Owner marks 20th year at historical inn
Twenty years ago, Sandy Stilwell Youngquist was in the market to purchase another inn and was considering a place in Great Guana Cay in the Bahamas when chance led her in a different direction.
“I always knew I wanted to own something on the islands,” she said of Captiva and Sanibel.
“I kind of kept my eyes peeled for the right opportunity,” Stilwell Youngquist added.
Raised in Lee County since the age of 2, she had owned two inns on Fort Myers Beach, which she later sold. Yet Stilwell Youngquist had always been attracted to the island lifestyle, particularly on Captiva.
“We were boaters and I always came into South Seas,” she said, citing ‘Tween Waters as well.
In 1999, as Stilwell Youngquist was working through the details of possibly buying the Bahamas inn, the opportunity she had been waiting for presented itself. The Captiva Island Inn went up for sale.
“I just fell in love with Captiva and I bought it,” she said, noting that it was a historic property.
“I’m so glad I didn’t buy the place down in the Bahamas,” Stilwell Youngquist added.
She purchased the inn, which only had six rooms at the time, from Rob and Cathy Degennero.
“It was just a cute little bed and breakfast,” Stilwell Youngquist said. “It was so small.”
Initially, she wondered how she was going to stay booked, but soon found that she was full most of the time. On the county’s tax roll for the first time in 1950, the original site dates back at least 69 years.
“Some of the units, they’ve been around for a long time,” Stilwell Youngquist said.
The land purchase came with an attached restaurant, which was being leased at the time and was known as the Paris Tropical Grill. In 2001, Stilwell Youngquist bought out the lease when the eatery’s operators put it up for sale. She turned it into today’s well-known award-winning Keylime Bistro.
“The Keylime Bisto became so popular, I was running out of parking,” Stilwell Youngquist said.
In the last 20 years, she has remodeled and upgraded the Captiva Island Inn.
“When I bought it, it was in very good shape,” she said. “It is a matter of keeping up the old buildings. We’re constantly doing that – but part of owning a property is keeping it up to the local standards.”
Stilwell Youngquist has expanded on the rental company itself by acquiring adjacent properties and adding units, though she noted that a big push for doing so was the need for additional parking spaces.
Her acquisitions included the Paradise Shopping Center on the opposite side of Andy Rosse Lane in 2002, which underwent a remodel and increased the inn’s available units. She purchased two lots next to the inn and built the five-bedroom Celebration House and the Celebration Center business plaza.
Stilwell Youngquist bought a former hot dog shop and created Latte Da, and purchased RC Otter’s Island Eats – also from the Degenneros – the same year that Hurricane Charley came through.
“I was glad I did it, but it was an awful lot to get hit with at one time with all the property,” she said.
The Captiva Island Inn was impacted by the storm.
“We lost all of our trees, we had roofs off,” Stilwell Youngquist said. “Everything was broken.”
“We’ve been through a couple of hurricanes now,” she added.
Stilwell Youngquist reported that the most recent – Hurricane Irma, which rolled across Florida in 2017 – also caused some roof damage, as well knocked down fences and uprooted landscaping.
“We’ve gone through the BP oil spill. We’ve gone through the red ride,” she said.
“Like’s not always perfect,” Stilwell Youngquist added, expressing that the obstacles have not diminished her love for the island. “You just go from one hurdle, to the next, to the next.”
Asked what the draw is to Captiva for her, she cited the island way.
“I think it’s just that sense of community,” Stilwell Youngquist, noting that she has had the inn’s cottages and Paradise Shopping Center historically preserved like the inn in an effort to protect it. “I didn’t want to lose our little village. We have this little mecca, this little grouping of businesses.”
She explained that there is a synergy among all of the businesses on Captiva.
“We truly work together,” Stilwell Youngquist said.
“Buying the inn was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life,” she added. “I saw the potential for what could happen, and it came and is now a reality.”
Chief executive officer and owner of the Stilwell Enterprises and Restaurant Group, Stilwell Youngquist also owns the Sunshine Seafood Cafe and Wine Bar and Cantina Captiva on the island.
For more information, visit captivaislandinn.com.
The Captiva Island Inn is at 11508 Andy Rosse Lane.