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No vacation for many South Florida small business owners

The economy is slowly improving, but that doesn’t mean South Florida small businesses will be taking a vacation anytime soon.

As the summer travel season kicks off this weekend, new polls show more U.S. adults are planning on taking a vacation this year compared to recent years. Almost seven in 10 U.S. adults plan to take a vacation this summer, according to a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive. That’s up from only four in 10 U.S. adults who said they planned to take a vacation last year, according to an Adweek/Harris Poll.

Even so, some small business owners don’t feel comfortable taking time away from the business, even briefly. There may be no one else to run the business.

“I only have one employee because it’s very hard to trust people,” said Maggie Latortue, owner of BePlatinum Cosmetics in Miami. “I’m looking for help, but it has to be a man or a woman that loves what they do and who loves my business as much as I do. And that’s very hard to find.”

Although he has nine employees, Luis Buitron, who co-owns an Italian restaurant, Secreto, in Miami, also prefers to make sure he or his business partner, Dover Contreras, are always present.

“My business partner and I alternate shifts,” he said. “We never leave our business in the hands of anybody.”

A vacation can also mean a decrease in sales, making it difficult to take a vacation more than once a year.

“I would feel comfortable leaving my employees with my business,” said Diana Farrar, who owns a flower shop, Oma’s Garden, in Coral Springs. “We all need breaks, but I can tell you it gets hard when you can’t afford to leave. Every once in a while, I take a long weekend. But longer vacations are usually just once a year.”

While vacationing might not always be in the small business’ best interest, it can improve a person’s wellbeing. Nine of 10 Americans reported feeling happier after taking a vacation, according to a survey commissioned by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. And economic times don’t seem to be a factor, considering 82 percent of survey participants said vacations are equally important, if not more, during tough economic times.

Jacki Rosen, who owns Stash Boutique in Coral Springs, would agree with that. “Will the sales be as good while I’m gone? No. Do I care? No,” said Rosen, who tries to take time off once a month. “I can make it up. I could be making so much more money, but it’s not about the money. You have to have a balance. Vacation is key for me.”

Still, many small business owners aren’t willing — or able — to close up shop.

“Taking a break for us means closing the doors to our customers,” said Letty Alvarez, who co-owns a cupcake shop, LA Sweets, with her husband, Eddie Dominguez, in Brickell and Miami. “We’re the only ones who make the cupcakes because it’s a family-run business.”

The sacrifices are necessary, she said: “Quality and consistency with your product is key. In this stagnant economy, only the strong small business owners will survive.”

Chuck Black, who co-owns Signs By Tomorrow in Fort Lauderdale with his wife, Lynn Elsasser, said they haven’t taken a vacation in a couple of years, other than the occasional long weekend.

But that’s about to change. “Now we’ve got our staff back up, so we have well-qualified employees and we feel comfortable taking some time off,” said Black, who is planning a July vacation.