PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- New numbers from the Small Business Administration show just how many businesses are applying for red tide emergency loans. The SBA says 90 mom and pop shops have filed applications for help over the past week and a half.
Aaron McClearnon's Elite Watersports company in St. Petersburg is one of the many businesses feeling the impacts of red tide.
Thursday was another perfect day on the surf on the Northeast side of the Sunshine Skyway. However, the perception of red tide is cutting McClearnon's kiteboarding lesson business in half.
“The first week of October is where we make it or break it,” McClearnon explained adding that October through May presents the best wind and water conditions for the sport.
McClearnon usually has 4 instructors out on the water this time of the year giving kiteboarding lessons. Thursday only one of his instructors was on the water.
It's especially frustrating because FWC says the water outside the Sunshine Skyway remains clear of the toxic algae. “We haven’t seen it yet but we are still not getting the business because people think it is bad," McClearnon added.
7 miles away in St. Pete Beach, Ivan Perez spent part of Thursday afternoon peeling mangos as a way to pass the time without any customers.
“It hurts a lot because we are not a chain, we are just local people,” Perez said with a sigh.
Grand Hacienda Restaurant's sales are down 60%. This time of year, they should have 30-50 customers a day. Thursday, they had just 4 during the lunch hour.
Perez and his business partner applied for a loan just to cover payroll.
“It’s hard on us and our employees because the only support is our business,” Perez added.
Across Florida, businesses are reporting more than $130 million in losses. It's a number the Small Business Association says is likely much higher because many businesses do not file loss reports with the state.
Both McClearnon and Perez worry about the future and the perception of red tide outlasting this toxic bloom.