ISLAMORADA RESORT CHANGES HANDS FROM ONE FAMILY TO ANOTHER

Islamorada's Pines and Palms Resort is changing hands, but will remain a mom-and-pop business. ANDRE VAN RENSGURG/Contributed

Take a stroll through the lushly landscaped grounds of Pines and Palms Resort in Islamorada and prepare to be taken back in time. The 4-acre oceanfront resort has a relaxing Old Florida feel. Small, colorful cottages dot the meticulously raked beach overlooking Alligator Reef. Here, stress just melts away.

This slice of paradise has been Jim and Sara Bernardin’s passion, their baby, for the last 25 years. They raised their three children here, welcomed back guests who later became close friends, and divided and conquered when it came to running the 25-cottage property. 

“We always just divvied it up and worked together. It’s been a lot of fun,” said an emotional Sara.

Over the years, the offers to buy this oceanfront gem at MM 80 have come and gone. 

“I gauge how well the economy’s doing based on how many people try to buy it off us each year,” said Jim. “It’s always corporations or big hotel companies that would come along. I never trusted their motives, if they wanted to tear it down and rebuild or whatever.”

Pines and Palms Resort is a true family-owned business, a mom-and-pop operation, and a rare find these days in the Keys hospitality industry. Now this beloved resort is changing hands. 

In January, out of the blue, two families from Naples who wanted to buy the resort contacted the Bernardins.  “So, this family came into our lives, unexpectedly,” said Jim. “It wasn’t listed, it wasn’t for sale and it turns out we have a lot in common. They are a younger family, kind of like how we were when we first came here. It led to a longer conversation. We decided we might not find someone like this if we don’t do it now,” added Jim.

The sale, for an undisclosed amount, was finalized on the Friday before Memorial Day. Jim said pressing the send button on his computer to accept the offer was one of the hardest things he’s ever done. 

But the timing was right. Jim and Sara were ready for their next chapter, a chapter that includes doting over their grandchildren in Chicago and spending a lot of time on the golf course. The new owners were just the people Jim and Sara imagined taking the reins.

“They seemed very passionate about it. They were so full of enthusiasm. And they said they envisioned their children getting married on our beach. They are thinking long-term, which was lovely for us,” said Sara.

The new owners are Nick and Raynie Reizen and Chad and Katie McKimm of Naples. The McKimms have four young children and the Reizens have two young daughters. The two families are close friends. Buying Pines and Palms Resort was a no-brainer.

“Overall, the fact that it’s just been such a well-run operation for the last 25 years. Being family-owned and operated made it just so attractive to us,” said Katie McKimm. “The location is perfect, walking distance to so many things,” added Chad McKimm.

The two couples plan to split their time between Islamorada and Naples. They do not plan on making any drastic changes to the resort. They have retained all of the resort’s employees. “One of the great things about this is what an incredible staff we have,” said Katie.

Jim and Sara will stay on for the next year, helping the new owners navigate the ins and outs of running a resort that receives hundreds of 5-star reviews from guests who return year after year. 

Nancy Gladen is one of those repeat customers. She’s been coming to Pines and Palms for the last 20 years from her home in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Over the years, she’s developed a friendship with the Bernardins. News of the sale was tough.

“I’m going to miss them very much. They’re very wonderful people. I’ve met the new owners. They seem very nice; we’ll see,” said Gladen.

For Jim and Sara, the sale is bittersweet. For 25 years, this resort has not only been their livelihood, it’s been their lives. Of course, there were challenges along the way. The COVID pandemic shutdown and subsequent workforce shortage was difficult. “After COVID, just like everybody else, we couldn’t find people to work for any amount of money, so Sara might be bartending and I could be at the front desk; we just didn’t have people,” said Jim.

A few years before the pandemic, Hurricane Irma unleashed a wrath of fury on the resort. The pool lifted out of the foundation and several cottages were badly damaged. It took four years and a court battle to force their insurance company to pay up.

But the good memories far outweigh the bad. Like the time 10 years ago when lifestyle guru Martha Stewart made a surprise visit to the resort.

“That was certainly memorable, when you have somebody who makes her living on everything being perfect and they come to your place unannounced, that was a little scary, but memorable,” said Jim with a laugh.

“I was so scared, I thought she was going to pick this place apart and she instead put us on her website. We got so much business. There are still people who walk in today and say, ‘Did Martha Stewart stay here?’” said Sara.

The legacy the Bernardins created can be seen in every subtle detail of this special property. Hanging in the front office is a beautiful black and white picture of Jim and Sara and their three children, taken 23 years ago on the resort’s dock. 

Soon, a new photograph of two young families, taken in the same idyllic spot, will find a space right under their picture. 

As they prepare to pass the torch, Jim and Sara hope the new owners savor every moment of running this special property as much as they did.

“It’s been so much fun, we’ve had a blast doing this,” said Sara. “It never felt like work.”

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Kellie Butler Farrell is a journalist who calls Islamorada home. Kellie spent two decades in television news and also taught journalism at Barry University in Miami and Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. She loves being outside, whether spending time on the water or zipping down the Old Highway on her electric bike, Kellie is always soaking up the island lifestyle. Kellie and her husband own an electric bike rental company, Keys Ebikes.