Realtor Alice Collins Reaps the Whirlwind of Change on St. George Island
Survivor IslandRealtor Alice Collins reaps the whirlwind of change on St. George IslandBy Jason Dehart
Storms may come and go, markets go from boom to bust and fires sweep away dreams in a matter of minutes. But starting over is possible if you have determination, dedication and a host of caring neighbors. Alice Collins has that — in spades.
“I guess you would say we’re survivors,” Collins says. “You do what you need to do if you’re committed to supporting the area.”
Collins, 69, owner of Century 21 Collins Realty Inc., is something of an icon in the area’s real estate and vacation rental world.
Even before she located her office to St. George Island in 1973, Collins loved visiting. She and her husband, John, married in 1960 and spent their honeymoon there. Island property was cheap by today’s standards; John purchased a lot for $500. At the time you could purchase a beachfront lot for $2,500. (Today, the agency has one three-bedroom, two-bath beach house for sale at $1.2 million).
In those early years, the only access to the island was by a ferry that made two daily trips from the mainland. “The ferry carried nine vehicles — providing you had one Volkswagen on it,” Collins recalls. “We would put the dune buggy on and come over for the day before we moved here.
“At that point the state park had 30-foot dunes and you could drive the beach, and over the dunes, and fish on the beach, all those wonderful things,” she says. “It was later, when we began having more people here, that the ordinance was passed to stop driving on the beach. But it’s been a pleasure to live on the island and to see the island develop in the way that it has.”
Unfortunately, it hasn’t been fun all the time. In 1985, hurricanes damaged the bridge linking the island to the mainland, creating havoc in peoples’ lives and work.
“I was out of business for like six months,” she says. “The causeway was disconnected from the bridges; we came by boat for six weeks. I had to lay most everybody off except for just a few. We didn’t have anybody coming; there was nobody doing anything.”
The following year, fire destroyed Collins’ new office.
“It was a total loss in 45 minutes,” she says.
Thankfully, in the small town where everybody knows your name, the community banded together and she was back in business the very next day.
“The Realtors all rallied and brought me forms that were needed, and Harry Arnold of Executive Office Supply, an old friend of mine, brought desks and chairs. He had a printing business and they ran off some stationary overnight,” Collins says. “I mean, he pretty much brought what I needed to operate the office. People brought what they thought we might need to (get back) to business. It was absolutely incredible. People rallied.”
Over the years, Collins has noticed a lot of change — most notably in the size of the properties on the island. When she first started, the biggest homes had three bedrooms and two baths. Nowadays, there are homes with five, six and even seven bedrooms.
Ten years ago, she moved back to the mainland, to Eastpoint, but she maintains her close ties to the St. George Island community. Even in these tough economic times, the beaches continue to draw tourists and vacationers. In fact, Collins has noticed a multi-generational trend among families who visit the island.
“The grandparents came first, and the parents and now the grandchildren are coming.” she says. “There are many family reunions that are here and there are many weddings. And it’s because people have been wanting to share the experiences that they have here.”