Shoppers swarmed to the open-air flea market in the field across the
street from Ginny’s and Jane E’s in Anna Maria on New Year’s Day.
SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT
Bing Crosby dreamed about a white Christmas in 1942 when he first sang the Irving Berlin song in the movie "Holiday Inn," but merchants on Anna Maria Island are singing the praises of a green Christmas this year, thanks to the weatherman.
"We had warm weather down here and people came over the holidays to get away from the cold weather up north," said Jackie Estes, owner and manager of Paradise Café in Holmes Beach. "It’s a good thing because the first two weeks of December were abysmal."
Estes said that as one of the few restaurants that serves dinner on Christmas, Paradise Café was booming.
"We had people stacked out the door," she said, "I had to bring in my sister, who just retired, and came down here to help take orders, and one of my regular customers who had been in the restaurant business, Cliff, helped out also."
Estes said it was a welcome surprise.
"I had my best Christmas week ever, and I had my best Christmas day ever in the seven years we have been serving on Christmas," she said. "There were a lot of young people here, too. I saw surfers and college kids, who came in for a bite before heading to the beach."
And they were heading for the beach in record numbers, thanks to daytime highs in the 70s and sometimes into the 80s, according to Manatee County lifeguards and EMTs in the tower at Manatee County Beach.
"The weather attracted more people this year and it could be because of the economy," said lifeguard Karl Payne. "People came to the beach because it’s free," "Christmas day was slam-packed," said lifeguard Derek Foss. "Everybody came down to visit family and decided with the warm weather to go for a tan and rub it in to the people who stayed up North."
The rush of people at Manatee County Beach was good news for Café on the Beach.
"It’s been just great," said assistant manager Darlene Weil. "The weather has been beautiful; we have a lot of people from up north. It’s been a wonderful holiday season."
When they weren’t at the beach, the visitors were in shops looking for unique holiday gifts. One of the newest is Color of Coconut in Holmes Beach.
"We did fabulous," said Sarah Gafvert, who works there. "The Island seems very busy and we’re doing great. We’ve been anxious to get into our regular season, and I think our regulars are here."
Normally, the high season doesn’t start until a few weeks into January, but the weatherman seems to have given the merchants a boost. As for the service sector, some businesses are weathering the downturn in the nation’s economy.
"We’re not decreasing the size of our business, in fact we’re about to unveil a new logo and we’re expanding into another form of business," said Trudy Moon, co-owner of Air and Energy. "We’re doing great and we’re sustaining our business."
Moon said one thing to their advantage is the fact that they concentrate on servicing air conditioning and heating systems rather than installing systems into new homes. The new home industry is in a slump due to the mortgage crisis and massive layoffs across the nation.
"We’re not trying to deal with any repercussions like that," she said. "This is an opportunity for us to get out and talk with our customers."
Moon said it is quality, not quantity when it comes to a service industry, "You have to maintain your integrity and keep the trust of the customer," she said. "We’re dealing with a different kind of economy, but I love it. It re-energizes all of us."