A discreet warmth now fills the heart of every carpenter, electrician, and auto-body repairman in South Florida. Hardware merchants, lumber barons, and yacht salvagers are wearing secret smiles. But of all the economic winners Hurricane Andrew left behind, few know the pleasures of the catbird seat like Jolan Gamblin, South Dade signmaker.
These days all roads lead to Gamblin's spacious shop just off Krome Avenue in downtown Homestead. Uniformed Marines wander into the main painting bay in search of plywood and brushes. Local business owners mill about in the tiny design studio, waiting to request three-by-ten-foot banners proclaiming their survival. Exhausted city officials stop at the front office to rush-order temporary street signs for the town's busiest intersections. In a landscape as flat and featureless as South Dade, mankind depends on manmade cues, and since August 24, Gamblin has been restoring the region's visual voice, slowly curing its ubiquitous discombobulation. Her first act after Hurricane Andrew was to erect a huge red-on-white billboard on Krome Avenue reading, "Stay Strong."
"I had my little cry right after the storm, but since then we've been working day and night," says the 31-year-old New Hampshire native. "I'm as hyper as they come, so this pace suits me just fine. And I've got three great employees who are used to keeping up with me." Gamblin is looking for as many as five more employees to assist with an avalanche of orders she believes will continue into 1994. Just before Andrew struck, the company was doing a brisk, $20,000-per-month business. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, that figure rose to a stunning $4000 per day in revenues, and continues to climb.
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Four years ago Gamblin was broke and floundering. With a 1986 fine arts degree from Florida International University, she ran through several jobs and won a second-place world title in professional women's jetskiing. "I got a teaching degree and worked in the Dade school system for about three months," she recalls. "I said, `No way. This is not for me.' I hated it. One day I woke up and just decided to open my own business."
After a false start in North Dade, Gamblin moved her newfound Artistic Graphics to Homestead because the city reminded her of her hometown, Peyton Place, New Hampshire. She worked out of a 900-square-foot shopfront, slowly gathering such clients as the National Park Service, the City of Homestead, Country Walk properties, and Miami-Dade Community College. Her projects ranged from posters for the Dade County Farm Bureau's annual barbecue to Everglades National Park placards embedded in gigantic coral-rock boulders.
In June Gamblin became one of the few women business owners in South Dade to qualify under Florida's Minority Business Enterprise program. The new status gives her a competitive advantage on state bids. Also in June, two months before the hurricane, Gamblin bought and renovated a 2200-square-foot building. Intuition told her to move her burgeoning business in quickly.
Her old shop was destroyed by the hurricane. So was her local competition, Eagle Signs. Her new work space, originally built in the 1920s, emerged unscathed.