The Anna Maria City Pier has been closed for almost four months. Meanwhile, short-term and season visitors arrive to the island.
For many retail businesses in Anna Maria, the pier’s closure is a point of concern.
Residents, officials and shop owners throughout Anna Maria agree the pier’s closure is likely to negatively impact businesses until it reopens.
When Hurricane Irma passed through Sept. 10-11, many surmised the island had been spared. However, an evaluation of the city pier determined the structure, built in 1911, was significantly damaged and would remain closed.
The commission approved a plan to rebuild the pier but it may take up to 82 weeks, according to the contract.
The wait for a new pier has many concerned that visitors will be dissuaded from visiting Anna Maria.
Commissioner Brian Seymour, who owns the Anna Maria General Store on Pine Avenue, said the pier’s closure already has impacted his business.
Seymour said his store at 503 Pine Ave. has seen a decrease in nighttime traffic of 15-20 percent and an estimated decrease in overall sales of 5-8 percent.
“It’s definitely impacting my evening business,” he said. He said breakfast and lunch shoppers appeared consistent compared to previous years.
Seymour said customers used to visit his shop for supplies and snacks before fishing on the pier in the evenings and now that the pier’s closed, fewer people are dropping by in the evening hours.
Lauren Collins, owner of Island Charms, said her business opened in 2017 so she does not have a year of data to decide whether the pier’s closure is having an impact. However, she said it is a concern. “I do notice that end of the street, from here on, being a little quieter,” Collins said.
The pier “was definitely a draw. The sooner the better,” she said about reopening the pier to fishing and the restaurant.
Cindy Tutterow, owner of Hometown Desserts on Pine Avenue, said the holiday season is always a busy time for the store, but she also shares the concern of other business owners who fear the decrease in foot traffic will lower their seasonal income.
“People will still come … but I am sure it will affect us somewhat,” she said.
Numbers for November and December are not yet available, but the October lodging occupancy statistics from Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau report show a 4.7 percent decline in occupancy compared to October 2016.
The figures show a decrease from a 65.5 percent occupancy rate in October 2016 in Anna Maria to a 62.4 percent Anna Maria occupancy in October 2017.
In September, the island saw the overall occupancy rate fall to 47.9 percent, a drop attributed to Hurricane Irma.
Sue Carlson, broker/owner of Coastal Cottages AMI in Anna Maria, said she noticed interest in vacation rentals this past fall appeared to be particularly slow.
“Some of my staff have said it’s the quietest fall they can remember,” she said.
Foot traffic appeared to pick up around the week between Christmas and New Year’s, Carlson said, “so perhaps our concerns will be proven wrong.”
However, she also voiced her concern that the pier rebuild “is going to be very drawn out without any decisions being made.”
Bill Arthur, owner of Anna Maria Rocks, has been selling fossils and jewelry on the city pier since 1995. Since the pier’s closure, his business has been limited to a brick-and-mortar shop at 9908 Gulf Drive.
Arthur said he thinks the pier closure affects all Anna Maria businesses.
“Thousands of people used to walk down the pier every day,” he said. “Every day that trolley came by three times an hour and dropped 20 or so people off down there.”
Arthur rented a storefront in 2015, when commissioners first began discussing rebuilding the pier after a survey found the pier was badly in need of repair.
That early decision worked out for him when Irma unexpectedly closed the pier, he said. For now, his location in the old post office plaza on Gulf Drive has worked out. He said being on “the other end” of Pine Avenue, the foot traffic doesn’t affect him as much.
“I’d like to see more urgency” in repairing and reopening the pier nevertheless, Arthur said. “I’d like to see them rebuild it with wood.”
Mayor Dan Murphy said he has plans to arrange a meeting early this year to discuss ideas to help bolster foot traffic in the city.
“I’m putting together a list of ideas of what we could do to alleviate what’s going on,” Murphy said. “Our businesses are suffering.”
Murphy said a proposal for a regular farmers market at City Pier Park at the corner of Pine Avenue and North Bay Boulevard appeals to him. He said it would differ from what merchants in Anna Maria offer.
Other proposals focus on bringing people to City Pier Park, Murphy said.
In a city commission meeting Dec. 28, Commission Chair Doug Copeland said many business representatives have told him they will suffer as a result of the pier’s closure.
Copeland said business people asked about the commission softening its stance on A-frame signs, which are banned in Anna Maria. “Anything that we can do that doesn’t harm the city to benefit those businesses during this time, we should consider,” Copeland said.
Seymour said he supports the use of signs with careful enforcement, reiterating at the meeting that he’s seen a decrease in evening foot traffic for his business.
Commissioner Dale Woodland said he didn’t see a downside to the proposal, since “we can change this anytime we want.”
A topic on the agenda to discuss City Pier Park events was tabled until the next commission meeting due to Murphy’s absence.