BRADENTON BEACH — It was a typical day on lazy, sun-washed, oil-free Coquina Beach, home of picnics, beach life and touristy shopping on the southern tip of Anna Maria Island near the Longboat Key bridge.
Sandy Howes, a clerk in One Stop Shell Shop, just a few steps from Coquina on Gulf Drive North, was putting the wooden snakes backs in their bins Sunday.
Customers hide them all around the store, presumably for the scare value when a shopper finds one under a towel.
But after years of selling children’s toys as well as fancy pieces of coral, large shells and jewelry made out of items from the sea, Howes just takes the snakes in stride.
“We have great people who come in, including locals and tourists from Germany, England and many other countries,” said Howes, who visited from South Carolina one year and decided to move down forever.
The economy might be ailing now, but regulars have kept One Stop Shell Shop clicking along for more than 20 years, said Howes, who has worked there two decades.
“Nowadays, the tourists buy lots of jewelry because it is easier to take home, what with baggage fees,” Howes said. “Given everything, business is good.”
A 1.3 mile stretch of Bradenton Beach, Coquina was filled with the aroma of barbecue and the sounds of children’s laughter Sunday, a far cry from what it was on Easter Sunday in 2007 when gunfire erupted between rival gangs.
Although Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has stated that none of those involved in the shooting, which left two hospitalized, were from Manatee County, changes were immediately discussed and soon implemented.
The police presence has increased since the shooting and the parking areas have been reworked, preventing too many vehicles and their occupants from congregating in one area.
On Sunday, the Logsdon and Simmons families were doing their regular Coquina Beach barbecue.
This family typified the hundreds who daily enjoy the combination of pine trees and picnic tables as well as sand and beach that make Coquina unique.
Beach-goers can pull off Gulf Drive, park in the shade of pine trees, carry their picnic baskets and coolers just a handful of steps to a shady picnic area and, later, march just a few hundred yards west to the sandy beach, which is part of the roughly four-mile Bradenton Beach.
But the Logsdons and Simmonses take it one step further.
They often “do doubles” — they come out Saturday and Sunday for relaxation.
“We all go to WestCoast Church in Parrish and come here right after church,” said security company owner Shannon Logsdon, whose wife, Rocio, is part of a family from Bolivia that includes 12 children.
Rocio’s sister, Diana Simmons, is married to Joel Simmons, a nurse at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. They put their 20-month-old son, Nicholas, in a hammock tied to two pine trees.
Linda Confessori, who is married to Rocio’s brother, Alberto, put their 19-month-old daughter, Luciana, in the same hammock.
Alberto Confessori and his sisters tied an improvised rope to the hammock and the two tots swayed in the shade and slept deeply.
“What we love is the park itself and the shade from the Australian pines,” Shannon Logsdon said. “Also, the price is good.”
That price for the beach is free.
“We never have to worry because even if it is crowded, there is still plenty of parking and picnic space,” Rocio Logsdon said.
Not everyone was thrilled with their Coquina experience Sunday.
Cindy and Fred Meeks and their friend, Margie Frusciante, all of Ellenton, usually spend their beach time farther north on Anna Maria Beach. But the threesome decided to try out Coquina, but found trash around many of the picnic sites.
“It’s a shame because this is a fantastic place,” Frusciante said. “But the trash all over detracts from it.”