Summer business on beach reported up over last year

VERO BEACH — The expected summer swoon hit a number of beachside businesses, but others reported some surprising successes.

Local retailers contacted reported spotty results with many of the boutiques struggling with slow summer sales, but interestingly one segment – jewelers – said sales were up. One thing all the business representatives seemed to agree upon was that while not everyone was buying, they saw a lot of new faces with local hotels successful in attracting some weddings –  a market they have begun targeting.

The island also seems to have attracted some visitors who might have spent time on the West Coast but travelled east to ensure a trip free from the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill.

After a difficult June, in which the tourist tax (generated from hotel room sales) was down nearly 10 percent, hoteliers rebounded in July – the last month in which figures have been released.

Once it became clear the oil spill was not going to reach the east coast of Florida, tourist visits picked up in July with a nearly 13 percent increase in tax revenue from July of last year.

To their credit, the local hotels were very active in marketing after the oil spill to get the word out that Vero’s beaches were pristine and open for business.

The Holiday Inn began promoting 104 days of Summer and a $104 room rate for some of its 104 rooms. Costa D’Este started running a special from Sunday through Thursday offering an oceanfront stay for $129 a night.

“We have even sold out some nights and to sell out on a Tuesday during summer is almost unheard-of,” Costa d’Este Director of Operations Monica Smiley told Vero Beach 32963.

For the fiscal year, tourist tax revenue is up less than 1 percent, but that takes into account November and December of last year when revenue was down over 16 percent each month from the year before.

Since that slow start, revenue from the bed tax has been up six of the last seven months, with June being the one anomaly in that stretch.

Cathy Jetson of the jewelry store Veranda said she enjoyed one of her best summers ever, one in which she saw many new visitors enter her Ocean Drive shop.

“It’s been a lot of local people, but we are reaching people in Stuart, people in Orlando and people in Melbourne,” she said.

Many of the clothing and shoe boutiques did not want to give out figures, saying that while they had new customers coming in, sales were the same if not worse than last summer, which was a slow season by all accounts.

Meg Offutt of Kemps Shoe Salon and Boutique seemed to buck that trend, however.

“We had a very nice summer,” she said. “It has definitely been better than last year was. I am happily surprised. We got a lot of hotel visitors and weekend visitors this year, probably more than last year. I’m hopeful we’ll have a good season. October has started off quite nicely.”

Also reporting pretty good summer sales was Noel Cochrane of Irish Treasures, who said year to date the specialty shop is up about 12 percent. He does offer the caveat that 2009 figures were not that difficult to beat.

“Last year was nothing to brag about,” he said. “I don’t think it was much good for anybody and we are such a specialty store that we don’t feel it as bad as the 23 or so stores in town competing for women’s clothing. We are quite pleased with what we have done.”

It was the beachside jewelers who most consistently reported that they were enjoying if not a spectacular summer, one that beat expectations.

Pauline Adams of I’ll Never Tell on Ocean Drive said a mix of new and old customers sent her sales up for the summer.

“I found we were in the right place at the right time,” she said. “Our customers may not be going down the street and spending $400 or $4,000 for jewelry, but they are coming here and spending $40. We saw a lot of new faces, people coming from within the state to vacation.”

One of the best summer gem success stories belongs to the newest kid on the block, so to speak, on the barrier island.

John Matthews of John Michael Matthews Fine Jewelry says his sales are up 34 percent since moving last year from Royal Palm Pointe to Beachland Boulevard. He enjoyed, he says, his second best July ever.

“We did have a couple of big diamond sales this summer and those helped to push our average up,” he said. “It doesn’t take but a couple of big sales to have a pretty good month. We have also had a lot of jewelry repair and restoring antique jewelry. Another surprise has been gold. With the high price of gold, people have just been selling it. That is a part of our business that we didn’t use to have.”

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