Marco’s business year in review

The 2009 ups and downs chronicled

Auto fix

Ironically, dwindling new car sales boost business for local auto repair shops early in the year.

Car owners are keeping their vehicles longer, and opting to pay repair costs — even fairly substantial ones — rather than commit themselves to the much larger expense of new cars.

That’s the word from shop owners Tim Gorman, Scott Case and Keith Pershing, three of Marco Island’s handful of similar service businesses.

“Instead of spending $800 a month on SUV payments, a couple of those payments would cover the maintenance of a vehicle for a year,” Pershing says. “It doesn’t take genius to figure that out.”

Promotional shift

In a break from traditional marketing, the Naples Marco Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau, calls for shifting $200,000 from its traditional spring-summer advertising campaign to a new seasonal, winter promotional effort.

It targets vacationers in New York and Chicago.

Usually, there’s very little promotion done in January, February or March, because they are traditionally the busiest months of the tourist season.

But because more vacationers and businesses have cut back on travel, hoteliers in turn have seen their occupancies and room rates drop.

International flavor

In February, Marco’s newest real estate firm, Engel & Völkers, has an official grand opening at its office in the Marco Walk mall.

It joins a stable of other branches in Florida and worldwide, and specializes in all types of property, particularly high-end residential.

More in store

Seemingly against the economic climate, Shell Lighting of Marco Island opens a new furniture store at its 1000 Collier Blvd. location.

For owners Bill and Bernie Greichen and their son Chris, it’s another successful rung in the ladder that has seen the store develop from humble beginnings eight years ago to a flourishing business today.

Figures can lie

Citing confusing statistics contained in a blanket report on house sale price drops in Southwest Florida over the past two years, two Marco real estate executives step forward to put the figures in perspective.

Essentially, say Marco Island Area Association of Realtors President Charlie Neal and Executive Director Shirley English, house sale prices on the island have not fallen nearly as dramatically as a recently-published Moody’s Report indicated.

The report stated that area prices had come down 58 percent over the past two years, but Neal and English say the Marco (median price) drop during that time has been only around 5 percent.

The confusion arises, English said, because the report bundled Naples and Marco Island together, whereas Marco has figures unique to the island.

Buying (local) power

Writing in her monthly newsletter to members, Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce President Joyce McFarland acknowledges the economic challenges threatening almost everyone, and exhorts people to support Marco area businesses.

First, spending locally keeps the money circulating, she explains. Dollars spent in locally-owned businesses have up to three times in impact on the community.

When local businesses thrive, they hire and employ local people, in many cases offering them higher wages and benefits, she says.

Money potential on tap

In March, semi-retired English corporate tax lawyer, Christopher Preston laments the plight of wealthy foreigners who’d like to retire on Marco, but are stymied by the fact that visas are granted only on a six-month basis.

Permanent residence (the Green Card) is available only to foreigners who start businesses and employ Americans, or to people who possess skills the government desires.

Preston’s point is that many wealthy foreigners would like to remain in the United States, thereby boosting the economy with their independent spending power.

Restroom esthetics

There appear to be no local takers for one of the year’s most unusual contests — best private portal.

Criteria for America’s Best Restroom Award, presented by Cintas Corporation, are that restrooms must be free and open to visitors, the public and employees.

In the esthetic sense, past champions have boasted breathtaking skyline views, unique décor and sparkling fixtures.

Energy boost

A local Isles of Capri man secures distributorship of the P.E.R. 2000 Home Energy Unit, said to “restore the naturally occurring energy found in the body.”

Calling himself Doctor Energizer, the distributor says the machine’s energy pulsing process replicates the body’s natural electrical signals and helps to restore vital energy and vigor.

Shores opens doors

Marriott’s Crystal Shores Vacation Club swings open its doors to guests with the completion of phase 1.

It comprises 71 two- and three-bedroom villas, and will eventually have a capacity of 219 units.

Later in the year, Marriott corporate will reflect a further sour sting to the economy by announcing the shelving of the timeshare complex’s marketing department, costing about 40 people their jobs.

Cribs connoisseur visits

In April, top international real estate executive Rick Moeser of Christie’s Great Estates drops into town as the guest of Realtors Natalie Kirstein and ML Meade.

Moeser, who is Christies’ vice president, oversees the company’s affiliate relationships for brokerage companies in the Southeast, Caribbean, and Latin America.

Overall, Kirstein says, Moeser has rave reviews for Marco Island’s beaches and condominiums.

In the pink with green

By March, only one lodge in Collier County has qualified for the Two Palms certification from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and it is the Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa.

The voluntary state initiative has three levels of participation, encouraging hotels and motels to keep moving forward in adopting cost-saving “green” practices that reduce waste and conserve natural resources.

For recognition, hotels must implement a variety of green practices in the areas of energy and water conservation, waste reduction, indoor air quality, and environmental education.

Dealing with the crunch

With innovation in mind from the outset, Island Garden Center owner Alan Brown celebrates in March celebrates three years in business.

Later in the year, however, he also feels the economic crunch and decides to ditch the retail side of his operation to concentrate on landscaping services.

Road cull

One V8 car engine, one hypodermic syringe and needle, a dead iguana and dozens of beer bottles and empty cigarette packs.

These are among the items collected by businessman Guy Clarke and a team of helpers while out on their first Adopt-a-Road clean-up mission in April between the Goodland Bridge and U.S. 41.

Clarke, a distributor of Martin’s Potato Rolls and bread, has adopted the six-mile stretch to gain the distinction of trash collecting responsibility for the longest single section of road under the county’s Adopt-a-Road initiative.

Iconic store closes

Also in April, fickle fashion is the ultimate reason behind Shelley McFarland’s decision to close the iconic McFarlands of Marco men’s clothing store after nearly 25 years in business.

“Men are just not dressing up any more. Everything’s too casual. They don’t wear coats or slacks half the time,” says a subdued McFarland.

Catering to “gentlemen with the means to buy quality clothing” was the credo of the store’s founder, the late Chuck McFarland, and daughter Shelley continued that commitment after his death in 2001.

Ripple effect

Two Marco Island hospitality industry workers from the same resort are among a dozen in the county recently recognized for their value in pampering visitors and bringing them back to the area.

They are Alma Martinez and Ajan Sathan of the Marco Beach Ocean Resort, recognized at the annual Collier County Tourism Week celebration under the auspices of the Naples, Marco Island Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Buy out

A long-serving home health care company on Marco changes hands.

SeniorBridge, a national provider of geriatric care management and home care for individuals with chronic health conditions, announces the acquisition of 1st Choice Home Health Care.

This is the latest in a series of local agency acquisitions by SeniorBridge, making the company one of the largest providers of home-based care in Southwest Florida, according to a release.

Cover kudos

In June, local interior designer Kira Krumm is featured on the cover of the upscale Florida design magazine, Grandeur.

Her “Yin Room” design is also the subject of the magazine’s main feature in the April edition.

Tax tabs

Local chamber officials keep tabs on a proposed increase in resort bed taxes.

At issue is an increase in bed tax, which pays for advertising promotions of the area (in addition to funding beach nourishment and museums).

The feeling among hoteliers is that the increase would be detrimental to business, and that promotional funding should be siphoned from other sources, such as the museums.

Cattlemen convene

As they do every year around June, the men and women of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association hold their annual convention at the Marco Island Marriott Resort.

These are the “stewards of the land,” as Emily Hobby, wife of outgoing association chairman Bo Hobby puts it.

“We’re once removed from what we like to call the Greater Society,” she says. “It’s where 2 percent of us feed the other 98 percent of the people.”

Peer recognition

Local doctors Robert and Patricia Poling are named among the area’s top doctors by Castle Connolly Medical of New York and Gulfshore Life magazine.

The husband-and-wife primary care physicians were chosen by peer ratings.

Careful screening of doctors’ educational and professional experience is conducted before the final selections are made, according to a release.

Suite deal

Marco Beach Ocean Resort decides on an internal face lift, refurbishing its 98 guest suites.

The resort is a member of Preferred Hotels and Resorts, which represents more than 700 of the world’s top independent hotels and resorts in more than 70 countries across five brands.

Foreclosure to fantastic

Leading by example, a family new to Marco in August revitalizes their neighborhood by sprucing up a near-derelict foreclosure home they bought in 2008.

And, the Martinez family — of 960 Beaver Court — hopes their efforts will spread across the length and breadth of the island.

“If the banks that own foreclosures could be pressured to do the same,” Xiomara Martinez says, “it could benefit the whole community and the real estate market on the island.”

Home again

Merchants at the Town Center on Marco Island embrace a business-boosting notion that has its origins in a simple blog.

Called the 3/50 Project, it is a call for employed citizens in communities everywhere to choose just three stores they like, and go spend 50 bucks in them

The potential, says spokeswoman Christie Marcoplos — owner of the Blue Mangrove Gallery — could be a real shot in the arm for business at the center.

The 3/50 Project estimates that 68 cents of every dollar spent at a local store stays local, as compared to as low as 43 cents of each dollar spent at a national chain store.

Effect of less affluence

An annual Marco Island Chamber of Commerce business survey reveals that 66 percent of local businesses are down in sales from the previous year.

And, 88 percent forecast business for the next 5 years to be the same or better.

“According to the survey, many believe there are more residents with families, there are fewer tourists, and both are less affluent,” Chamber President Joyce McFarland observes.

Cool winner whips competition

On the lighter (and distinctly sweeter) side, inspired by the friendly people she serves, local condo office administrator Shirley Barbour enters a national competition to win buckets of ice cream.

Barbour, who is with Riverside Club, finds favor with the judges, and an e-mail confirms winning an Edy’s Slow Churned Neighborhood Salute ice cream block party contest

Barbour immediately proceeds to throw a huge party for residents of the condo complex

Tools of the trade

Chamber President Joyce McFarland has pays tribute to local businesses and individuals for stepping up to the plate for needy local schoolchildren.

Supplies, cash and clothing has poured in after a Chamber initiative called Project Help & Hope has swung into action a couple of months before the start of school.

Aimed at helping kids from homeless families, the program yields 100 back packs full of supplies to the homeless students.

Skunk snag

On the lighter side, wildlife division: Local pool service company owner Todd Danforth has fished many strange and wonderful critters out of pools during his 32 years on Marco Island.

Baby raccoons, snakes, an armadillo, opossums, scorpions and lizards of all kinds are among his haul, but he rates finding a fairly rare spotted skunk the most unusual.

He and wife Denise pamper the tiny, bedraggled skunk with ham and eggs for a few days, and then release it back into the wild.

Quality costs

An insinuation that it is “frivolous” for companies to hold business conventions at upscale resorts, is among issues at the heart of a counter-push to attract more tourism to the Marco/Naples area.

The frivolity accusation, says Marco Island Marriott Resort GM Rick Medwedeff, stems from the federal government and also certain sections of the media targeting these destinations as boondoggles.

The opposite is true, Medwedeff contends, this area’s tourist tax is primarily driven by upscale resort properties.

Chair changes course

City Council Chair at the time, Rob Popoff, teams with Tammy Bennetts of Sabal Property Management, LLC.

Company services include implementing and maintaining budgets, ongoing communication with boards of directors and homeowners, introducing cost-saving measures, the provision of financial reports, and generating warning letters for violations of governing documents.

A man who can plan

In October, Robert Mulhere, a prolific Marco Island civic volunteer, is appointed Chairman-elect of the Economic Development Council of Collier County.

Mulhere is Senior Vice President of RWA, Inc.

The EDC officers and board of directors, comprised of local business leaders, oversees the function of the council and assists in strategically planning EDC goals and objectives.

Electrical co-op amped over kudos

Marco’s supplying electric cooperative, LCEC, receives an A rating from the Better Business Bureau

Quick reaction to customer issues is cited as one of the key reasons for the rating.

Claws for celebration

In October, stone crab season opens with a palpable air of expectation down at Capri Fisheries.

Opening haul by some seasoned Cuban crabbers who shoo away the media, is 86 pounds, described by Capri Fisheries’ GM Antonio Almazan as reasonable for the first boat back.

Dress for less

Detecting a niche opportunity amidst the still-hobbled economy, two local women open an upscale women’s clothing consignment boutique opposite the Marco Island Marriott Resort.

Cristiane Marques and Judy Barney call their store 2WICE AS NICE, and tout new or “gently used” women’s clothing, shoes and accessories at about a quarter of typical retail prices.

SEW, AND REAP

If small business is the backbone of the American economy, Martha Snyder could indeed be a poster child right on Marco.

In November, she opens a clothing alteration business in Elkcam Circle Plaza near the main Marco Post Office, and is beyond upbeat about the clientele she has begun to muster for herself.

Her trump card is to offer all kinds of alterations on all kinds of clothing, but particularly expensive and valuable clothing entrusted to her skills.

“Normally, people go to dry cleaners for their alterations, but sometimes they don’t want to do that with their fancy or expensive clothes,” Snyder says.

One of her other tactics is “house calls.”

Neal takes a bow

In his capacity as 2009 President of the Marco Island Area Association of Realtors, Charlie Neal presides over his final official event Nov. 10 at the Marco Island Yacht Club.

Neal makes special mention of the full-time MIAAOR staffers, Faith Eielson, Kandy Sweeney, Linda Johns, Patti Ziesig and CEO Shirley English.

Orion belted

Towards the end of the year regulators shut down Naples-based Orion Bank, which has a branch on Marco Island.

The Florida Office of Financial Regulation appoints the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation as receiver and the FDIC enters into an agreement with Lafayette, La.-based IberiaBank to assume all of Orion’s deposits and $2.4 billion of its assets.

Orion’s failure marks the 122nd FDIC-insured institution to close this year.

Banks have been especially hurt by failed real estate loans, according to reports.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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