The sun has set on Easter, the traditional end of Anna Maria Island’s heaviest tourist season, but its early April arrival and the sudden advent of spring weather are making visitors linger longer.
After an unusually long, cold winter, Easter week ushered in the first spring weather of 2010, with traffic backed up to 75th Street in Bradenton from the Manatee public beach every day from Thursday through Sunday. Regions Bank near the beach had to post workers outside to keep beachgoers from monopolizing their parking lot, and on Easter Sunday, the empty Publix parking lot was annexed by beachgoers.
The rush to the coast is good news for local business owners.
At the Sandbar in Anna Maria, Beach House in Bradenton Beach and Mar Vista in Longboat Key, people who had been shying away from outdoor dining swarmed the waterfront restaurants.
“The really weird winter we had kind of thwarted our business, but it’s kicking in now,” marketing director Karen Hodge said, adding that business is expected to stay brisk. “People aren’t leaving just yet; it’s an early Easter.”
Shelves were disheveled at Publix in Holmes Beach on Saturday as shoppers stocked up for Easter dinner. A Walgreens clerk said that customers streamed in for sunscreen and sunburn remedies, a sure sign that spring has sprung.
Business also has picked up for Capt. Kathe’s boat charters at Star Fish Co. in Cortez, where lines are up to an hour long for lunch.
“I’m booked this week,” she said, adding that bad weather forced the cancellation of several charters this winter. “People were saying it was warmer in Buffalo than it was here,” she said, adding that this week’s spring weather arrived about a month later than normal.
The newly-renovated Holiday Cove RV Resort, 11900 Cortez Road W. in Cortez, is booked solid through April, Donna Campion said, adding that the cold winter did not deter guests.
“We were booked from January on, with a waiting list,” she said, adding that the park holds about 200 people when it’s full, most of them staying and shopping for more than a month at a time.
The Anna Maria Island Art League, 5312 Holmes Blvd. in Holmes Beach saw more people enroll in its art classes and workshops than ever this season, director Joyce Karp said.
“They made decisions on how to spend their money,” she said, learning to create art rather than purchasing it. Still, sales from the gallery also were brisk, she said, adding, “I don’t think there was any casual buying. They bought only when they fell in love with something.”
The Island’s largest art fair, Springfest, sponsored by the Art League, also was well attended, she said.
That was not the case for the weekly Saturday Bridge Street Market in Bradenton Beach, where attendance fell well below last year because of the weather, organizer Nancy Ambrose said.
“Last year every Saturday was gorgeous, and we got spoiled. This year we had to cancel the market once because the weather was so bad, and we should have canceled a second one,” she said. “Most of March was really not nice, and we had not as many vendors or customers.”
But as the weather improves, she predicts better news for the market, which is on through the end of May.
Despite the long, cold winter, rentals at Wagner Realty were very strong, sales and property manager Sandy Greiner said.
“People were disappointed in our weather,” she said. Still, they are coming back.
“We’ve had a huge influx of calls for winter 2011, and this is way early,” she said, adding that those who didn’t come had even worse weather at home, and will not make the same mistake.
Tourism statistics for March – the busiest month of the year – are not yet available, but January and February tourism was not chilled by the cold, according to the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
January tourism on Anna Maria Island was up from last year at 51 percent hotel occupancy, compared to 44.2 percent in January 2009. In February, occupancy reached 74.9 percent, up from 66.6 percent in February 2009.