Soon after the storm, we had many people call us and ask the following question: Is St. Augustine ready for visitors? We personally were ready on October 24, and most stores, restaurants and attractions beat us back–opening on or around the 14th.
The answer then, and now, is absolutely yes. If you go to some of the neighborhoods on Anastasia Island, or drive further north from Vilano Beach, you will still see damage. Houses directly on the water, without the protection of dunes, have been condemned. You can see the spray paint on the sides of the homes, marking if it’s safe or unsafe for reentry. Neighborhoods in some low-lying areas still have items in front of their houses–items that got wet, but need to be saved until the adjuster comes. Or until it’s their turn to have the trash trucks come through. I think it will take a long time for homeowners there to rebuild and find normalcy again.
But you will have to look really hard to find any evidence of the storm downtown. Or in any of the tourist areas–Vilano Beach’s town center, the Anastasia Island corridor, King Street, Aviles, etc.
In fact, the general state of our inn as well as the whole historic district, is one that begs a new question.
The question we hear most now–either from guests staying with us, or from people just walking past our front lawn (we’ve been outside a lot lately, planting winter flowers, stringing lights for Nights of Lights, hanging wreaths on all of our doors)–is this: Did you get any damage from the storm?
Really, we could not be more flattered. We wanted everything at the inn to be–as they say in the commercials–Like it never even happened. And having people ask if we had any damage at all (sometimes asked by people who are staying in rooms that had about 3 feet of water in them just 6 weeks ago on Friday), is exactly the result we were looking for. I continue to marvel at how quickly we rebounded, and how stunning the updates are to rooms that we had to renovate.
I marvel that we could refinish a lot of my favorite pieces, and that I could find a new leather bed for Room 3 that was IDENTICAL to the one I put in there 2 years ago, and that furniture stores could deliver chests and dressers in such a short amount of time.
In full disclosure, we still have one room to go. The Coquina Suite had the most water in the inn, and the most damage–we are taking this opportunity to make some great additions to the room (hello, bigger shower! Nice to see you, gorgeous floors!) The coquina is completely dried out (it’s amazing how long that porous stone could hold water!) and it has shown once again what an indestructible material it is (you may have read about my difficulties in hanging blinds and pictures in the oldest part of the house. It is obvious to me why the Spanish would have used the stuff to make our beautiful fort).
While the coquina remains impermeable, there are some noticeable changes in town that I want to share. I’m not talking about all the new mulch and spiffed up exteriors. I’m talking about changes to the people, and the entire mood of the town.
St. Augustine has always been a friendly town. When I first moved here, I loved that people smiled and said hello when I passed them on the sidewalk. I quickly learned to say it too–you can always spot a tourist when they look at you suspiciously when you say hello. They respond slowly, as if they’re not quite sure you’re talking to them. Sometimes, as they walk away from me, I can hear them say “Everyone here is so nice.”
The friendliness of the town is one of our strongest points. Or at least it was.
Today, there is a slightly different feel among the residents and business owners downtown and on the islands. We’re still friendly–even as tired as we can be from yelling at insurance companies, juggling contractors, and trying to find Hardyboard in stock anywhere in town–but it’s more than that now. We’re kinder. We’re gentler. We’re more helpful.
It is as if the trials of the past few weeks reminded us of what is really important–not things, not to-do lists (although I have had some epic ones since October 7)–but people. Community. Solidarity.
While the rest of the country feels divided in the aftermath of the election, St. Augustine seems more unified. Hashtag St. Augustine Strong.
Now, there are still some clunkers in the bunch–there always are. But in general, we are all more protective of each other’s feelings. We hug each other more often, even if we’re casual acquaintances. We say ‘thank you’ a little bit more slowly, so that the person we’re thanking knows we’re not just saying it by rote. We tear up more easily, and when we do, someone often offers us a hug. When a clunker breaks through–maybe yelling at us in line at the grocery store–10 people jump up to make sure that we’re all right.
It’s a change that I hope doesn’t change.
If you’re still trying to decide whether or not to come to St. Augustine, might I suggest you book your trip now? I promise you–the lighthouse is still beaming, the fort is still standing, the businesses are still stocked and the restaurants are still fantastic. Everything is the same as you remember it.
And maybe just a little bit better.