For one Palmetto business owner and mother, Irma forces a new beginning

Published on: October 12, 2017

The roof of Rosalee Helmer’s former hair salon/barber shop on 10th Avenue West was peeled back when Hurricane Irma ripped through Palmetto last month.


In comparison to other areas in Florida, the destruction Hurricane Irma left in its wake in Palmetto was not as bad as feared.

Palmetto City Clerk Jim Freeman said damage around the city primarily was associated with vegetation debris.

“The contractor estimated 50,000 to 70,000 cubic yards of waste,” Freeman said. “But we won’t know the exact amount until it is all collected and measured.”

But for many of those who did have extensive damage, it was a life-changing event.

Hair stylist and barber Rosalee Helmer was one of those whose life was turned upside down the weekend Irma plowed its way up the Florida peninsula on Sunday, Sept. 10.

When the hurricane made its way to Manatee County, Helmer and her two daughters, Yahna, 19, and Gwen, 14, were sheltering in their home, which was next door to her business, Rosalee’s Barber and Beauty, on 10th Avenue West in Palmetto, when there was this terrible sound.

“It sounded like a herd of buffalo,” Helmer said. “The roof just rolled back off the building.”

With the roof gone, the rain started to pour into the building.

“There was 3 inches of water on the floor, and the electricity was still on, so I told my girls we had to get out of the place,” Helmer recalled.

“I pulled the car up to the front door and got the girls and five dogs into my car,” she said. “We went to my ex-husband’s home in Palmetto Point.”

Hair stylist/barber Rosalee Helmer had her business in the unit on the left, and an apartment in the right on 10th Avenue West for two and one-half years before Hurricane Irma tore through Palmetto last month and ripped off the roof.

According to the National Weather Service website, wind gusts reached 70 mph and more than 5 inches of rain fell during the time Hurricane Irma spent in Manatee County.

With her family safe, Helmer began to think of what the future holds for her.

Her immediate concern was to find a new space for her business.

“I had to get back to work to take care of my girls and find a new place to live,” Helmer said.

The next day with the help of her ex-husband and his friends, Helmer went back to the building to salvage whatever was still good.

“There wasn’t much, but thankfully I had some usable things in storage,” she said.

She knew there was a storefront across the street from her old building that had a “For Lease” sign on it.

“I wanted to stay in the neighborhood to make it easy for my customers,” Helmer said.

After some phone calls, she had a new lease and was setting up shop in the new location at 433 10th Ave. W.

But this still left Helmer with another big problem to solve — a place to live.

When she moved into the building at her old location there was another unit next door that she converted into living space.

Helmer put in partitions and made it a two-bedroom apartment.

There was not much to do on the business side of the building. She patched walls, painted and decorated, and installed a shampoo sink.

Before that, Helmer was at the barbershop located in Growers Hardware store around the corner on Fifth Street West for about a year.

Helmer was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years and when she decided to go back to work about four years ago she just wanted to work for someone and not own her own shop at the time.

It just worked out that Grower’s needed a barber when she was ready to return to the trade.

But after a year there, Helmer decided she wanted to be her own boss.

That is when she found the place that Irma recently destroyed.

And for about two and one-half years at that location, business was good.

“All my customers from the hardware store shop followed me,” Helmer said.

Now that she is somewhat settled into her new location across the street, her immediate goal is to find housing for herself and her two girls.

“We’re staying with my ex-husband’s father,” Helmer said. “He’s been good to us.”

But she knows she has to find a place to live, and rental costs near her business are high, she said.

“The biggest thing that affected me with Irma is trying to find a house to rent in Palmetto that is affordable,” Helmer said, “because my business expenses have doubled since relocating.”

Helmer has been a hair stylist/barber for 35 years.

Rosalee’s Barber and Beauty is now located at 433 10th Ave. W., across the street from the old location, which Hurricane Irma destroyed when it ripped through Palmetto last month.

“You know you’re in the business a long time when you’re giving first haircuts to the grandchildren of people you have given a first haircut to,” she said.

Her whole family is in the business — her father, her mother, sisters, aunts and uncles.

“I never planned to follow them in the hair-care business,” Helmer said. “It was only something to fall back on.

“Then I started to make money and said I can handle this,” she said. “It’s been good to me and my girls”

Helmer has lived in Palmetto for 45 years, since she was 6 years old, moving here from New York with her family.

“My father was a golfer and wanted to play golf all year around,” she said.

Her father, Ed, had a barber shop on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 10th Street West where Walgreens is now located.

And her mother, Doris, was a hair stylist.

Helmer said she has great hope that everything will work out with the move across the street.

“My business has always been super busy with northerners since I opened, but slows down in the off season,” she said.

During the season more than 30 people a day go through her shop, Helmer said.

“And the addition of my daughter, Yahna, as my manicurist has me hoping I will get more local business in the doors,” she said.