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Bailey's General Store: The Island's Family Owned-and-operated General Store Since 1899

Dec 01, 2017 01:40PM ● Published by Kevin

Bailey's General Store on Sanibel Island originally started as a packing and shipping house for the local farmers on the island in 1899. As time went on, they began to carry necessities for life on the island. That eventually turned into a full-fledged general store at the original location at the Matthews Wharf and Ferry Landing. As time went on, the store grew and moved to its current location, which has expanded a few times, as well as the addition of Bailey's Marketplace at Sundial in recent years.

The store has been family owned and operated since 1899. Its operations are still rich with history. They even have the original 1926 Model-T that was purchased as a delivery vehicle.

The latest generation of the family operating the store is the fourth, and is comprised of the Johnson kids: Callaway, Baillie and Dane, who are continuing the tradition of striving to excel in customer service, first.

"We always put our customers first," Baillie Johnson said. "The back of our uniforms read 'customers are our business' and that is exactly how we operate."

Bailie has been working at the store since 2008, when the family relocated to the island. She works alongside her mother, Mead, in the produce department, but also works for Sanibel Catering Company, where she is in charge of the staff.

"One of our parents' philosophies bringing on the fourth generation is that the five of us need to learn the business in its entirety and be able to do whatever needs to be done," Baillie said.

She will graduate with her bachelor's of science in business management at Florida Gulf Coast University in the spring with plans to obtain her MBA thereafter.

"We have such a rare, unique opportunity to operate one of the oldest businesses in Lee County as the third and fourth generations, we are very proud of that legacy and hope to honor it well," Baillie said.

Dane is a full-time college student at Florida Gulf Coast University, majoring in business management, with a minor in entrepreneurship. He is also president of the FGCU Fishing Team. At the store, he manages the maintenance department.

"I do everything from fixing a leaky faucet all the way to facilitating the renovation of our roof," Dane said. "I recently completed a whole store retrofit with led lights, a total of 1,500-plus bulbs to go along with our recent solar addition Although I may not always be on the sales floor, there’s a good chance if I’m not at FGCU I’m at the store working on something."

His involvement in post-storm recovery this year was heavy. While Hurricane Irma didn't quite tear through the area as viciously as expected, the memory still stands in many of the minds of local residents as a catastrophic event.

"Undoubtedly, the moment that sticks out for me was the day after [Hurricane] Irma, even though I moved off [the] island, my family and I all made it to the store and decided to open with what and who we had, since the causeway had been reopened."

The buildings themselves received minimum damage, but Dane's plate was full with dealing with vegetation damage. The store reopened the Monday following the storm.

"For about 10 days straight, my team and I ran chainsaws and heavy equipment to clear our debris," he said. "The store's operation went back to normal hours after the storm and has continued to operate on a normal schedule since."

The store served as somewhat of a life line for residents, where people could get a sense of normalcy after the storm, Baillie said.

"We were grateful we could provide that," she continued. "It's important to our family to be there for our community in good times and bad, which something we will continue to do."

Callaway works full time at the store, supporting her parents' projects and working as the wine manager. She spends a lot of time walking around looking for ways to improve the customer experience for the store's guests.

"One of the projects I have been tasked with is 'greening' our store," she said. "In the future, you will notice more compostable and biodegradable takeout products to help reduce our impact on the island. These products will complement our rooftop solar panel system and 'kilowatt diet.'"

As the wine manager, Callaway works to order wines that range from something to drink on the beach to some of the most well-known labels. She said she is proud to stock Louis Martini Lot 1, Opus One, and Caymus.

"If anyone is ever looking for a specialty wine I will always do my best to source that for them," she said.

Community service is a top priority for the family, which has taken many shapes and forms over the years. One instance that sticks out for Callaway was when they made an "emergency" wedding cake for someone that didn’t care for the one they bought from another baker.

"She was so grateful and it felt fantastic to help someone with such an important event in their life," Callaway said.

The store sponsors many special events. There was a wine tasting with J Vineyards at The Community House on Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. It was open to all wine lovers with complimentary food pairings and special discounts on the featured wines.

The family also participated in the 33rd Annual Luminary Festival on Dec. 1.

"That promises to be an enjoyable evening with hot cider and several wines located throughout the store," Callaway said. "Everyone in the community is welcome to come visit us."

All three shared the same sentiment about their jobs... they love being a part of Sanibel Island's rich history and the community at large.

"I absolutely love my job and the people I work with and can’t wait to graduate and come to work full time and continue to excel in our customer service," Dane said.

For more information about the store and its upcoming happenings, visit baileys-sanibel.com, Like them on Facebook, or call 239-472-1516.

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