DESTIN — A lot about the city has changed in the past 30 years. Businesses have come and gone, but two things have remained the same: fishing and the Destin Fisherman’s Cooperative.
On Feb. 9, 1989, local fishermen established the co-op to help them and other fishermen to buy discounted fuel.
“We had three or four fuel facilities back in the day that were gouging us, and some fishermen expressed an interest in getting some sort of a discount and they laughed at us,” said Kelly Windes, a member of the founding co-op board. “There were a lot more of us than there were of them, so we took control of it.”
After buying their own fuel tanks and pumps and finding suppliers, the cooperative opened shop in an old building on March 23, 1989, at what is now HarborWalk Village.
“It was seriously dilapidated,” said Kay Biggers, the co-op manager. “Kittens would fall through the holes in the ceiling. Sometimes we would keep them and had to feed them bottles. They were that young.”
On its first day, the co-op sold 2,700 gallons of fuel.
“We thought we were somebody,” Biggers said. “But it took us a long time to meet that mark again.”
Biggers estimates the co-op now sells about 1.2 million gallons of fuel per year and has added more boat supplies.
In the beginning, 28 members made up the co-op. That number has grown to about 90 members with 115 boats.
“Some members have more than one boat,” Biggers said, “We have some parasail boats, but most of them are charter fishing boats.”
Although Biggers said everything has run smoothly for the most part, the group has faced its own set of challenges.
After looking for a new location for more than a year, the co-op bought and moved into its current shop underneath Brotula's Seafood House and Steamer in 1995, one week before Hurricane Opal hit.
“It was sad,” Biggers said. “We had all new equipment out there (on the docks), and a week later it was bent over.”
The dock was also torn up. But Biggers said the co-op members have always come together when someone needed help, and that time was no exception.
“They gathered up their docks all over town and came down here to repair ours,” she said. “It was an amazing thing to watch.”
The co-op has steadily added more products to sell, including pumps, oil, filters and fishing hooks. Although members get a discount, non-members can also buy fuel and supplies.
Looking back, Biggers said she doesn’t really know how it’s worked out so well, but she does know she’s not ready to quit anytime soon.
“The docks are my life,” she said. “My husband is a captain of a charter boat, my children have grown up down here. I enjoy what I do.”
Windes, on the other hand, said he isn’t surprised it has succeeded.
“It’s been about as successful as we ever hoped for,” he said. “There were strength in numbers and it worked out well.”