December 2006
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Beach Building Boom Boosts Florala Co-op

 
  Brothers Joe (left) and Bill Garvie (right) stand with job site foreman Frank Cornish at Miramar Place, a 9-unit luxury condo under construction at Fort Walton Beach.
By Debbie Ingram

It’s not unusual for Quality Co-op managers to gaze out over a customer’s pasture and feel at least a little proud.

After all, feed, vet supplies and other materials provided by the Co-op helped grow those animals and contributed to the success of the overall farm and ranch operation.

That said, it’s not every day that the head of a farmer’s supply store can go to the beach and admire his customer’s handiwork. But Florala Farmers & Builders Co-op Manager Pete Blackwell can.

"We’re unusual in that, when the Andalusia Farmers Co-op bought this store 10 years ago, the previous owner was in building products," Blackwell said.

 
Lumber and building materials from the Florala Farmers & Builders Co-op were used to construct Aunt Martha’s Bed & Breakfast in Fort Walton Beach. Pictured on the steps of the B&B are (front row, from left): Bill Garvie, Jr., Martha Garvie and Joe Garvie, and (back row) Co-op Manager Pete Blackwell, Bill Garvie, Sr. and Co-op salesman Bill Davis.  
"It’s probably a good thing because the CRP and other programs have seen a lot of farms put in pine trees. Our store’s future is in building materials."

And while a lot of that future has the potential to be local, with a golf course and at least two large subdivisions underway within 25 miles of the Co-op, and more development going on around Lake Jackson in Florala, the little store near the Florida line is also part of the beachfront property building boom on the Gulf.

One of the store’s largest building customers is GLC Contracting out of Fort Walton Beach, Fla. Brothers Bill and Joe Garvie are currently constructing condominiums for a client in Fort Walton.

The brothers first went into partnership approximately eight years ago, constructing a three-story bed and breakfast on family land facing the Santa Rosa Sound. Aunt Martha’s B&B is a popular inn, but it is also home to Bill and Joe’s parents, Bill Sr. and Martha Garvie.

Bill Garvie, Jr., 39, said tackling the construction of a premier B&B that would also be a home was a way he and his brother Joe, 37, could repay their parents for financial and other support through college.

Bill earned an engineering degree from Virginia Tech. Joe graduated from James Madison University and received his Master’s in marketing from George Mason University in northern Virginia.

 
  The French Quarter was one of the first condominiums GLC Contracting built in Fort Walton.
"It took a year and a half to complete the house," said Bill. "It’s 9,000 square feet and has heart pine hardwood flooring."

But what that first project did, other than provide a home and an income source for their parents, was bring the two brothers together in a corporation.

"We had always talked about going in together," Bill said, "Even when we were still in college."

Since they incorporated in 1998, the two, who specialize in commercial construction, have constructed the Northwest Florida Ballet Center; the 22-unit French Quarter Condos; Camp Walton Condos, and a three-story office complex, Brook Street Landing. They also built two restaurants, Magnolia Grill and Rick’s Crab Trap. GLC has also done an interior renovation of Fort Walton Beach’s city hall building and a roof project for a local museum.

Most of the projects have been for or through Fort Walton developer Earl Mitchell, who is building several condos facing Santa Rosa Sound; GLC is the contractor.

"He likes the way we build," said Bill.

Florala Co-op building materials are being used in Miramar Place, a three-story, nine-unit condo under construction off Brooks Street. More condos are planned when the already sold-out Miramar Place is complete.

It might seem odd for the Florida builders to use an Alabama Co-op as their building supplier, but Bill discovered the Co-op provided competitive pricing and outstanding service through sales representative Bill Davis.

"He and I had compatible personalities," Bill said of the 72-year-old Davis. "I like dealing with people I enjoy being around. Somebody else may be cheaper but they may not act like they appreciate your business.

"The Co-op has good pricing, good delivery and a good response time. They do an exceptional job of working with you," Bill said.

Davis even reminds Garvie of supplies needed for the ongoing project. "Sometimes he does too good a job," Bill Garvie says.

Though the brothers Garvie grew up more than a thousand miles away from the Gulf, they have a keen respect and a deep devotion to the area because of family ties. As children, they spent most every summer in Fort Walton Beach.

They have seen the hurricanes come and do their worst. They have watched as out-of-state developers have come in, snatching up land and, with it, opportunity. And today, they are a part of the changing face of the beach – from Panama City to Destin – where mom and pop hotels are being replaced with condominiums and other high rises and prices rise right along with them.

Yet Bill and Joe want to see the flavor of the community preserved.

"There’s a lot of people who don’t want the growth," Bill said, "but our family lives off growth and tourism. We like the growth, but I do worry. Space is so limited. Land is hard to find and it is too expensive."

The five Garvie children were raised primarily in Virginia around the Washington, D.C., area. The family moved around a lot because Bill Sr., a native of Pennsylvania, worked for the FBI. Martha’s mother, Agnes Staff Bass, was one of the family members that started and built up Staff’s Restaurant on Highway 98. The restaurant, started in 1913, is one of the oldest in the state.

The Bass family also used to own and operate Gulfview Motel on the Sound. The original hotel building sits just a few hundred feet from the B&B. The family has donated the old hotel to the Junior League.

Construction overall is down from last year on the beach, in part because property damage from the 2005 hurricane season has been restored. But the hurricanes have had a lingering effect in tougher construction standards.

"Windows and doors now have to be upgraded to high wind and impact resistant," Joe said. "If the windows aren’t impact resistant, then they have to have hurricane shutters.

"Building here is very restrictive. Hurricane straps, made out of steel, have to be used on the trusses, the roof and the side walls. It takes a lot of extra labor. All this has raised the cost of construction."

Yet building continues. The brothers said there is always more work lined up when the next project is completed. It is the same for the Florala Co-op.

"When I first came to the Co-op 10 years ago, we mostly sold lumber, shingles, plywood and nails," Blackwell said. "We added vinyl siding. Then plumbing and electrical. Eventually that led to doors and windows.

"Right now about 50 percent of our total sales are building materials. After Ivan that rose to about 65 percent," Blackwell said. "I foresee that department increasing over the years. That’s where our growth will be – in building materials."

GLC Contracting can be reached at (850) 243-5554. To contact Blackwell, call (334) 858-6142.

Debbie Ingram is a freelance writer living in Dothan. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..