2011-09-15 / Front Page

Sizzling summer

Temperatures soared, cash registers rang

Golden day A ferry, the Arnold W. Oliver, is silhouetted against the golden sky as the sun sets on a recent day in Port Aransas. 
STAFF PHOTO BY DAN PARKER Golden day A ferry, the Arnold W. Oliver, is silhouetted against the golden sky as the sun sets on a recent day in Port Aransas. STAFF PHOTO BY DAN PARKER Port Aransas merchants are saying the summer of 2011 was a sizzler, business wise.

“I’ve got to say, from the outset, it’s been a remarkable summer,” said Mike Hall, co-owner and store director at the Family Center IGA grocery store. “We got to experience a very, very, very strong summer.”

Hotel-motel tax revenue shows a big surge over last year. While $1,250,993 was collected from June through August last year, some $1,476,829 was collected during the same period this year. That’s an increase of 18 percent.

Sales tax revenue also has shown big growth. In July this year, the latest month for which numbers were available, Port Aransas merchants collected $206,125.68 in sales tax revenue, according to the Texas State Controller. In July last year, they brought in $171,102.13. That’s a 21 percent leap.

Credit for the summer’s strong performance should go to a variety of factors, including clear weather, Hall said.

“The weather was perfect,” Hall said. “It’s dry. There’s a drought, and that’s not good for grass and the state, in general. But it’s great for tourism, because any time you have rain or a pending storm or some sort of weather concern, it affects business in a negative manner. And we didn’t have any of that this year.”

Melissa Shook’s shop, Fire It! Ceramics, tends to benefit on wet days, because people come inside her shop to get out of the rain and spend some time painting ceramic figures. “But we had a fabulous summer, even without a drop of rain,” Shook said. “It makes me feel fantastic that we can do it without any rain.”

Shook and her husband, Garrett Smith, also own Humidor del Sol, a cigar shop. The couple’s shops did 30 to 40 percent more business than last year, Shook said.

Like others, Shook said a number of elements came together to produce the good business climate in Port Aransas.

One element: People don’t seem so likely to vacation south of the border, she said.

“Mexico is dangerous, so (visitors) found the beauty in Port Aransas by staying a little closer to home,” Shook said. “And they’re seeing that Port Aransas definitely is a charming town.”

Hall said some credit for the good summer should go to city government for doing a good job at keeping beach roadways well-maintained with road graders, despite the dry weather that can make the sand soft and difficult to drive through.

Marketing by the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce Tourist Bureau also was a factor, Hall said.

Ann Bracher Vaughan, president and CEO of the chamber, said the organization has been doing things a little differently lately.

“We reached out to a lot of new people in our advertising campaign, because there are so many new people living in Texas,” Vaughan said. “We saw an increasing number of new visitors down here.”

The chamber continued using traditional radio, print and billboard advertising but also tried “a different type of campaign to try to reach out to people that were not aware of Port Aransas,” Vaughan said.

That meant a “sophisticated (online) search engine marketing campaign,” she said. It targets folks searching online for coastal resort towns, she said.

The Port Aransas beach may have been more popular also because inland water bodies were drying up in the drought, Vaughan said.

“Summer was absolutely fantastic,” said Deb Trumpy, owner of A Mano. “It was just incredible.”

Trumpy said her shop had the biggest summer it has had in the six years it has been in existence.

Trumpy said she believes people were traveling shorter distances for vacations, and Port Aransas benefitted from that.

“And I really think the heat had a lot to do with it,” Trumpy said. “In Texas, I think people escaped to the beach, because it was cooler. I just think a lot of people were having a tough time with the heat in Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas, and just everywhere.”

Beth Owens reported an “incredible” summer at Deep Sea Headquarters and Fins Grill and Ice House, owned by Beth and her husband, Kelly.

It was the best year ever for Fins, which the Owenses opened six years ago, and it may have been the best summer for Deep Sea Headquarters since the Owens took ownership of the business nearly 16 years ago, Beth said.

Concern seems to have abated over last year’s massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill that took place off Louisiana and edged toward the north coast of Texas, Beth said.

“I think last year, with the oil scare in Galveston, we were getting 20 calls a day, asking if the oil was cleared up,” Beth said. “We don’t get that this year.”

Port Aransas had “a phenomenal summer tourist season,” said Suzette Freeman, chairman of the chamber board and co-chair of the chamber’s Economic Development Committee.

Freeman said many new Texas residents have moved to the state for jobs, since the state is producing more jobs than most other states.

“ They have found Port Aransas and, talking to folks, we’re seeing a lot of people who have not been here before,” Freeman said.

Wayne Serpa, owner of Coastal Bend Ice, said he had a good summer. It was because of the clear weather, he said.

Vince Vanorman said he had the strongest summer ever in the three years he has owned Best Western Ocean Villa.

“There wasn’t a bad weather day,” Vanorman said. “And maybe the lake in Austin was drying up, because we had more Austin visitors than would be typical.”

Questions? Comments? Contact Dan Parker at (361) 749- 5131 or dan@portasouthjetty.com.

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