Fire hits West Coast Surf Shop

- Jason Benn | Submitted

Updated April 16, 2018

HOLMES BEACH – A fire caused an estimated quarter million dollars in damage to the iconic West Coast Surf Shop, 3902 Gulf Drive, the afternoon of Sunday, April 15, but everyone got out safely with no injuries, according to fire officials.

Three members of the sales staff on duty evacuated about 30 people from the store, West Manatee Fire Rescue Marshall Jim Davis said.

“The employees did a good job of getting everyone out safely,” WMFR Battalion Chief Ben Rigney said.

While early observers suggested that lightning was the cause, since the fire occurred during a thunderstorm, an investigation later in the day showed that the fire was electrical and involved a neon light near a window at the front of the shop, he said.

Jim and Ronee Brady, who have owned the store for nearly 55 years, were on Florida’s east coast with their grandson, Giorgio Gomez, who was competing in a surf competition when they got the news.

“It was a shock,” Jim Brady said.

The rental apartment above the shop was vacant, Ronee Brady said, but the timing was especially bad – the store just got in its spring inventory and was fully stocked.

Contents and structural damage is estimated at $250,000, Davis said, adding, “Everything they had in there is gone between the heat and smoke damage.”

Holmes Beach Police Department officers responded quickly to the fire, but by the time they opened the door, the flames were already up to the ceiling, Davis said.

The call came in to WMFR at 2:43 p.m. Four engine companies responded – three from West Manatee Fire Rescue and one from Longboat Key.

“Engine #131 from the Holmes Beach station made a fantastic knock down of the fire because that whole place was ready to go,” he said.

After the smoke cleared, Jim Brady said they’re ready to rebuild the iconic surf shop. He said most of the damage is to the store’s inventory, which will have to be replaced. Contractors were on site Monday morning to assess the structural damage and begin the process of rebuilding.

“Time is the issue now,” he said. The Bradys hope to have the surf shop reopened within 60 to 90 days.

Island icon

The surf shop, next to Manatee beach, is an Island institution, rivaling Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach as the oldest surf shop in Florida.

Ron Jon’s opened in 1963. Brady started his shop in 1964, he thinks – he was only 16 – near the former Pete Reynard’s restaurant and the current Waterline Marina Resort in Holmes Beach.

While he was in class at Manatee High School, his grandmother, Aida Brady, and his aunt, Carol Stevens, filled in for him. When the surf was up, he’d hang a sign on the door saying, “Gone surfing.”

He moved the shop to the present location in 1979, where the Brady’s grandchildren, Giorgio Gomez and Izzi Gomez – champion surfers and paddleboarders – learned their craft.

Facebook friends

Outpourings of sympathy and good wishes appeared immediately on The Sun’s Facebook page as details became available Sunday afternoon.

  • “So sad… the community will come together and help them rebuild and recoup I’m sure. I’m just glad no one was hurt.” – Tiffany An Parker
  • “Oh no… such an island treasure” – Janet Bethart Maze
  • “Dreams and prayers up in smoke, such a shock for the owners… One never knows what may happen, but they will have the tight community support from this wonderful island. They will rise up.” – Priscilla Rattray
  • “This is the best family and the best place. I am sooo sad to hear this. Prayers to the Bradys and their amazing crew.” Heidi Erickson-Kubes
  • “Praying for Mr. and Mrs. Brady – hopefully everyone is ok.” – Marion Young-Welles
  • “Nice shop and really nice people. Hope everyone is ok!” – Cathy Robbins
  • “Praying for the whole family and their business, that is so awful!” – LinVal Grant Price

And on the Surf Shop’s Facebook page, the Bradys wrote: “We just want to say thank you for the overwhelming response of thoughts and prayers! We are so blessed that everyone is ok! Thanks to our heroes, Kaitlin, Anna, & Benny for making sure our customers got out safe and sound! Not to mention the police and firefighters for their valiant efforts to save our livelihood! You don’t know how much it meant to come home to a parking lot full of amazing friends, family, customers, and kind strangers waiting with open arms. It made such a traumatic experience so much more bearable.”

– Joe Hendricks and Kristin Swain contributed to this report