From rundown to bustling

One couples’ vision realized

By Melanie LeCroy / melanie@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 6/23/21

Highway 59 is the main artery of Coastal Alabama’s tourist industry bringing visitors to the white sandy beaches. It is also the main business district lined with businesses from Foley to Gulf …

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From rundown to bustling

One couples’ vision realized

Posted

Highway 59 is the main artery of Coastal Alabama’s tourist industry bringing visitors to the white sandy beaches. It is also the main business district lined with businesses from Foley to Gulf Shores. One couple’s vision for two building that were once rundown and forgettable are now bright and bustling with commerce and adding new life to Highway 59.

David and Angie Swiger fell in love with Gulf Shores when their children were small. While living in Hover, Ala., the family vacationed in Gulf Shores. Two weeks later they purchased a condo and spent every summer after at the beach. Eventually, they did not want to leave. So, in 2003, they took a chance and moved to Gulf Shores with four children ranging from ninth grade to second grade.

Today, years later, the Swigers are arguably one of the best known real estate teams on the island. Their goal was not just to work but to help make their favorite place, their home, a better place for everyone.

In 2005, the Swigers became one of the first husband and wife real estate teams in the area and worked for Ono Professional Partners. The pair, both experienced entrepreneurs, moved to real estate after a small café they opened was wiped out by Hurricane Ivan. They lost their home and their business on the same day. It was also the day the realized they were exactly where they belonged.

“I always say Hurricane Ivan really made us fall in love with the city because the people were amazing. We would be working at our house and people would come by and bring us food and water. We had people offer to take our kids in because school was starting, and we didn’t have any place to live. The people just come to each others’ aid and it was just amazing to me. I knew this is where I want to be,” said Angie.

All their combined years of sales experience proved helpful in the new venture. While most real estate agents in the area were focused on condos, the Swigers focused on helping families find residential homes. When the condo market went bust people were still buying homes. That business sustained them and helped them break out on their own in 2008 when they opened Swiger & Company, Realtors, LLC.

David said that over the years they had noticed there was a shortage of commercial opportunities for people wanting to start a small business. The first commercial building they purchased was a little house that, according to David, nobody wanted. It was zoned commercial but was in rough shape. After two years of work, they turned it into a viable business location. Janino’s Pizza was the first to lease the space and has been there for seven years.

“Since that time, we have acquired other diamonds in the rough. We have a knack for taking the ugly duckling and turning it into something. The Square was by far our biggest challenge ever,” David said.

In December 2019, the Swigers purchased two neighboring buildings located at 1538 Gulf Shores Parkway. The property backs up to Walmart’s parking lot and Rouses Market is directly across Highway 59. The buildings were in rough shape with rotten wood, leaking roofs, a poorly laid out gravel parking lot and overgrown trees. The buildings also lacked handicap accessibility.

“We had a vision. We had an idea. We figured we have the largest retailer in the world behind us and knew it had potential. We believed in ourselves,” David said.

Angie added, “People thought we were crazy and said we needed to tear the buildings down.”

The buildings came with a few tenants, but it was not long before leases were being signed. The Swigers would walk people through the spaces in their raw form and explain the vision. Brookman’s Smokehouse was the first to sign a lease in February 2020 and A Sweet Secret Bakery & Cafe followed soon after.

Right as work was ramping up, COVID-19 shut the world down and slowed construction. The city offices closed, WHICH made getting permits and inspections difficult. The Swigers persisted. By the time the beaches reopened, Brookman’s Smokehouse and The Sweet Secret Bakery were open for business. Each milestone was celebrated - from the paving of the parking lot to the sign’s installation on Highway 59. The Square was alive with business. Then, Hurricane Sally hit.

The repairs to the buildings passed their first test - The Square took very little damage during Hurricane Sally. According to David, the sign was the only one on Highway 59 to survive the storm. The tenants had power back in less than 48 hours and were able to open and feed people.

Now, The Square is at 100% occupancy with the last shop under construction. The tenants are a mix of retail, business offices, art and food. David’s Gallery, has been in business since 1969 and occupies the main unit facing Highway 59. Michael and J.D. Swiger have Swiger Studio on the back of the property. The large art gallery and studio space has a mural on the exterior wall and is flanked by a common area with a stage. Brookman’s Smokehouse, A Sweet Secret Bakery & Café and Peace, Love, Tacos provide a variety of food options. OB Vapors, The CBD Pharmer and Beautiful Buzz offer a variety of products and services and Santos & Associates P.C. has an office on the second floor.

“We really like all the people that are here. They are all good people you want to see everyday and people we enjoy talking to. It makes us proud that we turned it into an area that is doing commerce and activity. The parking lot is full, and people are eating and sitting at the tables,” Angie said.

The Swigers are not done with The Square yet. David plans to continue improving the outdoor landscape with the help of this family. He also envisions football games on a big screen, mini music festivals and holiday events. The outdoor common space also provides space for people to host birthday and graduation parties.

“I look forward to a day when I can sit out in the common area at the end of the day, enjoy an ice cold beer and enjoy live music at 6 p.m. on a Friday,” David said.