It was tough to carry on a conversation with the owners of the Anna Maria Island Inn on Tuesday afternoon. The small office of one of the few hotels on the island that had already re-opened after Hurricane Irma was packed, and more people were coming in all the time. A family of four from Peru was negotiating a price for a week’s stay. They have to stay in one room for a few days, owner Louis Najmy told them, and then move to another room on the other side of Gulf Drive.
One woman repeatedly asked for a discount because the inn didn’t have television reception yet. Sorry, Najmy’s partner Court Zoller told her, but we hope the TV will be back on today or tomorrow. Another woman just needed a place to stay but wasn’t expecting the price of a resort-style lodging on the island. She just kept repeating the price in disbelief.
“It’s the beach,” Najmy told her, pleasantly. “It’s not like a place inland. People want to stay here. That family came from Peru and they want to stay here.”
The island was evacuated as Irma approached, so the Anna Maria Island Inn sent guests home and closed. So did every other hotel, motel and resort on the island.
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The owners had to leave the island too.
“We came back pleasantly surprised at the lack of damage,” Zoller said.
There was some cleaning up to do, he said, but no repairs work. Zoller and Najmy were able to open Tuesday, and they were immediately packed.
Others weren’t so lucky. A woman who works at the Driftwood Motel but didn’t want to be identified said she couldn’t open because she still didn’t have electricity. She also had a lot of cleaning up to do, but by mid-afternoon it looked as though she was almost done.
We came back pleasantly surprised at the lack of damage.
Anna Maria Island Inn co-owner Court Zoller
“My biggest problem is with the back,” she said, motioning toward the Hancock Bank across the street. “I picked up 14 bags of leaves. I don’t even have any trees.”
The Driftwood Motel actually has a lot of palm trees, but it wasn’t palm fronds that the woman was bagging up.
The Harrington House Beachfront Bed & Breakfast was open Tuesday.
“We were boarded up,” said a woman who answered the phone there. “This is the first time in 28 years that we have ever boarded up.”
The woman declined to give her name.
“You called the Harrington House,” she said. “That’s all you’re going to get.”
Phone calls to a lot of hotels and motels on the beach yielded recorded announcements. Automated answers at the Sunrise Garden said the goal was to open Friday. Palm Tree Villas were trying to open by Sept. 21. Neither had electricity as of Tuesday.
Jeffery Gerry, one of the owners of the White Sands Beach Resort, said his place suffered minimal damage and was open Tuesday.
The resort had seen worse damage from lesser storms in past years, Gerry said.
We boarded up, we stacked everything. We had no flooding, no roof damage.
White Sands Beach Resort co-owner Jeffery Gerry
Some weekly guests had cut short their stays, he said, and a few guests had rescheduled their visits, but Irma’s impact to business was minimal.
The Anna Maria Island Inn is part of a FEMA program that subsidized hotel rooms for people who can’t stay in their homes after a natural disaster, and that was one reason the place was so crowded. Owners Najmy and Zoller said they had fielded about 150 calls from people who were eligible for the program by mid-afternoon Tuesday. They already had one guest from Key West and one from Cortez whose homes had been flooded by Irma. (The FEMA program pays up to $125 a night for a hotel room for qualified people.)
“We’re one of only three hotels in the area that are part of the FEMA program,” Zoller said. “We think it’s just a good thing to do for your community.”