As the menace of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy loomed over the horizon, few here knew what to expect in early May.
Especially small business owners on Anna Maria Island gearing up for a summer tourist season.
Not Danny Canniff.
Not Eric Cairns.
Not Lauren Sato.
They weren’t about to push the panic button, but John Droukas voiced their collective fear of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“If it comes this way, it will destroy my business,” said the owner of the Havana Cabana restaurant in Holmes Beach.
It didn’t happen.
Three months later, nary a drop has touched our precious shores.
The well is expected to be shut down for good any day now.
Yet the ripple effect of the distant disaster was felt here.
“It wasn’t as bad as I anticipated, but I’m still off,” Droukas said.
Sounds like Canniff, co-owner of the Anna Maria Island Inn in Bradenton Beach.
“It’s definitely been slower, but it could be worse,” he said.
Normally, the Inn is good for 85 percent occupancy during the first two weeks of August.
It’s at 50 percent for the moment.
“Hopefully, that’ll change,” Canniff said. “We’ve hung onto the core of our bookings, but we had to do a selling job.”
That included discounting rooms and reassuring callers, answering the same question — “How’s the beach looking now?” — over and over.
Sometimes from the same people.
“They made reservations in April for the end of July and called every two weeks,” Canniff said. “People were definitely watching the news.”
If only those folks who canceled were up on their geography.
“You want to take out a map — ‘That’s Louisiana. That’s where the oil spill is. This is where we’re at. The beach here is beautiful,’ ” he said.
Apparently, enough new tourists figured out as much.
Folks who regularly visit the Panhandle came here, instead.
Ditto for Floridians from Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Pensacola and Tallahassee.
“It was a saving grace,” said Droukas at Havana Cabana.
Cairns appreciated their business, too.
He’s owned the Cedar Cove Resort & Cottages in Holmes Beach for 11 years.
“I’d ask, ‘How did you hear about us?’ They’d say, ‘Well, we had reservations in Pensacola and decided to come further south,’ ” Cairns said.
That prompted him to do something extraordinary.
When patrons said they’d canceled reservations in the Panhandle, he took a percentage of the proceeds and sent it to the Red Cross in Pensacola.
“Look at what’s going on up there, my God,” Cairns said.
Sato wasn’t comfortable benefiting from others’ misfortune, either.
She’s co-owner of Beach Bums on Pine Avenue in the city of Anna Maria. Summer is her big season because it brings families who rent bikes, kayaks and sailboats.
When Sato saw she was drawing customers who usually vacation in the Panhandle, she’d ask for the names of shops they’d patronized there.
Then she’d write a check for 20 percent of the sale and mail it along with a note to that shop.
“A little something to let them know we’re thinking about them,” Sato said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do.”
Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Please call Vin Mannix at 745-7055, write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at email@example.com. Please include a phone number for verification purposes.