From ‘lines out the door’ to ‘a ghost town.’ Beach businesses pray red tide subsides soon

Restaurateurs are coming together to say they are open despite red tide

Waterfront restaurants are spreading the message that there may be red tide, but they are open for business.
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Waterfront restaurants are spreading the message that there may be red tide, but they are open for business.

Persistent red tide conditions along the shores of Southwest Florida aren’t only ruining otherwise perfect beach days. They’re ruining local business, too.

Business owners and employees on Anna Maria Island said red tide’s timing has lined up with the end of high summer traffic and made an already slow season even slower. The smell is what customers complain about the most, they said.

“We’ve been very, very slow, and that has to do with snowbird season,” said Seth Stone, an employee at Poppo’s Taqueria on Pine Avenue in Anna Maria. “The smell is really affecting the number of people coming in.”

Stone said the decline in business has been dramatic and noticeable.

“Around lunchtime, we would have a line out the door but now it’s about a handful of people,” he explained.

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It was the same story at Creamery & Bakery Anna Maria Island, where profits have dropped by about 80 percent, according to Mia Ventresca, an employee at the restaurant.

“Red tide has affected a lot of our business,” she said. “During the busy season, it was fine, but now it’s a ghost town and just a few customers come in every day.”

Ventresca said the slow business has forced the business to adjust its schedules and work fewer employees per shift. So far, she said, she’s happy with what Manatee County has done with its cleanup efforts, but hopes the government can do a better job informing the public.

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“I’d like to see them spread awareness as much as possible. It’s hard to say what else they can do at this point,” Ventresca said.

Diane Havelka, co-owner of Beach Bums, said she’s doing all she can to spread proper awareness to her customers. She said she warns customers renting golf carts or bikes from her business that the outdoor conditions might not be to their liking.

“I’ve started letting folks rent for one day to see if they’re happy and then they can expand their rental if they want, but it’s hard to suggest to customers what they should do because it’s hit or miss here on the north side of the island. It’s a moving target.”

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Experts say there’s a possibility that red tide hasn’t even hit its peak yet. A “brown tide” could form if the Karenia brevis algae bloom mixes with a “brown tide” outbreak of Trichodesmium, which contains nutrients that could help red tide grow.

Sarasota businesses are hurting, too, and on Saturday afternoon, state Reps. Joe Gruters and Margaret Good met with concerned residents so that they can bring their issues to Tallahassee in the next legislative session.