Fantasy Fest 2017, which came six weeks after Hurricane Irma devastated parts of the Florida Keys, didn’t bring the type of crowds and sales of festivals past, says Duval Street shop owner Samantha Steele.
“Not at all,” said Steele, who owns the jewelry stand Conch Flash in the 200 block of Duval Street, which is party central most of the year for Key West. “I didn’t do nearly as well as last year. I talked to other people who work in this area and they said the same thing: This is not your normal Fantasy Fest.”
The block of Duval, which includes Sloppy Joe’s and Rick’s bar, grew quiet by 11 p.m. Saturday, Steele said. Perhaps it was the rain that followed the costuming festival’s big parade, she noted, but she recalled last year slinging beers in the street until at least 1 a.m.
“I couldn’t believe it because that was my busiest time last year, right after the parade,” Steele said.
Fantasy Fest, which draws tens of thousands of people to the island for decadent parties, revealing costumes and goofy fun, was far from a bust, business owners reported, but sales and crowds were noticeably slimmer than the previous year.
“Business was down 15 to 20 percent,” said Mark Rossi, who owns a complex of bars and clubs fronted by Rick’s. “It was a different vibe but it was a good vibe. It was not particularly busy on Saturday because of the weather.”
Rossi said expectations should have been low this year.
“After a major storm like that it takes time to get back on our feet,” said Rossi, a former city commissioner. “It definitely was a nice shot in the arm.”
Nadene Grossman Orr, who led the team organizing Fantasy Fest this year for the first time, didn’t have a crowd estimate this week but said, “It was definitely down from last year. But I was so pleased with the crowd and the festival. The tutu party participation was up a great deal. We ended up with 57 entries in the parade and the streets were lined with enthusiastic participants.”
Not every business owner reported lower sales than 2016.
City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley, whose family runs the Fausto’s grocery stores, said his team had a good week.
“Overall, we beat last year’s numbers,” Weekley said. “After what we went through, any kind of spike is good.”
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen