Stormy weather impacts Manatee businesses

Debby brings plenty of rain, wind to Manatee

jsalman@bradenton.comJune 25, 2012 

MANATEE -- Businesses across Southwest Florida have been singing the same old song since early Saturday morning.

"Rain, rain, go away."

A heavy deluge spawned from the slow-moving Tropical Storm Debby has battered area businesses with a loss of revenue as customers stayed indoors to avoid the gusting winds, high surge and torrential rain that continued for much of Monday.

But area citrus growers, who have been doing a rain dance of their own through months of drought-like conditions, welcomed the storm with open arms.

The wet weather is expected to last as late as Friday, leaving businesses on both sides of the coin now dealing with their first major storm impacts of the year.

"It definitely hits us in the shorts," said Greg Campbell, chef and owner of Pier 22, a waterfront restaurant in Bradenton. "We're trying to make the best of it to keep the restaurant moving forward."

Campbell said destination restaurants especially see patronage vanish during harsh storms because customers would rather stay home or grab something close by.

In the down time, Pier 22 is catching up on staff training, menu adjustments and other routine maintenance.

The construction industry, which employs more than 14,400 local workers, takes a similar hit during continuing storms.

Because much of the work is done outside, and heavy equipment usually is involved, homebuilders must temporarily shut down operations until the rain stops. Some interior work on homes that are nearing completion can go on, said Lisa Weintraub, vice president of marketing for Neal Communities.

"It sure does affect what we're doing," she said. "If we're trying to move dirt or do site work, it's pretty much impossible."

Tropical Storm Debby also comes at an inopportune time for tourists who booked an area vacation this week -- leaving a trip to the beach pretty much out of the question.

But David Teitelbaum, who operates four resorts on Anna Maria Island, said he had only two last-minute cancellations.

Most of his visitors are instead spending their time shopping or catching up on rest and relaxation, hoping the weather will clear up later in the week. He has had to have the resort pools drained to prevent flooding.

"Frankly, we're doing better than I thought we would," Teitelbaum said. "People have been getting in and coming out. We're basically full."

Barring a tornado, the storm has had a positive impact on area citrus growers, who have been battling through an extremely dry year.

Because most of the fruit is still small at this point of season, winds have done little damage. Those that were scarred will either heal or drop off by October's harvest.

The rain also provides a much-needed break for irrigation -- keeping operational costs in check, said Rusty Wiygul, director of the grower's division for Florida Citrus Mutual.

"We have been in a drought situation for most of summer," he said. "We have had a lot of rain all over the state, and right now we're welcoming it."

The first severe storm of the year usually will bring a crush of shoppers buying hurricane readiness supplies like storm shutters, flashlights or batteries.

So far, that hasn't happened, said Bob Dannemiller, general manager of Crowder Bros. Ace Hardware in Lakewood Ranch.

"We really haven't seen much demand for hurricane items like we usually do," he said. "I thought there would be more impact. Maybe because it's just a tropical storm, people don't think it's a big deal."

Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter@JoshSalman

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