Fourth of July weekend a real firecracker for Anna Maria Island merchants

Fourth of July weekend a real firecracker for Anna Maria Island merchants

rdymond@bradenton.comJuly 7, 2014 

ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- Manatee County residents who live off-Island might forget that Anna Maria is a top vacation destination for people nation and worldwide.

But when holidays descend upon the Island, the reminders are everywhere, from bumper-to-bumper traffic and tight parking to packed restaurants, beaches, retail outlets, fishing piers and even sidewalks.

That was the case Friday and Saturday as the Island experienced a large influx of Fourth of July vacationers, according to Island merchants, residents, workers and vacationers.

Sunday was steady but not as busy as many vacationers pulled out, merchants reported.

Traffic was so heavy Friday and Saturday that, at one time during the weekend, Pine Avenue was grid locked for 90 minutes, said one Island worker.

At Anna Maria General Store, 307 Pine Ave., Anna Maria, Friday and Saturday were hectic, said Brian Seymour, who has owned the store for

four years.

"We were very busy," Seymour said.

The General Store is best known for its deli sandwiches, as well as bakery goods made a few stores down at Hometown Desserts, 507 B. Pine Ave. The store also sells assorted items a vacationer might need.

"I would say business is up 20 percent from last year," Seymour said. "This is absolutely our best year."

The weekend guests were from everywhere imaginable, Seymour added.

"I can think of couples I met from England and Germany," Seymour said. "But we were also seeing more Florida residents. Fewer people could be taking 'stay-cations' this year."

Both Coquina Beach and the Manatee County Public Beach were packed for the weekend and they were both busy Sunday, many merchants said.

The holiday was good at Shiny Fish Emporium, 306 Pine Ave., where owner Rebecca Preston and her husband, Dan Novi, sell toys, gifts, clothing and lots of unique items including their trademarked Anna Maria Island T-shirt, "Sugar Yourself in Sand."

"Sales were very good over Friday and Saturday," Novi said. "We're definitely better overall than last year."

Manatee County Trolley Driver Beth Moneyheffer, who confirmed that traffic was very heavy on Pine Avenue, has been driving for nine years. She took Friday and Saturday off.

"I heard the restaurants were slammed," Moneyheffer said Sunday. "But it's quiet today."

Many people fished on the Anna Maria Island City Pier over the July 4 weekend, including Oliver Rogalski, 10, of Wilmette, Ill., who caught a pin fish and proudly took his photograph with it.

"A friend who stays at the White Sands of Longboat told us about Anna Maria Island," said Oliver's mother, Siri Rogalski.

Siri Rogalski and her husband, Bogdan Rogalski, also have a younger son, Ethan, 8, who is an avid fisherman.

Manager Dave Cochran of the Rod & Reel Pier Restaurant, 875 N. Shore Drive, Anna Maria, and Manager Brian Blaine of the City Pier Restaurant, 100 S. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, both said food sales were very brisk Friday and Saturday.

"We had a great time," Blaine said. "It was very crowded."

Said City Pier server Amanda Phillips, "It was steady. We did well."

The Rod & Reel Pier Restaurant reopened the second week of February after a fire created the need for major renovations. Their fans were back for the Fourth.

"It was insane," said host Reina Glavan, 18, speaking of the July 4 crowd.

Of the 35 employees who were out of work during the fire, 34 came back when the restaurant reopened, Cochran said.

With many of the vacationers pulling out Sunday, it was the time for Island locals to hit The Rod & Reel Restaurant.

Savoring a late afternoon fish dinner were the Pechous family.

Tom Pechous, 50, a project manager at Kearn Construction, treated his daughters, Amanda, 16 and Danielle, 19, along with Tom's girlfriend, Mia Carden, 39, and Amanda's boyfriend, Jordan Lowery, 18.

"I've never had a bad meal here," Carden said.

Dale and Lisa Vrana of Stuart, and their children, Bryn, 14, and Jack, 9, were just starting their vacation Sunday after the big crowds had pulled out.

The Vranas rented a house on Bay Boulevard for the week right after July 4, brought a kayak and plan to paddle board, fish, and go to the beach. They were hoping for a quieter vacation.

"We usually take our summer vacation in the Florida Keys," Lisa Vrana said. "But we decided to try Anna Maria for the first time."

"It's really nice here," Dale Vrana said. "Today is seems really quiet and family-friendly."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.

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