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Jiggs Landing concession in Bradenton fights to survive pandemic

Side of Ranch: Jay Heater

Boat captain Denise Kleiner said the $25 sunset tours at Jiggs Landing offer incredible sights.
Boat captain Denise Kleiner said the $25 sunset tours at Jiggs Landing offer incredible sights.
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I've always believed in supporting local businesses, to a point.

As a consumer, I want a local business to show it cares about me. For instance, I might be able to get a loaf of bread at the big box store for half the price. Remember, those big box stores employ local people, too.

However, a small bakery might present a level of service that trumps everything else. I'm a sucker for special treatment. A smile. Some conversation. A heartfelt "Thank you!"

As we enter 2021, we see lots of signs telling us to support local businesses. Just show me you are worthy.

Denise Kleiner, the owner of Florida Boat Tours, which now operates the Jiggs Landing Outpost, is trying to do just that. 

Jay Heater: Side of Ranch
Jay Heater: Side of Ranch

Kleiner's Florida Boat Tours began booking tours from the preserve at Jiggs Landing, which Manatee County opened to the public in 2010, in 2018. She took over the Jiggs Landing Outpost concession in 2019.

A member of the Old Braden River Historical Society, Kleiner wanted the county preserve to succeed in order to safeguard its history. The Jiggs Landing Fishing Camp was founded in 1944 but the buildings eventually were left to fall into disrepair. Manatee County bought the property in 2007.

After Kleiner took over Jiggs Landing Outpost, it appeared the preserve would thrive when it came to visitors. Then the pandemic hit.

Like many new businesses, Kleiner was trying to keep her financial head above water while she built for the future. She took a hit right away because the months of February, March and April are her busiest, carrying her through the slower summer months.

"We lost our cushion," she said.

With business slow, she closed April 1 and remained closed until Nov. 1. If she hadn't closed, she said her business would have gone under. Manatee County, her landlord, worked with her.

Things are showing signs of improvement although her boat tours remain off 90%. When she does have a tour, she is making less money because the tour boats meant to carry 12 people now host only four due to social distancing. She only can put more people in the boat if they are from the same family or household.

Despite the negatives, Kleiner is trying to show she is worthy. On Jan. 16-17, The Players Centre for Performing Arts was holding auditions at the preserve for a play "Spoon River Anthology," it is presenting Feb. 27-28 and March 6-7 at Jiggs Landing. Kleiner is building an outdoor stage in front of her store.

She is working with The Players Centre, which plans to open a $30 million theater complex in Waterside Place in 2024, but now is looking for venues in the meantime.

Her business already has outdoors live music — rock and country — 3-6 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. The stage will help that offering.

She has hired Linger Lodge Manager Rita Lewis to help her develop food offerings at the Outpost. Linger Lodge's restaurant is closed temporarily while upgrades are ongoing at the property so Lewis had the time.

"The missing key here was food," Kleiner said. "Rita is a seasoned restaurateur, I'm not. She brought in high quality Angus Beef. She added Sabretts, chili and fresh, smoked mullet spread."

Beer and wine is available as well. For those who want to party and stay on site, or just enjoy and fishing and boating, four cabins are available for rent.

As we navigate our local business scene in 2021, I hope we all give business such as Kleiner's a second look.

"This truly is about community spirit," she said. "I have people with tears in their eyes who say, "I'm so glad you made it."


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