Business Bouncing Back On Teagarden Road

A waitress stood outside a new Tegarden Road restaurant and greeted one of its first customers.

"Welcome to Skeeters," she told the man.

Skeeters is owned by Ricky Dombrowski.

"Gulfport is going to be bigger and better than ever," he said.

And he wants to be right in the middle of the recovery. Dombrowski invested his money into a building that got flooded during Hurricane Katrina "because the coast is looking to bounce back."

Dombrowski has spent the last 25 years in the glass business. The last 12 months, all of his glass work focused on replacing windows and windshields shattered by the storm. He also served a dozen years on the Gulfport City Council. Skeeters is his first foray as a restaurant and pool hall owner.

"I'm nervous, but I'm not," he admitted, "because every time you turn around, somebody is trying to come in while we're doing the repairs to know when we're opening."

The dining room and pool hall inside Skeeters look a lot different. The kitchen is basically the same.

"We didn't do anything to the kitchen but make it the way it was, and bring back a lot of the old cooks," he said.

Cooks like Clive Smith, better known as Smitty, are once again making hot wings and burgers. Smitty worked in the kitchen pre-Katrina, when Skeeters was called Jim Bob's.

"I came back up to the owner, he said he'd have me back. So I came and got my job back," Smitty said with a big smile across his face. "Ain't no place like home."

According to city records, just two new businesses have received certificates of occupancy since last November. In a city still littered with pockets of storm debris, Gulfport's urban planning director says the two new businesses are a sign that investors are excited about the city's future.

"I see great opportunities for us, great opportunities to redevelop along the coast," said Larry Jones. "So it's a great time for us."

Dombrowski and his brother think they have the right atmosphere, and the right property to bring some action back to Tegarden Road.

"It's an area that's going to grow and bounce back from this and just thrive," said Dombrowski, "because this was a big hot spot before Katrina."

The 24,000 different building and demolition permits issued in Gulfport since last November have a value of nearly $390 million. The city's urban planning director said that money benefits city coffers, and Gulfport school coffers.