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Date of Issue: January 07, 2009

Island had busy holiday week

Many Island accommodation owners and managers experienced a merry week between the Christmas and New Year holidays as rooms were gobbled up faster than a holiday turkey at a Weight Watchers convention.

That same level of activity appeared to carryover to the retail sector of the Island as well.

David Teitelbaum of the Seaside, Tortuga and Tradewinds resorts in Bradenton Beach said Christmas was a sell-out.

“We only had a few rooms available at the start of the week, but they were quickly taken. I think the good weather certainly helped bring people to the Island,” he said.

At the Rod & Reel Motel in Anna Maria, manager Janet Hoffman said there were a few vacancies at the start of the week, but “they filled up real fast.”

Hoffman said it’s normal at the Rod & Reel to have walk-in traffic during the Christmas season, although many people still make advance reservations.

Likewise for the Club Bamboo Resort in Bradenton Beach, where new manager Brenda Tipton said she had a few rooms available at the start of the week, but walk-ins soon took care of those vacancies.

“It was a very good week for us. There was a lot of traffic,” she said.

For Jeff and Ken Gerry at the family-owned White Sands Resort in Holmes Beach, Christmas was “a very good week,” said Ken.

“We had our regular visitors plus a lot of new faces. It was a good end to the year,” he added.

Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman said the positive publicity in USA Today earlier in December combined with good weather was a plus for the Island.

“The weather has cooperated down here, while it was really cold up north. I haven’t heard any complaints about Christmas,” she said.

That’s a good thing because the Christmas-New Year weeks are traditionally a sellout for accommodations. If it were not, then there would be something wrong with the economy, she indicated.

For retail owners, the Christmas rush of visitors to the Island transformed into a flood of business activity.

“We had our best Christmas ever at the Sandbar,” said Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria, BeachHouse in Bradenton Beach and Mar Vista on Longboat Key.

“The weather has just been fantastic. That’s what drives everybody to the Island to go out and eat. We’ve been really busy and I hope this continues through the tourist season,” he said.

At Mister Roberts Resortwear in the S&S Shopping Plaza, co-owner Signa Bouziane was ecstatic about the store’s holiday week.

“It was great to see everybody back, plus the new people who came in. It’s been a great Christmas present,” she said.

Bouziane said that the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas can get a little slow for retail shops.

“This week has made up for that,” she said. “It’s a great Christmas present.”

But Christmas is over. Retailers will now have that traditional lull following the holidays until the winter tourist season starts in a few weeks.

Bouziane said that years ago visitors used to return to the Island around mid-January, but not the past few years.

“Now, they start coming back at the end of January. We can only hope that with this economy, we’ll have the same activity as Christmas. We’ll cross our fingers. People seem to love this Island,” she said.

Jessica Grace of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau said that, while other Florida destinations such as Orlando and Miami are experiencing a decline in tourism, Anna Maria Island appears to be holding up well, despite the current economic downturn nationwide.

“People realize this Island is value and a great place to visit. We’re still offering that old Florida look and charm that is becoming increasingly difficult to find these days,” Grace said.

“I would say I’m encouraged by the start of the season,” she concluded.