‘We’re still open’

About 160 people gathered on the beach behind the Sandbar restaurant in Anna Maria to show that the Island is still open after red tide hit the area. - Tom Vaught | Sun

ANNA MARIA – The beach behind the Sandbar restaurant was busier Sunday evening than it has been since the recent outbreak of red tide, with more than 160 people turning out for a dinner on the sand, courtesy of a group of local restaurants whose message is, “We’re still open.”

The red tide has hit Anna Maria Island businesses hard, from food service to vacation rental accommodations, as vacationers and mainlanders avoided the smell and sight of dead, rotting sea life and irritation from the single-cell organism known as Kerenia brevis.

The weather cooperated Sunday as the diners moved from the reception inside the Sandbar to the tables that sat near the shore. There was a storm in the distance, but the air was fresh, the beach was clean, and the Gulf waters were clear.

At the reception, Anna Maria Oyster Bar owner John Horne praised the attendees.

“This is a great crowd, and our message to diners is, ‘We’re still here, we’re still open.’”

JoAnne Tressley, of Bradenton, wasn’t sure she could attend.

“I have asthma, but we came out early and it didn’t annoy me,” she said.

Realtor Darcie Duncan said the real estate business is really slow.

“I’m the chair of the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce, and I want to run a series of public service announcements to promote business on the Island,” she said.

Ashley Chiles, daughter of Sandbar owner Ed Chiles, praised the local businesses that helped put on the dinner.

“It’s another example of businesses coming together for the good of the community,” she said.

Proceeds from the dinner and an auction will go toward Mote Marine and Solutions to Avoid Red Tide (START).