PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- Beach businesses in Sarasota and Pinellas Counties are gearing up for Small Business Saturday. Many mom and pop shops near the beach are in desperate need of a strong holiday shopping season.
The sign outside Nekton Surf Shop says it all: “Shop local for Christmas.”
Breck Hampe, an employee at the surf shop says that's more important now than ever.
“We’re pretty pumped for it because red tide killed the end of our season,” she said.
In fact, the last few months have been the slowest in Nekton’s 12 years in business. Red tide has been driving away customers.
“We’re hoping that it goes away like completely gone,” Hampe said with enthusiasm.
Businesses are optimistic. Favorable winds are pushing the toxic bloom offshore from Pinellas County.
“We thought it would be great, it’s even better than that,” visitor Kevin Meade said while fishing on Indian Rocks Beach Friday. He and his family have been celebrating Thanksgiving on Pinellas County's shoreline for the past 12 years.
Across Pinellas County, red tide has forced beach businesses to temporarily lay off 50 people and permanently lay off another 9. Most businesses have seen a 30% drop in sales. Hotels reported a 6% drop in occupied rooms in September and according to county leaders, businesses reported a combined $1.5 million in losses.
Jackie Schonowski, the owner of Keegan’s Seafood Grille says it's the local residents who have helped keep them in business. “We have really counted on the locals with the red tide recently,” she explained.
This holiday shopping season could make or break mom and pop shops.
“So the more people who come out to help us right now the better,” Schonowski said.
According to the Small Business Administration, for every $100 you spend at a local business, $63 stays in the community.
Over the past eight years, Small Business Saturday has helped mom and pop shops across the nation rake in $85 billion.
Colleen Ewart, the owner of Cove West on Indian Rocks Beach says when people shop local, it means she can reinvest into other local businesses.“It means a lot to all of us," she explained.
Fred Bousfiha just opened his retail store on Indian Rocks Beach three weeks ago. He's hopeful the red tide bloom stays away and customers flock back in.
“You get the shopping and the view," he said. "Within one minute, you can cross the street and see the beautiful beach.”