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Local businesses sense early start to season

October 25, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

It's been roughly a month and a half since Hurricane Irma hit southwest Florida, but the evidence of the storm remains.

Debris piles litter driveways; the Gulf laps at the seawall beneath Pierside Grille. The water is brown and blue. Some businesses are still feeling the ripple effect of Irma's devastation, but business is getting back to normal - and some local owners are saying this October is a bit busier than usual.

Fran Myers, owner of the Red Coconut RV Park, said her staff has been working out of the park's community building up until last week.

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Times Square was filled with a steady stream of visitors Friday night.

"We were set up in the club house with one telephone and one computer," she said. "We've had a rough time."

Just a few months before, she'd had to reconfigure the fourth row of the park on the Gulf side due to the Estero Boulevard project and the county's claimed right of way; the park had already taken a hit from losing that row when the storm blew through and shut the park down for a week following the hurricane. The office was damaged.

"We've had a major hit. But we're going to try to make it look better than it did before," Myers said.

Despite the rough couple of weeks, she said business is doing well now. More people have come back sooner than she expected, Myers said, and earlier than usual. Last week, the beach side of her park was almost at capacity.

"I guess it's getting cold up north," she said.

Council Member Anita Cereceda and owner of Local Color and the Pier Peddler said the same - there are more people here than usual.

"There are a lot of people out and about, they're just not doing a lot yet," she said.

Her business is down, and having to have her shops closed for a week is having a "snowball" effect, she said.

"Those seven days aren't real, they multiply out. It turns into losing a month," she said.

Business is just starting to feel like it's back to every day operations, a month and a half later. Not only did shops lose foot-traffic business for the time Irma shut them down, they also lost any shipping out business too. Then, everyone was competing to get contractors in to fix things or even package services like UPS and FedEx. Both of her business signs blew down and sign-makers are too behind to have made Cereceda's signs yet.

"What's normally a great month for me has not been. There's just this weirdness in the air - everybody's cranky right now," Cereceda said.

Despite what she calls a "frenetic start" to an earlier-than-usual season, Cereceda said she's anticipating a healthy season for the island this year.

Because the Florida Keys and other Caribbean destinations are still in recovery, she's predicting more vacationers may re-route to Fort Myers Beach for their island time.

Last year, season was slower than normal following the freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee and the fear of toxic algae from the lake. Beverly Milligan, who co-owns Myerside Resort with Roland Weinmann, also thinks the season is off to an early and potentially healthy start, but that a good season might get killed from the ongoing water quality issues.

Myerside, located near the Fort Myers Beach Library and the Beach School, was luckily one of the first properties to get its electricity restored, Milligan said. As a result, their rentals were packed in September by contractors and utility workers, insurance adjustors and surveyors, as well as families from Bonita Springs and Naples who were fleeing the lack of power for some cold air conditioning.

"We were lucky," she said. "We were able to open up very quickly. We tried to make sure everything was working so we could say, you're here now. Enjoy some normalcy."

While the storm may have done minimal physical damage to Myerside, Milligan said she felt a huge emotional toll from the "manic emotional challenges" of preparing for, living through and rebooting business after the hurricane.

But one thing was a positive: the sense of community compassion she saw and experienced.

"Everyone helping everyone was amazing," she said.

While eating a hot meal at Beach Baptist's free meal service after the storm, they met Joe Orlandini, who helped them prop up a large tree that had fallen at their Sandy Beach property. They had been concerned they'd have to cut the tree down, but he stopped them and came over to lend a hand so they could save it, Milligan said.

Milligan's also noticed the season starting early, and said the same as Cereceda that the island might pick up the vacationers who would normally head to other islands that are still months from recovery.

"It's sort of a good news, bad news thing there," she said.

But, she remains concerned that Lake O's releases and brown water at the beach could end up destroying this season, too - and potentially more.

"It's singularly our greatest challenge," she said. "People don't want to come to a place where the water is too dirty to get in. We need a solution that's not going to wipe us out."



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