Lines have been long at Star Fish Co. in Cortez and many other
restaurants during this stellar spring, which seems busier than last year
to many area businesspeople.
SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE
The hard numbers aren’t in yet, but a look at any beach, store or parking lot is proof positive that Anna Maria Island is having a stellar spring. From rental agents to retailers to restaurateurs, local businesspeople agree that beautiful local weather, severe Northern weather and even emotional factors are bringing crowds to the Island. "I believe people have had to deal with fears for so long they’ve finally said, ‘Wait a minute, I want to live. I may have to have a shorter holiday or may have to give up something else, but I need a vacation,’ " said Barbara Rodocker of Bridgewalk and Silver Surf in Bradenton Beach, both at 100 percent capacity.
She predicts the trend will continue into the warmer months when Floridians replace snowbirds at the beach.
"Even through the summer, we’re going to find people saying, "It’s time to start living again,’ " she said.
Anna Maria Commissioner Chris Tollette and several friends who meet each week to paint and go out to lunch together have changed their routine due to the crowds.
"We’ve been going into town for lunch because it’s so crowded out here," she said, adding that no one is complaining. "It’s good for our economy."
Weekend nights are especially crowded, so much so that New York visitor Marilyn Woelk had to choose a restaurant for dinner based on available parking in Bradenton Beach one recent night, when her party had to circle several blocks several times before finding a car pulling out of a parking space at Oma’s.
Even on weekdays, cars overflow from the full Manatee Public Beach parking lot to the shoulder on Manatee Avenue. On the Monday after Easter, some Publix shelves were empty, as if a delivery truck had missed its schedule. A cashier said that swarms of people had cleaned off the shelves like ants at a picnic.
At Sign of the Mermaid, 9707 Gulf Drive in Anna Maria, Matt Cromer says he’s been serving dinner to 15 to 30 more people each night than last year.
Paradise Cafe and Catering, 3210 E. Bay Drive in Holmes Beach, had bigger crowds in both February and March than last year, said Jackie Estes, calling the season "awesome."
The Sand Dollar Gift Shop at 5302 Marina Drive in Holmes Beach was exceptionally busy in March, especially the past week, with families and college students on spring break, Ginny Possehl said.
It’s hard to get a picnic table at the bayfront Star Fish Co. in Cortez, where lines are 20 deep at lunch waiting for mullet, shrimp and other fresh seafood. Lines also have been spotted running out the door and down the sidewalk at Dips Ice Cream, 9801 Gulf Drive in Anna Maria.
Even businesses that aren’t attracting more people than last year have seen increased sales.
Sales are up at Jessie's Island Store, a gas station/deli at 5424 Marina Drive in Holmes Beach.
"I’m surprised because Easter was so early," said Jimmy Lachapelle, attributing some of the increase to the rising cost of gasoline.
Chris Fielder, manager of the Sun House at 111 Gulf Drive S. in Bradenton Beach, says the number of his customers hasn’t increased, but they’re spending more money, according to sales figures that exceed last year’s.
Real estate agents also are enjoying multiple benefits of the increased tourist traffic. Not only have the crowds brought visitors to rental agencies, but some are interested in buying, according to Barry Gould at Island Vacation Properties in Holmes Beach.
"There’s no question the amount of activity is higher than last year," he said. "I think the word is out that there are reasonably priced properties here. People are here looking to buy."