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Locals supporting locals: Anna Maria trolley run helps businesses crippled by red tide

‘Tourists’ brought business back to Anna Maria. Here’s how

John Drobecker, an Anna Maria resident, explains why he created Saturday's trolley run up and down Anna Maria Island. The event provided much-needed support for business hit hard by red tide that continues to hold its grip on the Manatee coast.
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John Drobecker, an Anna Maria resident, explains why he created Saturday's trolley run up and down Anna Maria Island. The event provided much-needed support for business hit hard by red tide that continues to hold its grip on the Manatee coast.

Sales on Anna Maria Island continue to sink because of an extended red tide bloom.

Cue the tropical shirts, sunscreen and over-arm floaties.

More than 60 Manatee residents participated in a trolley run up and down the island Saturday evening to support businesses struggling with reduced clientele. Guests sported tie-dye shirts, huge sun hats and other whacky tourist gear for fun.

John Drobecker, who works and lives on Anna Maria, thought of the idea. He celebrated Super Bowl weekend with a friend earlier this year in a similar fashion, but the red tide support event is on a much larger scale.

“Two people can show support but 60 people can make a difference,” Drobecker said.

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Collette Quinehan, a Realtor who has lived in Manatee for 48 years, said red tide is affecting more than just bars and restaurants.

“It’s a trickle-down effect. When people are on vacation, that’s when they want to look at property, but no one’s coming,” she explained. “They’re scared.”

Drobecker’s mother, Debbie Capobianco, organized the event and said she was extremely pleased with the turnout. During the first stop of their island tour, the visitors turned the bar at the Sandbar from a ghost town to a party.

“Look at this,” Capobianco said, pointing to the crowd. “When we walked in, there was nobody here. This place is usually packed on a Saturday night, but now it is.”

Waterfront restaurants are spreading the message that there may be red tide, but they are open for business.

As group moved along, she carried their support signs that read “Locals helping local,” “We love AMI” and “We are here for you.”

Drobecker said he thought ahead and expected some of the planned locations to have reduced staff because of trending low profits.

“I called them and said, ‘Look, don’t send anybody home early because we’re coming and we’re 60-deep,’” he said.

Organizers say they’d like to inspire tourists and locals alike to support the island in their own way.

“We’re hoping others will follow suit. If you’ve got a birthday, rent a trolley,” said Quinehan. “I know they’re suffering out here and we’re trying to bring awareness.”

That awareness spread quickly among friends, at least. Capobianco said they had booked two full trolley rentals from Siesta Trolley within 24 hours by selling $15 tickets to join in.

Many participants said they were interested in coming out to support local business, but having a couple drinks was another huge motivator.

“It’s nice to support the island like this, but we like to do fun stuff anyway,” said Mike Carter.

Local business owner Sherman Baldwin attended a red tide town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Joe Gruters and Rep. Margaret Good. He said he wanted to know what he could do for his vulnerable employees depending on the income he provides.

Other residents said they’re not too worried about businesses recovering from the effects of red time. Tom MacDonald said he’s seen it before.

“I think they’ll be fine. It’s been a busy couple of years on the island and businesses are doing well,” he said. “It’s the newer places that could struggle to bounce back.”

For those businesses being hit especially hard, there are resources such as interest-free loans and emergency grants. Turning Points in Bradenton advocates the Suncoast 211 hotline for workers dealing with financial issues related to red tide.

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