MARCO ISLAND — Marco Island looks and acts a little differently once Easter Sunday has come and gone. You can get to the counter at the post office without waiting in a long line. A parking space outside CVS can be had without circling the lot three times. And, it’s easier to grab a bar stool at your favorite watering hole on a Friday night. In other words, the snowbirds have flown the coop.
While some of the locals are muttering “good riddance,” business owners on the Island are bemoaning the drop in business. As Stuart Unsworth, owner of Sunshine Booksellers on Collier Boulevard, puts it, “It’s feast or famine, that’s what Marco is, and you have to make hay when the sun shines.”
And make hay they did.
Business owners and industry representatives in the primary sectors driving the Marco Island economy report that, with few exceptions, the 2012 season saw sales increases of 10 to 20 percent over 2011.
Jonathan Andrews, store manager of West Marine on Collier says sales are up 18 percent, about $70,000 from last season, reflecting purchases including mid to high end electronics sparked by new boat sales.
“The sentiment I got and I spoke with lots of people, they were tired. They had three seasons of not spending money and not doing what they were used to normally doing.”
For Jacquie Koon, who along with husband Curt, own CJ’s on the Bay at the Esplanade, the great weather was a big factor in the more than 10 percent spike in business this winter. “We saw an up-tick in business really since the first of the year. January and February were higher than normal and March has been nicer than normal as well. Koon anticipates a slowdown in mid-April but even so, proclaims the 2012 season “very positive.”
Real Estate is one of the most significant cornerstones of the Marco economy with revenue from property taxes representing the city’s primary source of income. While other Marco businesses see a slow down after Easter, that’s not necessarily the case for the Island’s real estate agents.
“You almost see an increase in sales from Easter to June. A lot of renters try the Island out (in season) and then they start to buy the property,” said Gerry Rosenblum, president of the Marco Island Area Association of Realtors. Real estate sales are up 19.5 percent on Marco, prices appear to have bottomed out and inventory of properties for sale has declined from 1,701 a year ago to 1,365 today, Rosenblum added. He expects when end of quarter sales figures are tallied to include a recent $5 million sale, the average price for a home on the Island, which is now at $490,000, will increase. “If I were wanting to buy on Marco Island, I wouldn’t wait much longer.”
Real Estate aside, many Marco businesses look to local hotels for help in drawing summer vacationers. Business has been up this season nearly 14 percent at the Marco Island Marriott “That comes primarily from group business we were securing in January,” said Robert Pfeffer, director of sales and marketing. Pfeffer says it’s that group business which will make the biggest impact on the local economy and that the Marco Marriott is very optimistic about the summer booking season.
The Marco Beach Ocean Resort saw an eight percent hike in occupancy this season. Hospitality Director Ron Albeit says weddings and small group business prevail during the summer.
The owner of Hoots café on East Elkham Circle, Bruce Hayne, says he sees the vacationers from the Miami area when the local hotels offer good deals. “We get people particularly the holiday weeks, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day.” For Hayne, business too was up this season, more than 10 percent.
The Marco Island Chamber of Commerce is working with the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau in an effort to attract summer visitors and brand Marco Island as an attractive, year round destination. A new ad campaign featuring TV spots, online ads and e-marketing, begins April 16th. The ads will drive vacationers to www.paradisecoast.com where Marco Island businesses can feature special coupons, deals and packages.
Year round residents, enjoy the quiet while you can. Marco Island businesses are hoping it’s only a matter of time before the summers in the slow lane are a thing of the past.