community than ever. What do you think is people’s perception of post-Ike Galveston? People come to the Seawall or they come downtown, and people look at it and go, “You people didn’t have much damage, did you?” [Laughs] We came back faster than people thought we would. Some residential neighborhoods have not come back yet; they’re still waiting on insurance money. But other sections look better than they used to. What do you think will surprise people when they come to the island? I hope they come back and see we’re better than ever. I hope our resilience shows through. We’re just so grateful. I hope that translates to the people that come see us.

Frank Billingsley
KPRC, Channel 2 News

How long have you lived on the island? I’ve had a house there since 2003. What’s the mood in Galveston? Very positive, very optimistic. The restaurants that have come back are beautiful. Of course, they’re brand-new, in a sense. And there are some new places, like The Gumbo Bar. How have things changed for you personally since the hurricane? Galveston is still a place to go, kick back, and relax. And that hasn’t changed. I think if anything it’s changed for the better. When you have a tragedy like Ike, it brings people closer together. People in Galveston have always been there for each other. And now that spirit is even more prevalent. What do you think is people’s perception of post-Ike Galveston? I think they go down there expecting to see a lot of carnage, and there isn’t. The only thing that’s changed is the trees. The West End still needs a little repair. Even Bolivar is getting there. What do you think will surprise people when they come to the island? How hard it is to find damage. The seawall is as crowded as I’ve ever seen it. The Strand is 80 percent back. All the old favorite restaurants are back and they’re better than ever.

Frank Billingsley is hosting a benefit for the Grand Opera House on July 11. The Grand Gathering has already been sold out. (Probably due to the presence of Billingsley’s famous Frankeritas, a margarita hybrid made with vodka instead of tequila.)

Jack King
La Kings Confectionary

How long have you lived on the island? Thirty-two years. What’s the mood in Galveston? It’s upbeat. People are beginning to get some of their property reconstructed, cleaned up. How have things changed for your business since the hurricane? It hasn’t changed any since the hurricane because I’m not open yet! We’re still a couple weeks away. And personally? I don’t think I’ve changed any. It’s just another challenge. What do you think is people’s perception of post-Ike Galveston? All I can tell you is what I know from the people that call here. People want to know when we’re open or what our hours are. They’re just excited and want to come back. What do you think people would be surprised about if they came to the island? Other than the dead vegetation on the live oak trees, the perception should be very positive. All of the businesses and homes look much better. Cleaner, neater, prettier, more attractive.

Rene Wiley
Rene Wiley Studio Gallery

How long have you lived on the island? Seven years. What’s the mood in Galveston? I would say it is upbeat. A lot of people are so thrilled with their brand new homes they’ve just built! People are getting more and more peaceful. Hey, I always see everything as really good. How have things changed for your business since the hurricane? Well, I was being represented by another gallery and I’ve gone out on my own because of the storm. And I wouldn’t have done that if it wouldn’t have been for the storm. So it was kind of a way to rethink your life. It’s been very positive on the whole. Personally? Personally, I guess I’ve always lived in fear. Now, I feel that we’ve been through the worst and I survived. I feel I’m meant to be here. It’s all going to be fine no matter what happens. What do you think is people’s perception of post-Ike Galveston? They are so impressed with how fast we’ve come back. They’re excited to see new businesses and new energy. For the most part, they thought it was going to look like it did four months ago, so [when they come] they’re pleasantly surprised.

Todd Slaughter
The Barking Frog

How long have you lived on the island? I’ve lived here two and a half years. Wait! Three years! I’m sorry! What’s the mood in Galveston? There are a lot of moods in Galveston. I think the mood now is: summertime! How have things changed for your business since the hurricane? I don’t think any business in Galveston can say business is great. I’m maintaining an optimistic outlook. Personally? Anyone who went through the hurricane came out a stronger person. It’s a life-changing event. You realize not to take a lot of things for granted anymore. What do you think is people’s perception of post-Ike Galveston? I hear a lot from people that come in the store is that “Galveston looks better than I thought.” People expect to see a torn-down island, but it’s been restored quite a bit. What do you think will surprise people when they come to the island? How well Galveston has recovered. To see the shops open, the attractions open, and the beach rebuilt. It gives people hope. One of the hardest things to see is the beautiful oak trees on Broadway. How hard they’ve been hit.

Jennifer Brennan
Susan Henry Photography

How long have you lived on the island? I actually don’t live on the island now, but I was born and raised here. What’s the mood in Galveston? It’s great. I think that from a business standpoint a lot of the businesses have come back. There seems to be a lot of tourists. A lot of people are out of their homes, but they’re trying to come back. How have things changed for your business since the hurricane? You know, it was eye-opening in some ways. We did lose a lot of business, obviously. We were out of business from September to March, and that was hard, financially. We got schooled on insurance. But unfortunately, we did lose everything. But we did get all new props and rebuilt from scratch. Personally? It does make you more aware [of storms]. And when they say be prepared, you tend to take more notice. What do you think will surprise people when they come to the island? People are really surprised that so many of the businesses are open. That we have come back so quickly.

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Ste7en Foster

Steven Foster is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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