North Padre Island Moon
June 12, 2009
How Did You End Up Here? Jito’s Founder Jim Sambol by Mary Craft
My favorite question to ask someone I meet is “How did you end up here?” Last week I ran into Jim Sambol on his daily seawall walk and posed the question. Just as he was about to answer school teacher JoLetta stopped while skateboarding by. She listened to his story and then said “I have a really interesting story” and started telling her tale. She then suggested I should write these interviews in the Moon. I loved the idea and this is the first in a new series of stories. In 1968 Jim Sambol was involved with the football recruiting program at Kansas State University. The father of one of his recruits was a realtor and Jim told him he was looking for some commercial property to buy. He had expected him to call back with property in Kansas but instead he told him about Padre Island which Jim had not heard of.
Jim and a buddy flew their Beechcraft Bonanza plane along with the realtor on the four hour trip to Corpus Christi airport. Interestingly, this plane was introduced in Wichita in 1947 and is currently the longest running production plane in history. Upon arrival they rented a car and drove down the highway with its 26 stop lights to the Million Dollar Inn on the Island beach between the present Holiday Inn and Island House Condominiums. That weekend he was wined and dined at the hotel with live music in the lounge and a great restaurant and pool area on the beach. The third floor of the hotel housed the Padre Isles Investment Corporation sales office. He was taken there and shown a 4’x12’ scale model of what the Island would look like once the canals were dredged and homes and marinas built. There was a map displayed with numbered lots of future land to be
In the late 60s the Padre Isles Investment Corporation sold many lots on the Island before there were any canals dredged or structures built. They used this scale model in their sales office to show what they were planning to develop on the Island.
developed. Although the salesmen who were called “closers” were convincing it took Jim a few months to purchase lots. On one of the lots he built Jito’s with his high school buddy Tom Spiewak hence the name Jim Tom = Jito. It is the building where the Country Store was located between Whitecap and Sea Pines. At the time Bob Hall Pier was THE place to go so the store was perfectly positioned to accommodate every beach goers needs. The beach from the pier to Million Dollar Inn had a constant stream of cars, music and guys gawking at girls. There were no other retail businesses on the Island except bait stands that did a steady business but could not keep up with
A13 the demand for beer and ice because of their limited size. HEB at the time did not sell beer because the Butt family did not want to sell alcohol in their stores. Jito’s was the first gas station on the Island and one of the first self serve in South Texas. Jito’s had a surf shop with the popular clothing brands, a liquor store, a hamburger stand, tackle shop and convenience store all inside the same building. The store did a bang up business until the county decided to build a young adult recreational area near the present south jetty called J.P. Luby Park in 1983. It is said that it was done to keep the surfers from interfering with the fishermen on the pier. At the park surfer jetties were put in place, a pavilion and restrooms. The beach parties, concerts and volleyball tournaments moved there. Seven Elevens opened on the Island and the steady traffic past Jito’s was gone and it closed its doors that year. Jim started Cup’s Graphics and Screen Printing Company on Ayers in town in 1985 and it continues to flourish today.