Easter was March 31.
But you wouldn’t know that the holiday — often considered the unofficial end of season — had passed three weeks earlier if you drove through St. Armands Circle this weekend.
“Friday, it was still backed up from (U.S.) 41 to Bird Key and all the way out here, and Saturday we had people out here all night,” said Jack Peffley, manager of Marcello Sport.
An early Easter typically causes concern among local business owners who worry tourists and snowbirds will hop out of town alongside the Easter Bunny.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, what many business owners say has been the strongest season in recent memory has been extended.
The last time Planet and Dreamweaver owner Eric Seace remembers business being this strong was 2008. He estimates sales are up 10% over last year.
The stores typically don’t have trunk shows after Easter but held one last Saturday that “got a good turnout”; they will hold another show this Saturday.
“I think it seems like every year (before), something went wrong, be it a recession or an oil spill or red tide,” said Seace, who serves as president of the St. Armands Circle Association.
The early Easter hurt slightly, according to Seace, but wasn’t too bad, because season seems to be getting longer.
“Summer seems to get better every year,” he said.
Influence, which opened its women’s store in early 2010 and added its men’s store in December, had a holiday season that was “crazy,” according to co-owner Sam Beebe, who said it was the strongest season yet for the women’s store.
“I think people this year were willing to spend, as much as it sounds bland,” she said. “There were just a lot more people on the island. It seemed foot traffic was so heavy.”
Lynches Pub & Grub co-owner Ethna Lynch reports the restaurant had its best season since opening on the Circle in 2003, including a record-breaking, three-day St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
“We’ve slowed down a little,” Lynch said. “It’s more erratic. It comes and goes. But from January until March, every day and every night, we were busy.”
Green Ginger Hair Design, which moved to a new location at the center of the Circle with nearly twice the previous location’s square footage, had a slight increase in the amount each customer spent but saw a major increase in the number of customers at the salon.
“We’re generally busier,” said owner Gordon Hall. “More people are here on vacation, but I think, generally in this country, everybody is just a little bit more positive.”
Hall said he and other merchants typically try to offer promotions during the summer months to attract people who live in the area year-round.
Many merchants believe bad weather up North is causing people to stick around for a few extra weeks.
“We still had a tremendous amount of business this Saturday, so Easter definitely wasn’t the cutoff day,” said Nancy Metcalf, manager of Foxy Lady South. “It may have to do with the weather being a little shaky up North, but we’re still finding a lot of people are here.”
At the Columbia Restaurant, General Manager John Monetti said that turnout remains good in April.
“If you had to take the season as a whole, we had an exceptional season in January, when the weather was warm, because a large portion of my restaurant is open-air, and, then, in March, we had challenges,” Monetti said.
He echoed what merchants throughout the Circle told the Longboat Observer:
“Overall, if you had to take in balance from December to April, it’s been a good season,” he said.
The extension of the St. Armands Business Improvement District expires this September, unless landowners vote to renew the special taxing district. If that happens, unused BID funds would go into city coffers.
BID leaders are still optimistic about an extension, but are considering funding a parking structure feasibility study if the BID extension becomes unlikely.
The extension failed to pass earlier this month, with just 34 of 65 landowners returning ballots by the April 2 deadline, one of which didn’t have a required signature; 28 ballots were returned as undeliverable.
BID leaders are still optimistic about a revote, saying that the ballots should have been sent via certified mail.
“They’re trying to think positively that we’ll get the votes,” said Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association.