It’s been the most harrowing time of her life.
In INSTORE’s October My Life page, Barb Grob, owner of Key West Local Luxe, shared with readers how much she enjoyed her lifestyle and business in the Keys: “We bike to the beach café for a swim and fish sandwich for lunch. I’m super-grateful for my quirky life.”
I know it made me want to pack up and move there! I’m kind of quirky, and I love the beach.
This week when I spoke to Barb, she mentioned just how odd the timing of that page was since when our October issue had entered the production phase, she was evacuating from her Key West home and business, running for her life from a monster of a hurricane and worried her fun and profitable lifestyle was a thing of the past.
While Hurricane Irma took aim at the Keys on Sept. 6, she and the love of her life, Tim Lorober, hit the road with a carload of inventory, their little dog GG (Girl Genius), a tentative plan to open a pop-up shop in Asheville, NC, but little else — including warm socks.
Barb Grob and her dog, G.G. Credit: Sheelman Photography.
When they got to Asheville, they rented a tiny, cozy house, where they hoped to remain till the end of the year.
On Sept. 11 on Facebook, she posted “It’s FREEZING here! Had to buy socks, sweaters, pants, coats. All of it. Weird.”
Sept. 13, via email: “We evacuated. Packed up all those thousands of tiny little doodads, that are my inventory, and left for Asheville, NC. I hear my home and business are OK, but there’s no tourism, and let’s face it, the last thing on the locals’ minds is jewelry.
So looks like we’re going to look for a storefront and may ride out the holidays, here. Trying to keep a positive attitude.”
Sept. 14: “I’m not going to lie – this is a bummer! But, not nearly as bad as it would’ve been if we’d stayed. We’re trying to keep a good sense of humor, but let’s face it. I was feeling quite flush.”
Business had nearly tripled since USA Today had mentioned Key West Local Luxe as No. 3 on a Top 10 list for best shopping experiences in the Keys, and she and Tim had been able to leverage that accolade for internet marketing.
Between that positive development and some wholesale requests, Barb had felt comfortable enough to buy a house at the beginning of the slow season, as she looked forward to a rush of business during Christmas and Fantasy Fest.
“Well, now, with loads of unforeseen expenses and a mass of inventory, we’ve got to get back to selling PDQ,” she noted. “But, the good news is we’re alive and healthy, I’ve found some sweaters and socks and I am a seasoned professional, who’s about as scrappy as they come. I will make this into a boon! It’s just taking a second to figure it out. We are grateful. We’ll be fine.”
On Sept. 21, on the Jewelers Helping Jewelers Facebook page, which Barb says has been a very helpful community to her, she admitted that this month has of her life: “Stress hives, running for our lives, afraid we’d get stuck on the highway, during a Category 5 hurricane.” She thanked everyone who helped her, and noted, “Our hearts are breaking for our friends who lost everything.” True to positive form, Barb says she’s learned through the experience that people are kind, including Florida jeweler Kiran Kumar, who offered to give her beautiful showcases free of charge. She also learned: "Don’t overbuy, save for a rainy day and hug your loved ones and love everyone."
Three weeks after the evacuation, Barb had driven back down to Key West to pack up her condo, which was undamaged and which she was loaning to a friend who had been made homeless by the hurricane.
On Sept. 27, by phone from Key West: “It has been three weeks now since we evacuated and in that time we had our sights set on several different places in Asheville, and thank God at the 11th hour, Susan West of Blue Goldsmiths, who has two locations, called us and said she would sublet her downtown location to us. It’s right downtown and it’s the most adorable thing you’ve seen.
"Asheville is going to be amazing for us. Three times the tourists that we have in Key West. We have 3 million tourists a year and they have 9 million a year with more affluent demographics. Ultimately this will work out to our benefit by opening us to a new market, but man, nothing has been easy.
“We scrambled back down here to close out the condo and figure out how to handle stuff. Key West is in better shape than every other island that was hit, but there certainly was flooding in parts of town, massive trees down and some places lost their roofs. But in general, if there were people here to work and people here to shop, Key West would be OK.”
Barb plans to return to Key West in January.
We wish Barb, and every other jeweler displaced by recent hurricanes, the best possible outcome.