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Date of Issue: February 18, 2009

Busy season for Island retail economy

The bad news about the nationwide economy apparently hasn’t affected Anna Maria Island retail stores as a number of owners have reported brisk sales thus far for the winter season. Some are even saying their sales are up compared with last year.

 “I’m very pleased and surprised,” said Signa Bouziane of Mister Roberts Resort Wear in Holmes Beach.

 “We've been very busy the past two weeks,” said Bouziane. “A lot of new faces have come in and our regular winter visitors are also back. I hope this keeps up. I'm very satisfied with the season and we've made a lot of new friends.”

The brisk business could be attributed to an increase in winter visitors as the rental accommodation market is doing well, despite the nationwide economy.

Alan Galletto of Island Real Estate in Holmes Beach said accommodation rentals there are up 15 percent from last year at this time.

“We’re doing great. Of course, people now book closer to the time they come than they used to, but they are coming,” he added.

 Likewise for Barb Sato at Sato Real Estate in Anna Maria.

“It’s been a great start to the season, and we’re still in February,” she said.

Other real estate agents in the accommodation rental market echoed Galletto and Sato.

“We’re up 20 percent from last year,” said Mike Norman of Mike Norman Realty in Holmes Beach. “The accommodation market is doing very well.”

Increased rentals should translate into increased spending on Anna Maria Island, but not necessarily on the mainland, Norman indicated.

And winter residents and visitors to Anna Maria Island appear to be dining out in record numbers.

“January 2008 was our best January ever,” said Ed Chiles of the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria, the BeachHouse in Bradenton Beach and the Mar Vista on Longboat Key. “And this January, we beat that by a huge number. Of course, good weather helps, but the numbers are fantastic,” he said.

“In fact, everyone out here on the Island that I’ve talked to is feeling fortunate that Anna Maria Island is bucking the national trend.

“Everything I’m hearing from hoteliers and accommodation owners is that they are doing great.”

They were doing great in January, according to the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Occupancy of Island accommodation units in January 2009 hit 54.3 percent, the highest figure in the past four years.     

Dave Russell of Rotten Ralph’s restaurants in Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach also was pleased and somewhat surprised to note that business is up at both locations when compared with last year.

“It’s been good. The Anna Maria location is really doing well. I was a bit surprised to see the numbers. It does seem as though more people are here and they’re dining out,” he said.

At the Waterfront Restaurant in Anna Maria, owner Jason Suzor said business has been brisk this season.

“It's been good. A lot of new customers are coming in, and our regular winter visitors are dining with us. It helps to have good weather and we're having a steady season, so far,” Suzor said.

And it’s not just restaurants that are enjoying the winter season.

Laura Shely, who operates the Tide and Moon Jewelry boutique at Club Bamboo in Bradenton Beach, said the season is off to a good start.

“We’re doing well. A lot of walk-in traffic. I’m happy,” she said.

Likewise for Amy Welch at Acqua Aveda Salon Spa in the Shoppes at Tidemark in Holmes Beach. The season has been a refreshing surprise, she said.

“We’ve been slammed. We’ve had a lot of new faces and our regular clients, too. It’s been absolutely a floodgate for us. I couldn’t be happier,” Welch said.

“And our January numbers were up from January 2008. I’m predicting that February will also be up. It looks like a great season. People want to be happy and be on Anna Maria Island. I hope everyone has a great season,” she concluded.

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