Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
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Goebel family leaves Keys business legacy

The recent sale of Holiday RV's in Key Largo may well have marked the final page in the storied Upper Keys business history of the family that built Holiday Isle.

"After 33 years, I'm happy," said Greg Goebel, 64, who opened Holiday RV's with his father Ed in 1980 and has run it ever since. "You get tired of doing the same thing too long. I think after a while you lose your sense of humor."

The trailer and recreational vehicle sales and repair shop, located near mile marker 100, will remain open under its new owner, Jack Novoa.

For the Goebels, Ed and Greg, Holiday RV's was their longest standing Upper Keys venture, but it was far from the family's first.

During the 1950s Ed built and then sold Pines & Palms and Breezy Palms resorts on Upper Matecumbe. He also ran the old Tollgate Inn for decades, before selling it to the Boyscouts of America in the late 1970s for use as the Lower Matecumbe Seabase.

But the family's most famous enterprise surely was Windley Key's Holiday Isle, which a year ago was renamed Postcard Inn.

During its heyday in the 1990s, Holiday Isle was a South Florida icon, drawing partygoers from all over the region who were attracted to its reputation for bacchanalia.

The Goebels were long gone from the business by then, having sold it for $4.2 million in 1979, Greg said. But the Isle wouldn't have been there at all if not for the foresight of Ed, who in 1952 purchased a narrow strip of Windley Key land fronting the Overseas Highway that held an old restaurant, a small marina and three cabins. The buying price was $28,000.

"My grandparents thought it was crazy and said he should be put in an asylum for paying so much," Greg said of his father Ed, who died in 2000 at age 82.

Over the next several years, Ed transformed his property by dredging thousands of yards of gray marl from the nearby sea floor, then pumping it to shore. Ultimately, the marl hardened, creating seven acres of new land.

Then in 1960, Hurricane Donna blew through. The storm was bad news for many, but not for Ed Goebel. For one thing, the sand it dumped on his still vacant patch of dried marl filled in the many cracks that had formed over the previous few years, thereby smoothing the surface. For another, Donna brought federal aid, including low-interest loans, Greg said.

Ed Goebel bit. He borrowed $300,000 and used it to build the six-floor Holiday Isle tower that still stands today.

By 1970, Greg, then 22, had joined his father in the family business and brought wife Barbara in as well. They built the original Holiday Isle Tiki Bar in the 1970s, using driftwood, Greg said, because money was tight.

During the early years of the Tiki Bar, the Goebels served their drinks out of mini-bottles as an inventory control measure. But they would occasionally use regular bottles for big events. According to Goebel and cocktail lore, it was in an effort to get rid of extra regular bottles that, together with bartender "Tiki" John Ebert, Greg began experimenting with the idea of making a blended banana rum beverage. Eventually, they added blackberry brandy and grenadine. The now-popular Rumrunner was born.

By 1979, the hotel business had tired the Goebel's out, Greg said. So they sold Holiday Isle and bought a portion of the property that is now Holiday RV's. They thought it would be a good place to build an office complex, but their plans changed by happenstance. At Holiday Isle they kept several trailers for affordable housing. The new Holiday Isle owner, Irving Friedman, didn't want to provide such housing. So the Goebels parked the trailers on their new property. Pretty soon they were in the RV business.

Holiday RV's has expanded since then, picking up property to the south of the original site, which is now used as an outdoor showroom.

Ed worked until his passing. And by eventually developing into a full-service trailer and RV repair shop, the company was able to survive the recent recession, when, according to Greg, 38 percent of RV dealers nationwide went under.

Over the years, Greg has been highly active in the community. He has served on the Islamorada and Key Largo chambers of commerce boards. For the past nine years, he has been the state committee man for the local Republican Party.

During the early portion of a 16-year tenure on the Florida Keys Electric Cooperative board, Goebel helped establish the Operation Roundup, in which the electric bills of participating customers are rounded up to the nearest dollar and those additional proceeds are earmarked for charity.

As a member of the Upper Keys Rotary in the early 1990s, he and lawyer Nick Mulick founded the Gigantic Nautical Flea Market, an annual winter event that has become the group's largest fundraiser, bringing in more than $100,000 annually.

"He's always been someone known as a doer," said local businessman Frank Hawkins, a friend of Goebel's who served with him on the FKEC board. "Someone who was not afraid to plunge in and get things done."

With his departure from Holiday RV's set for the end of this month, Goebel recognizes that, business wise, it's probably the end of the line for his family in the Upper Keys. He and Barbara's two daughters live up-state, and while son Greg Jr. is here, firefighting is his line of work.

Greg said he'll continue to dabble in real estate investment and property management, while spending much of the year at his new home in North Carolina.

But Novoa, the new Holiday RV's owner, said he takes the Goebel family legacy seriously.

"It is very important to me to follow traditions that have been down here," he said. "They Keys aren't about change. They're about tradition."

rsilk@keysnews.com

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