Businesses fare well over holiday
The holiday is the official opening of the summer vacation season, and often is a harbinger of what the next three months will bring for island merchants.
Businesses that deal in food, beverages, ice or all of the above gave the weekend its highest marks.
"Saturday may be one of the best days we've ever had," said Mike Hall, co-owner and store director at the Family Center IGA.
Hall has years of records on everything from weather conditions, to the day of the week a holiday falls on, to sales of specific items such as fishing licenses and beach parking stickers that he uses to track trends.
Factoring into that increase were the fact that last year it rained, and that this year many students had to return to classes on Monday or Tuesday.
Hall said the tourists were "definitely a family crowd. We saw a lot of people we don't always see - they were new tourists to Port Aransas. They were well behaved, and they contributed greatly to our economy. They're the kind of people you want to have."
Fishing license and beach parking sticker sales were up, an indication that it was many visitors' first trip to Port Aransas, or their first trip this year, Hall said.
"When you don't sell so many of those, you know you've got repeat business," he explained.
Javier Garcia, manager at the Stripes convenience store at the corner of Avenue G and Station Street, said the weekend business was much better than last year.
"It was busy. We were packed all weekend long," Garcia said.
The crowd of mostly families did not say much about the price of gas, he said.
Visitors were mostly from San Antonio, Austin and Dallas, he added.
Fred Williams, who manages the Stripes on the southern edge of town on State Hwy.361, said they were "extremely busy," especially Friday through Sunday.
"If the weather stays good, it's going to be a good summer," he said.
That good weather will parlay into good business for Wayne Serpa, owner of Coastal Bend Ice, which sells ice wholesale to most of the businesses in town.
"It was plenty hot, and that helped. Five to 10 degrees makes a difference. They'll buy two bags of ice instead of one," Serpa said.
Saturday and Sunday produced record sales for the ice company.
"Our demographics have shifted," Serpa said. "The people who used to barely get down here with a camper and stayed on the beach, spending minimal funds - the fuel prices have gotten to them. On the upper end, people who were out-of-country travelers are traveling closer to home."
Serpa also supplies the waterfront charter fishing agencies with ice, and that business has been hit by windy weather and fuel prices. Skyrocketing prices for diesel fuel that powers offshore fishing boats "even get a rich man's attention," Serpa said.
Serpa also owns the car wash on Avenue G, where he did a brisk business as well.
"I'm hoping that it's a sign of things to come," he said.
Last year, rain sent shoppers into A Mano, a shop specializing in imports from the interior of Mexico. Owner Deb Wilson said she was "way down from last year," although it was still a good weekend.
"There were not as many people shopping" during the holiday weekend, Wilson said.
However, the previous two weekends were "crazy, nuts and excellent," she said.
Despite the slower holiday weekend, "We're still ahead of last year," Wilson said.
Judy Hale, owner of The Cypress Tree that sells women's clothing, jewelry and home accessories, said, "I am quite elated. We had a very strong weekend."
Hale said she is feeling a lot more confident that gas prices won't have the negative effect she feared going into the summer.
"We were busy from the get-go," she said. "I am right equal with last year, so I'm very happy." Groups of four, six and eight women shopping have become increasingly common over the past year and a half, Hale said.
The holiday weekend shoppers did not air complaints about gas prices, she added.
Visitors enjoying all that fun in the sun and shopping can work up an appetite, and that paid off for at least two island restaurants.
"This weekend was better than last year - a lot better," said Mark Admire, owner of Little Joe's Smoke 'n Grill.
Admire said his customers were mostly families from San Antonio and Austin. Many of them said they were making trips to the Texas coast instead of going elsewhere because of gas prices.
An all-time record was set Sunday at Fins Grill and ice House, according to general manager Tammy White.
Lots of big families dined at the waterfront restaurant, she said.
As far as what that may mean for the rest of the summer, White said, "Everybody is waiting to see what will happen with gas prices."