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Date of Issue: October 15, 2008

Businesses find winter friends returning

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A check of the parking lot at Manatee Public Beach last week found a number of out-of-state vehicles parked there, an indication that winter visitors and residents are returning, albeit slowly. The vehicle tag shown above from Pennsylvania was among other cars that day with plates from, Virginia, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

A number of Anna Maria Island business owners are relaxing now that winter friends are beginning to trickle back for the winter season.

Also, the closure of the Anna Maria Island Bridge — at least to this two-week point in the 45-day rehab plan — has not impacted that return to any significant degree.

 While it might be expected that Bradenton Beach businesses would benefit from the detour that puts all traffic to and from the Island and mainland onto the Cortez Bridge during the closure, businesses located in the middle and on the north end of the Island seem to be holding up well, at least through the first two weeks of the closure.

“We’ve been pleasantly surprised,” said Roxanne Reid of Sterling Anvil jewelers, which has been in business in Holmes Beach since 1971.

“It’s going very well for us, especially since we moved to a new location. We’re seeing some of our regular clients returning to visit us, in addition to some new ones,” Reid said.

“I think people are discovering that it’s not so hard to get out here on the Cortez Bridge,” she added.

Reid and business partner Mary Norman had been concerned some regulars might not be able to find the store after they moved over the summer to 5508 Marina Drive.

“Some of the people are starting to return, and they’ve found us at our new location, so we’re very pleased so far,” she said.

At Beach Bums-Island Attitudes on Pine Avenue in Anna Maria, manager Lauren Sato said the sales figures for the first week of October are already ahead of last year’s.

“We’re real excited about October, especially with Bayfest coming up. We’ve got some new bicycles and we’re co-sponsoring a kayak festival on Oct. 25. We’ve had some decent traffic for this early in the season,” she said.

Sato noted that the entire Island community seems to be “pulling together” during the closure period.

“It’s great to see how everyone is pulling together to get through this. I think October is going to be a great month for everyone,” she said.

Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce executive director Mary Ann Brockman was also pleased at how winter visitors are returning, and the ability of the Florida Department of Transportation and local law enforcement to keep traffic moving on and off the Cortez Bridge.

“It’s all good,” she said. “I haven’t had any members complaining, traffic is moving well, and we have started to see the winter visitors show up at the chamber offices asking for information about the Island. That’s a great sign.”

Brockman said members are reporting a lot of visitors from Europe, who are taking advantage of low October and November accommodation prices on the Island.

And, with a concerted effort by Islanders to support Island businesses, Brockman said she expects Bayfest to be “unbelievable” this year.

“All in all, we seem to be handling the closure quite well, and the winter visitors are now returning,” she said.

At the Holmes Beach Barber Shop in the Island Shopping Center, Holmes Beach, owners Don and Patsy Madden said they are starting to see a few of their regular winter visitors.

“About four or five every week,” said Don Madden.

“I don’t think the bridge has hurt us, but our people are locals and winter residents, not visitors.”

But it’s only two weeks into the beginning of the season, and some small businesses have yet to see any spark from returning winter visitors.

Chef Aldo Cipriano at Jolly Roger-Ooh La La! Bistro in the Island Shopping Center said business the weekend of Oct. 3-5 was marginal compared with last year. The restaurant is offering a two-for-one coupon to diners, along with special pricing on its children’s menu.

Aldo also has a deal on his all-you-can-eat spaghetti entree, in addition to numerous nightly specials, including spaghetti carbonara and risotto calamari.

At Mister Roberts Resort Wear in the S&S Plaza in Holmes Beach, co-owner Signa Bouziane said winter visitors are “few and far between.”

In fact, business has been slower this October than last year at this time, she said, and she thinks it’s because the bridge is closed.

“But it’s still early. Normally, we don’t expect to see our visitors until the middle of October. With an election this year, they might wait until after that’s over,” Bouziane said.

If that’s going to be the case, Bouziane and her sister co-owner will be particularly happy if the bridge opens as planned — on time.

 

Bridge repairs on schedule

The $10.2 million rehabilitation project of the Anna Maria Island Bridge is on schedule and no delays have been reported, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

Through the first few days of the bridge closure, the contractor replaced a number of the 42 concrete approach spans as part of the project, the DOT said in a news release.

Quinn Construction Co. and its sub-contractors are working vigorously to complete the project by Nov. 13, the date the bridge is slated to reopen to regular traffic, according to a spokesperson.

In the event of an emergency, the contractor has portable hydraulic equipment on the bridge that can lower the draw (bascule) to allow fire engines and ambulances to cross.

Quinn stands to gain up to $650,000 in bonus money from the DOT if it completes the project ahead of schedule.

For the latest news on the rehabilitation project, go on the Web to www.islander.org and click on “Island links.” People without Internet access can call 941-792-0369.

 

Detour to Paradise

During the closure period, Islanders are being urged by Island businesses, the Islander newspaper and the local chambers of commerce to stay on the Island and “shop local.”

The Islander newspaper is listing a number of activities for Islanders under its “Detour to Paradise” program.

A large number of activities are planned by businesses and organizations across the Island during the closure period.