It’s been nearly a year since Estero Boulevard construction began and the ubiquitous bright orange Bob’s Barricades became part of our daily life here on Fort Myers Beach. For the most part – with the exception of loud grumbling when a lane is blocked, locals have become almost immune to it – weaving back and forth through the maze of barrels with eyes glazed over in a kind of forced slalom course. But what about our local businesses who are in the middle of construction Ground Zero? This week we spoke with three local businesses to find out how they’ve been doing.
Carla Pine has co-owned the Salty Dog with her husband Peter for 10 years. Located beneath Hoosiers in Paradise across from the DiamondHead Resort, they have endured the noise and dust from the beginning and, despite being big champions of the project when it began, told us they are starting to get battle-worn from the loss of revenue and constant struggle to hold onto their parking spots.
“During season, we did okay but that’s because I thought outside the box and took my merchandise down to Santini Plaza once a week for their Tuesday Sunrise Market,” Carla said. “This summer, though, this summer has been just awful.”
Pine says the bad publicity about both the road construction and the brown water caused by Lake Okeechobee freshwater releases have nearly done her in.
“I survived the summer of the ‘Oil-Spill-That-Wasn’t’ without getting any money from BP whatsoever, and this year has been way, way more of a struggle,” she said. “Summertime is tough for us anyway, and now people aren’t even coming at all because of what they hear.”
Carla told us that her biggest problems are parking and visibility.
“Being a small boutique, we didn’t have much parking to begin with and then we lost 2 feet off our parking lot,” she said. “Even people who know where I am go right by me, and others say they can’t fit in – especially those with big trucks. Now they’re saying it’s going to be September before they’re putting the new sidewalk in front of my store – it’s tough.”
“I want to stay here, and I know we need this project, but Islamorada is looking better and better,” she said. “I know it will look gorgeous when its done, but we have to survive until then.”
The Beached Whale
Alison Young, a manager at the Beached Whale, told us that most of the construction area is past her restaurant now.
“It still slows down quite a bit when Estero Boulevard goes down to one lane, but business has improved significantly since construction moved further south,” she said. “And we lost our parking spots out front, but we gained beautiful new sidewalks which have increased foot traffic. As long as they keep two lanes open and maintain the flow of traffic, we’re okay.”
Sea Gypsy Inn
Jacki Liszak’s Sea Gypsy Inn has been right in the heart of the construction area for a long time now.
“I’m not going to lie – I’m hurting,” she told us. “They’ve had the barricade right in front of Sea Gypsy for what seems like eight weeks now, though I was told it would only be two.”
Liszak, who told us that the barricade was moved to the center of the road this morning as crews prepare to work on the center lane drainage system, said that overall her business has been down 40% this summer.
“We did okay in season, and we had a decent Fourth of July weekend, so there’s some good news,” she said. “And I’m glad the barricade is finally gone, but now I’m worried that there isn’t enough room for people to walk by the front of my business without being hit by a car not paying attention – there’s just not enough room.”
Jacki told us she is encouraged by the efforts of friends and neighbors who are trying to help local businesses get through the construction and now brown water nightmare.
“One of my neighbors – and she’s not a business owner, just a resident – has organized a group called the ‘7th Slot Social Club’, Liszak said. “They are going to pick one business per day to patronize each week during this period.”
“That’s how we’re all going to get through this – locals helping locals.”
Keri Hendry Weeg