Owner Rob Riley stands outdoors at Groom’s Motors and Automotive, 5608 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, where he said more business translates to better services and equipment.
Diners enjoy lunch outdoors Jan. 23 at the Feast restaurant in the Island Shopping Center, 5406 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, where co-owner Joey Dale says business has been up since the start of the new year. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Allen
People may have caroused Anna Maria Island in parkas lately, but a few days of chill did not put the brakes on an active January for most local businesses.
“Up” was the word business owners and managers repeated to The Islander when asked about January sales as the “season” shifted into full swing.
From cupcakes to car repair this month’s sales were eclipsing last January’s and business owners were subtly smiling.
Rob Riley bought Groom’s Motors and Automotive, 5608 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, six years ago. The company does major repairs in addition to maintenance work such as oil changes and tire rotations.
“Every year, we have had more and more traffic at Grooms,” Riley told The Islander. “We always get an influx of customers in January, when the snowbirds come back.” He said they need to get their Florida cars serviced after sitting for months.
“This year, we have had even more — a lot of repeat customers, but also a lot of new customers it seems. As sad as it is, I’m afraid a lot of the year-round folks are moving off the island to the mainland. But they are telling more people about us and they come over,” Riley said.
He said customers are booking service two weeks in advance. Increased business has meant Riley can buy more diagnostic equipment, which, in turn, leads to better service. He sees it as a win-win.
Nearby, the Feast restaurant, 5406 Marina Drive in the Island Shopping Center, Holmes Beach, also enjoyed a boom in January business.
Like several other business owners, Joey Dale said early December was a bit slow, but late December and January proved the slowdown an outlier.
“As long as you are up, you are up,” Dale told The Islander.
The Feast is featuring all-you-can-eat meals to lure locals in along with seasonal visitors. The Dale brothers recently bought a new computer system to track sales, headcounts, ticket averages and other information needed to bring even more customers to the eatery.
“It’s so far so good with us for this season,” Dale said. “We’ve really kicked in.”
At the Midtown Shopping Plaza on East Bay Drive in Holmes Beach, Judy Owens of Cupcake Delights is busy baking.
“We have seen a 15%-20% increase in sales over last January,” Owens said Jan. 23. “We are going into our third full year and we have a lot of visitors from last year coming back in now.”
Owens said for the first time ever, she chose to keep the shop open for the new year’s stretch.
“It was awesome,” Owens said. “I was in here baking at midnight just to keep up.”
The push continued into January with seasonal cupcake lovers, tourists and regulars driving sales numbers up.
And what about those seasonal rentals?
All the visitors who drive the season on the island need somewhere to stay.
Barbara Baker, general manager of Anna Maria Island Resorts — Tradewinds and Tortuga Inn resorts in Bradenton Beach — said bookings were good, if unpredictable. “What I found this January was we had sporadic busy weeks in with a quiet one here and there,” Baker said.
“Overall, the season this year looks good for us. A lot of our customers are returning in February and March with stays of two weeks or a month. We are looking forward to 2020 being a really good year for us.”
Larry Chatt owns and operates one of the island’s busiest real estate sales organizations, Island Real Estate, 6101 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.
In January 2018, he sold his large portfolio of rentals to Vacasa, a worldwide vacation rental service.
But with IRE’s two-year non-compete agreement expired, he is head-on into the process of re-establishing his rental division.
Two weeks into the process, he said re-establishing a rental department came as the result of urging from past customers.
Chatt said he has a good read on the island rental market, but said the true measure of the season is three-six months from now, when the stats are known.
Real estate sales have definitely shifted from years past, he said.
“Most buyers and renters want new. Brand new. No remodels, no modifications that need to be made. That’s why we are seeing so many knock-downs, I think. But we are selling homes,” he said.
And that’s good news for Chatt’s associates.
On the water
Mike Bazzy of the Bradenton Beach Marina said this January topped the marina numbers from 2019.
Bazzy rents boats, offers tours and operates large group cruises on an authentic paddlewheel boat.
“We are seeing stronger than normal boat rentals, and numbers of people on the Anna Maria Explorer taking dolphin and sunset trips,” Bazzy said. “And we are way above last year’s guest count on the Anna Maria Island Princess comedy and music cruises.”
Meanwhile, business continues to heat up on Anna Maria Island. And business owners are basking in the news.