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Spring Break results are mixed for businesses

What is for sure is that the weather was great

April 23, 2016
By John Morton ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

In this time of business uncertainty, what with road construction and polluted water part of life here, who knows what it takes to catch a break.

For one Fort Myers Beach bar owner, it came in the form of a successful basketball team.

"It was phenomenal for us, thanks to IU (Indiana University) making a run during March Madness," said Mark Travis, owner of Hoosiers in Paradise. The team played in three games during the heart of Spring Break, and the games occurred while IU students were on break.

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Beachfront establishments enjoyed steady crowds during this year's Spring Break season — a season that featured great weather.

"We couldn't even get everyone in the door - we only seat 25 inside and 25 outside," Travis said. "We had $5,000 in sales on game days. Without it, this year would have been bad due to all the construction. We've been right in the middle of it."

His business may be the exception, however. After a rough winter that saw a rainy January and the massive Lake Okeechobee discharges in February, local entrepreneurs were hoping for a Spring Break rebound.

"I didn't get it," said Wanda Linatsas, owner of the Royal Scoop ice cream parlor. "As soon as Spring Break started, the construction machines blocked off my walkway. And I depend on walk-up traffic. Then, they even blocked off my roadway that leads into my business. I'm down about a third compared to the same time last year."

With an early Easter falling on March 27, the Spring Break season was shortened for many of the out-of-state visitors. But did the local students, whose Spring Break ran through April 4, make up the difference?

"No, not at all," said Mike Lehnberg, owner of Lehne Burger, who in February reported his business was down more than 50 percent.

His restaurant stands across from the Lani Kai, considered the island's Spring Break hub.

"We take care of the tourists, because they're here and they're not going anywhere, but we miss the locals - people from Fort Myers or Cape Coral." Lehnberg said. "I haven't seen them in more than a year, or longer. I used to get the same folks who would make the trip onto the island for a burger four or five times a month. Not anymore."

He said he's down 25 to 30 percent when compared to last year's Spring Break numbers.

"The only reason I survive is because I am getting good reviews on Trip Advisor," Lehnberg said. "It's all about the tourists for me these days, and that's not enough."

One bright spot this year was the weather, as March saw 22 days with highs exceeding 80 degrees and only one day failing to reach 70 (67 on March 21). In April, only one day thus far has failed to reach 80. It mostly benefited beachfront locales, but not as much as expected said Tina Tomasino, owner of Hurricane Tina's.

"It wasn't the same as last year, that's for sure," she said. "I think it's the result of the negative news articles and stories about the dirty water."

At the Lani Kai, the good weather packed a punch.

"That made things great," said Mike Ensor, spokesman for the resort. "The Cincinnati Firefighters had their all-time highest fundraiser total this year. We also had one of our best days ever during our beach concert with A200 (on March 12). And we had no complaints about the water, regarding Okeechobee."

The annual Shrimp Festival held March 12 and 13 also brought big numbers, allowing the host Lions Club to exceed its goal of $50,000 in revenue.

Either way, Spring Break helped when you consider what was a January so bleak it prompted Bud Nocera, president of the Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, to call an emergency meeting of business owners in early February.

He said subsequent Spring Break reports were good, all things considered.

"Overall, I have heard from local business owners that February and March were good," Nocera said. "The Spring Break business provided a welcome boost in a season shortened due to an early Easter."



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