Merchants see gain after pain of rain
August occupancy tax receipts will not reflect the state-mandated later start of school, but Port Aransas businesses noticed the difference.
Rain dogged the peak summer tourist season through most of July and part of August, but skies cleared for the last week before classes resumed on Monday, Aug. 27. Lodging facilities, however, were required to report occupancy taxes to the city a week earlier, by Monday, Aug. 20.
Occupancy taxes reported to the city by the deadline were down about $7,000, from $430,203.78 in August 2006 to $423,145.98 in August 2007, according to city finance director Judy Lyle.
"There is no doubt that the last five, six, seven days of August showed a substantial increase over last year," said Mike Hall, co-owner and store director of the Family Center IGA.
Hall keeps detailed figures, not only those related directly to his business, but others that factor into business trends, such as weather data and the day of the week on which a holiday, such as Independence Day, falls.
"The weather (in August) was good last year and it was acceptable this year. The later start of school was a shot in the arm," Hall said.
The month of June, he said, is always slower to take off because of graduations and weddings.
"I'll gladly trade that for the later start of school in August," Hall said.
The Legislature mandated the later start of school in response to a lobbying effort by tourism groups.
The later start involved some challenges, most related to students hired for the summer who returned to college campuses a week before classes started in most Texas public schools. "We'll gladly accept those challenges when business is up," Hall said.
Overall, the late start to school "was a positive thing for us, and a good thing to do," he added.
Graham Williams, chef at Fins Grill and Icehouse, said the benefits of the late start were negated by rain in July and from Tropical Storm Erin, followed by the threat of Hurricane Dean.
Eg Zieglar, owner of Moby Dick's restaurant, was "very happy" with the summer in general. In spite of the rain, Zieglar said, "Our July was fabulous . . . rain in July could have been a blessing because we could hardly keep up."
The additional week helped push business up 25 percent at the Dairy Queen, according to manager Valerie Bradley.
"Business was very good last week," she said. That extra week "was wonderful for businesses," she added.
While business dropped off signifi- cantly with the start of school this week, Cars & Carts manager Greg Wilhite said they had more business this year and during the last week before classes resumed. The business rents golf-cart type vehicles powered by electricity or gas.
Another golf cart rental location, Nautical Wheelers, also enjoyed the boost provided by the extra week of summer.
"It did really well for us. We'll take that every year if we can get," aid Kathy Wilson who owns the business with Jim Gaw.
Bo Jons manager Kristi Maxwell said the rain sends people indoors to shop and that, combined with the extra week of summer, added up to increased sales.
David Bhakta, general manager of Best Western Ocean Villas and the Holiday Inn Express, said, "The rain really wiped us out. It's been really bad. It rained for the birding festival (in February), for SandFest (in late March/early April) and through July," Bhakta said.
Tropical storm warnings in advance of Erin caused cancellation of $30,000 in bookings, Bhakta said.
However, the later start to school helped.
"Those 14 days can alleviate one bad weekend," he said.
Sam Poteet of Condominium Consulting and Management Services (CCMS) said the extended summer might have had an impact of just less than 1 percent.
"It's been positive, but not as positive as everybody thought it might be. The weather is bound to have been a factor. We had ramifications in our market areas (such as San Antonio) where they did have the bad weather that had been predicted for here," Poteet said.
CCMS properties had customers canceling as Hurricane Dean headed for the Yucatan Peninsula, but when the threat waned, they called to rebook, Poteet said.
"Overall, with the exception of the beginning of the season with the heavy seaweed problem, everybody ought to be happy," he said.
Ann Bracher Vaughan, executive director of the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce-Tourist Bureau, said Port Aransas has benefited from advertising placed around the country by individual developers.
Also, she placed last-minute radio advertising in response to Tropical Storm Erin and Hurricane Dean in an effort to salvage business lost to concern over both storms in the last weeks of the summer.
Lyle reported occupancy taxes that were down in June from $187,166.01 in 2006 to $178,510.55 in 2007, and up in July, from $374,168.51 in 2006 to $408,772.41 in 2007.
For the year to date, however, occupancy tax receipts are up 15%, Lyle said.
Part of the increase she attributed to an increase in the number of houses in the rental pool.
With school in session, Port Aransas businesses are turning their attention to fall visitors.
For Poteet of CCMS, September has seen "pretty high numbers", some up by 12 percent. That, he says, is attributable to lower rates.
"For the last two or three years we've been running higher numbers the first three weeks in September," he said.
And September is when the impact of the extended summer will be reflected in the city's occupancy tax receipts.