Huge crowds flood beaches

BRADENTON BEACH — Big cottony clouds floated in an azure sky Sunday as crowds mobbed the beaches to enjoy perfect summer weather.

“It was busier than Easter,” said Jason Higgins, an officer with the Bradenton Beach Police Department who was patrolling the beaches. But even with huge masses of people and rows of double-parked cars, Higgins was quick to note that the holiday weekend had been mostly uneventful.

“We’ve had no problems, I can’t believe it,” he said as he sat in his patrol car overlooking one of the busy sections of beach.

Beachgoers mellowed out in hammocks and wallowed in the warm Gulf of Mexico, relaxing in glistening surf and plentiful sunshine.

Restaurants were busy with customers, their parking lots packed with cars; many of the hotels and guest houses had “no vacancy” signs lit.

“We had an excellent, excellent Thursday night, and all day Friday; Saturday, it slowed, but was not bad,” said Sue Shinka, manager of the Bridge Tender Inn, 135 Bridge St.

She attributed the healthy number of customers to the poor state of the economy, as most of those who patronized her restaurant and dockside bar had not strayed too far from home.

“People will still come out, but they’re staying close to home,” she added, noting that customers she had chatted with had said they were from places like Tampa, Brandon, Port Charlotte, St. Petersburg and Tierra Verde.

One customer, Darryl Ueltschi, 46, owner of Darryl Marine Service, of Holmes Beach, was really close to home.

He drove a few minutes down the road to the Bridge Tender Inn, where he was partying with family and friends.

“We’re having a very glorious time,” he noted.

Gayle Luper, owner of the Bungalow Beach Resort, 2000 Gulf Drive, said she had been sold out all weekend, noting, “It’s always good when it carries holiday rates and you have a full house.”

She said many of her guests arrived from places that were within a three-hour drive.

She, too, attributed the trend to a stagnant economy that had people thinking of something fun, but nearby.

“It’s understood they wanted to stay in Florida and have an inexpensive vacation by going to the beach,” she said.

Of course, there were exceptions, like Victor Santiago, 36, a printer vacationing from Lancaster, Pa., with his family. Santiago was grilling hot dogs and hamburgers as his friends and relatives waited to chow down.

He said he planned to continue his vacation through the week before returning home.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at skennedy@bradenton.com.