Easter at Coquina Beach is calm but Island stores and restaurants are jammed with tourists and spring breakers.
From left to right seated: Billie Savage, Marge Schmidt,
Carol Miles, and Carol Hawkins enjoyed Easter playing dominos at a
Coquina Beach picnic table on Easter.
SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT
BRADENTON BEACH – A few traffic stops, a couple of warrant arrests and a few people who brought in beer being told to empty their bottles – it was like any other Sunday at the beach, except it was Coquina Beach on Easter Sunday.
Law enforcement was there in force with officers patrolling on foot, horses, ATVs and in cars. The road connecting all five parking areas was fenced off so that patrons would have to go back onto Gulf Drive to get to other areas. Nobody was loitering in the parking lots and the flashy vehicles belonging to gang members were somewhere else. The crowd of beach-goers was much smaller than usual, way under the 10,000 people who normally show up.
Some officers blamed publicity for the smaller crowds. On the downside, the publicity following last year’s shooting might have scared some people away, while publicity surrounding the reconfiguration of the county’s largest public parking area to reduce the possibility of cruising might have made the gang members find new turf.
"I think the way the beach was reconfigured played a big part in causing them to go elsewhere," said Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale. "The weather was nice and there were no other reasons not to come here."
More than 40 officers were on duty as part of the Multi-Area Anti-Gang Task Force that was called out. There were officers from as far away as Plant City to reinforce the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies and officers from Bradenton Beach. There was a van marked as belonging to the Office of Homeland Security at one of the entrances to the parking lot. A federal Immigration Customs Enforcement team arrested four illegal aliens who were at the beach.
All the uniforms were not unnoticed by beach-goers.
"There are a lot of cops here," said Carol Hawkes, of Palmetto, who was playing dominos at a picnic table with friends from New York and Tampa. " We were happy to see them."
Her friend, Carol Miles, of Lockport, N.Y., said it was a sign of the times.
"When I was six, we would come to the beach and see the Easter Bunny," Miles said. "Now we come and see police officers."
The women said it was reassuring to see the officers and they like the orderliness of the parking lot now.
"It was fun watching the police," said Marge Schmidt, of Palmetto. "There were two guys who tried to get smart with some of the officers, and they ended up going to jail," she said. "It was quite a show."
While the beach scene was calm Sunday, businesses on the Island were booming.
Sun Advertising Representative Chantelle Lewin reported businesses were full Monday with no sign that everyone was packing up and going home any time soon.
It was the same way on Bridge Street, according to Barbara Rodocker, owner of Bridge Walk Resort and the Sun House restaurant.
"This week is very busy and it looks like it will stay that way for two or three more weeks," she said, referring to the Bridge Walk. "We’ve had a fabulous season at the Sun House. It was full on Easter until around 2 p.m. and then it picked back up at 5 p.m."
Justin Willis, a clerk at Island Video, said business has been hot there, as well.
"It seemed slow up until this month," he said. "Things got real busy and Saturday was our busiest day of the year."
Meanwhile, the trolleys are teeming with riders. Ron Housey, a transit planner for Manatee County Area Transit, said the trolleys continue to increase in popularity.
"Ridership is between 10 and 12 percent higher than last year," he said. "Bus ridership is also up around 8 percent and we feel it’s a combination of higher gasoline prices and maybe more spring breakers this past week."
Meanwhile, Waterfront restaurant Assistant Manager A.J. Caster said business on the north end of the Island also was brisk.
"It started a couple of weeks before Valentine’s Day and it hasn’t let up," she said. "I think it will last for several weeks more."
Caster said parking is at a premium in some places, another sign that the Island is packed "I went to Publix this (Monday) morning and it took me 15 minutes to find a parking space," she said. "And that was at 10:15 in the morning."