Late school startup rings Island bells
About six years ago, the Grinch stole summer vacation from Anna Maria
Actually, it wasn’t summer vacation
that the Grinch stole, it was the four weeks in August when Florida families
traditionally headed to the beach - and Anna Maria Island - for a
In 2000, however, the good times for Florida
beach communities in August ended abruptly as the Florida Legislature mandated
that public schools would begin the first week of August in order to complete
the semester by the Christmas break.
This past year, however, Tallahassee lawmakers
responded to some intense lobbying by Florida’s tourism industry and pushed
the start date for school back to later in August, giving Florida families and
students two more weeks of summer vacation.
It now appears the Grinch who stole
summer vacation has given it back.
The results of those extra two weeks of
summer vacation were noticeable on Anna Maria Island
last month. Island accommodations and restaurants were jammed during
August, signifying a return of the summer vacationers who had all but
disappeared from Anna Maria Island.
been just great,” said
Susan Estler of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
occupancy figures for Island and mainland accommodations
were unavailable, Estler was confident that tourism for August 2007 was
up from the same time last year.
from so many members that their business did great all through August, and many
vacationers were families from Florida,” said Estler.
“August is a month in which, traditionally,
Florida families would head to the beach,” she continued. “When school
started the first week of August, families couldn’t make those beach vacation
plans. We hope now that the start date remains in the latter part of August.
restaurant and accommodation owners hope the same thing.
“This past August was our best August
ever,” said Ed Chiles of the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria, the BeachHouse
in Bradenton Beach and the Mar Vista on Longboat Key.
much busier than expected. I haven’t seen any slowdown in traffic.
That was a sentiment
echoed by Angela Rodocker of the BridgeWalk Resort
and Sun House Restaurant in Bradenton Beach.
was awesome. The restaurant was well above last year’s figures. It was
the best-ever August at the restaurant and the resort was up from last August.
And we saw a lot of families,” she
Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce executive
director Mary Ann Brockman said her members were just
ecstatic about August
“It was phenomenal. We had no hurricanes,
no red tide, school started later and we’ve done a lot of advertising.
Everything just came together,” Brockman observed
In addition, Brockman
said the Island Trolley - a
free service at least through 2008 - is fast becoming an attraction in
its own right.
“It takes so many cars off the roads
and people come out here just to take a ride on the trolley. They end up eating
a meal, buying gifts and spending money. It’s a great attraction.”
fact, August was such a hot month for tourism, Stanley
Riggs at Holiday RV Park in Cortez said it was the best August the park
has ever had.
“We were swamped all month with people,” he
“Our occupancy was up 40 percent from
August of last year, and I noticed a lot of visitors were families from Lakeland.
We haven’t seen those people in years.”
Riggs said he also had a lot
of European visitors who rented an RV for the entire
“We were incredibly surprised
at the increase in business. We have the only RV park with a boat ramp in the
area and a lot of people from Lakeland brought their boats with them. It was
just a great month.”
Riggs said his occupancy was nearly 85 percent
for August, not far from the 100 percent occupancy
his 112 spaces will generate from February to April.
And the August boom in tourism may be a
prelude to a fantastic winter season.
“I’m already taking reservations
for this winter,” said an enthusiastic Riggs. “It’s nice to
have some good news about the tourism industry.”
Even some in the retail
industry noticed an upswing in sales in August.
Sandy Mattick of the Pine Avenue General
Store in Anna Maria said last month was the best August
ever for the store since she and her family purchased the property in
“We were extremely busy.
It was a good month and there was a lot of walk-in traffic,” she noted.
Now, if summer
vacation could just be extended through September.