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The end of August’s slow season on Sanibel?

By Staff | Aug 28, 2013

In August, most island businesses get some breathing room from the influx of tourists and locals during season, but this year they’re reporting higher than normal traffic.

A sampling of local businesses by Hillgate Communications, a global firm on Sanibel Island, indicated that more people were using goods and services than in past years.

Billy’s Bikes and Rentals, an island business owned by Billy and Salli Kirkland, tracked a 12 percent increase in rentals so far this summer. Sales and repairs also increased by 8 percent.

“It’s been our busiest summer we’ve ever had and that’s going back to 1999,” said Billy Kirkland. “There have been more people on the island. This has been a very busy summer.”

Since Kirkland bought the business in 1999, it celebrates its 14th anniversary this month, there have been a number of events and natural disasters that had negatively effected business on the island. The tragedy of September 11 kept tourists at home, he said, and Hurricane Charley and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill subsequently kept people from visiting Southwest Florida.

Even though the oil spill never touched this region, Kirkland said the perception was that all of Florida’s west coast beaches were covered, and it kept tourists away.

Today, local businesses may have to contend with negative regional perceptions about water quality due to the Lake Okeechobee releases.

“Fortunately for us, this summer has been very good. Now we have to wait and see what the water coming down the river has to do for us,” said Kirkland.

George Schnapp, owner of George and Wendy’s Seafood Grille, said business is up by more than 25 percent from last year. Schnapp and his wife Wendy opened the restaurant three years ago.

“This is just our third summer, but based on since we’ve opened, we’re having a much better summer,” said Schnapp. “Overall, the whole year has been great, it kept rolling into the summer.”

The restaurant gets a significant amount of local traffic due to the bar crowd, televised football games, and music nights, he said, but they are also seeing a lot of European tourists.

Blanaid Colley, owner of the Coffee Bar @ Bailey’s, said more people have bought coffee, tea, and smoothies over the summer, 25 percent more, showing the increased island traffic in August.

Locals contributed to increased sales at the Coffee Bar, said Colley, but she has also seen more Europeans than in previous years.

“I think if this trend continues we will have an alternative season. There are more people on the beach, in the month of July, than there are in season. There are families with kids and they’re going to the beach,” said Colley.

Hotel reservations on the island have also increased, according to the Island Inn’s General Manager Chris Davison and the Holiday Inn’s Marketing Director Danny Adams.

Davison said that occupancy was at 98 percent in July and mid-August, and that was higher than last year. This year’s guests varied in age and point-of-origin, he said. More visitors came from Europe, Latin America and domestic travelers from the western United States.

The Holiday Inn also experienced a busier summer, a majority of the increased numbers from international visitors. Adams attributed this summer’s increase to the hotel’s online presence.

Construction on the island is on the rise as well. Dan Budd of Wildseed Construction, a residential and commercial construction company working on Sanibel and Captiva for the last 12 years, said he has been swamped with orders.

Some general contractors are having to turn away work because there is a lack of available labor, he said.

“I have more work now than post Hurricane Charley,” said Budd.