Longtime Sanibel business owner Billy Kirkland was announced as a recipient for the 22nd annual BB&T Blue Chip Community Business Award on Nov. 3. Over his 31-year career on Sanibel, Kirkland has championed over countless permit, environmental and workplace challenges along the way.
"It's very nice being recognized for the service that we've done," Kirkland said.
The Blue Chip Community Business Award is given to businesses across Southwest Florida who have to overcome hardships to achieve success.
Billy Kirkland holds his Blue Chip Community Business Award.
Billy's Rentals is the largest bicycle rental business on both Sanibel and Captiva. Kirkland initially started out renting sailboats and beach chairs on Fort Myers Beach. In 1985, he moved his business over to Sanibel. Kirkland said his formula for success is the strong ties he has with the community and his staff.
"It's not just me and Salli, it's our employees that allow us to do everything. We may set the stage and lead them but they always follow through. We're very involved, and this community has been good to us, I think it's a reflection on us trying to do the same for the community," Kirkland said.
Spatini Tea Bar, which is located in the Jerry's Shopping Center on Sanibel was a finalist for the BB&T Blue Chip Community Business Award. Owner Amy Sbarra has battled bankruptcy, Hurricane Charley and quite a few business challenges to get where she is today. Sbarra got her start on Captiva in 1998. She opened a small two treatment room facility with only three employees. She eventually started working at 'Tween Waters Inn. In 2004, the spa expanded to four treatment rooms with a full-service nail and hair salon. Hurricane Charley hit the same year they expanded putting them out of business for six weeks.
Despite the hurricane, Sbarra quickly recovered and added salons at South Seas Island Resort, Casa Ybel Resort and she even added in a mini spa in the Verandah Community in Fort Myers. It was in 2008 when the economy took a downfall was when her hardships began. After losing all her spa locations, Sbarra had to file for bankruptcy. In 2009, she came up with a new concept that she wanted to pursue. Her idea was to open a salon that focused on quick, effective and environmentally conscious spa services, in 2009 she opened Spatini Tea Bar.
"I'm a single mom of two beautiful girls that have seen me fall down, cry, stand up, brush off and keep going. Sometimes I must look like the Unsinkable Molly Brown. My financial downfall was both very public and very humbling since we live on a very small island. Because it was so public, I have been told that I've been an inspiration to those that have watched it all unfold," Sbarra said.