I spent a couple of hours on Thanksgiving morning at Bayfront Park in Anna Maria with the former employees of the City Pier Restaurant and bait shop. The time provided me with a deeper understanding of the impact the pier closing is having on those who worked and played there.
Much of my reporting has centered around the efforts to replace the pier, what materials to use, how to pay for it and what to do with those engraved planks – all frequent topics of discussion at City Hall. Spending time with the former employees taught me that the pier is much more than a bunch of pilings and planks with a spectacular view.
Anyone who’s worked in the restaurant/bar industry knows there are many places where you can make enough money, or almost enough money, to pay the bills and make a few friends along the way. But then there are those rare places like the City Pier Restaurant, bait shop and bar. To folks like Brian Blaine, David Sork, Cindy Graeff, Traci Kearton, Andre Bazile and many more, those leased spaces at the end of the pier were a second home that held a second family; and the pier regulars were also part of the extended family Blaine referred to as “misfit toys on the Island of Misfit Toys.”
That camaraderie and shared sense of purpose is hard to find in any profession and those who find it should consider themselves lucky. The pier people found it, lost it and now they miss it like hell, having been scattered about like loose shingles in a hurricane.
Those who found new jobs already know they may never find another workplace with the magic they felt on their pier. Some still cling to the hope that they can return someday and recapture some of that century-old spark, even if the pier itself is shiny and new. Others sense those days are gone for good and the best they can hope for is a workplace that comes close to what they once had and loved.
I left Bayfront Park that morning feeling grateful for the chance to meet these folks and hear their stories; and grateful that my job at The Sun exposes me to experiences like that.
If you’d like to assist the displaced pier employees, check out their new Go Fund Me page.