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Campaign aims to 'Help Bring the Green Back to Sanibel & Captiva'

Island businesses share challenges

September 12, 2018
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

A campaign, "Help Bring the Green Back to Sanibel & Captiva: No Algae, Just Money," is being brought forth this Saturday to help bring people into the hotels, restaurants and businesses on Sanibel and Captiva.

Sanibel Councilmember Holly Smith said the campaign urging support for island businesses was started because everyone is trying to spread the message to shop local and tip more.

When asked what she has heard from the business community, she said they have shared that it has been extremely difficult in both accommodations and all tourist related businesses.

"July and August felt like a ghost town. Accommodation cancellations are accumulating. Phones have not been ringing for reservations," Smith said in an email. "Even future reservations are in jeopardy. Restaurants and retail are struggling. Employee hours are cut. Social media and media has gone worldwide speaking to the red tide, blue green algae and Lake Okeechobee releases."

She said the economic and environmental impact in Southwest Florida is staggering.

"Let's hope the red tide bloom has moved enough to help us try to recover. It is looking to be a very difficult fall, as many may have already changed where they are going instead of here due to the uncertainty of the water crisis," Smith said.

With that said, she said she was pleased to visit the beach on Sunday to see better conditions.

"I'll take any positives I can right now. We all need some good news," Smith said.

A business that has been open since 1980 in the Tahitian Gardens said this is the toughest year she has ever experienced.

Sanibel Resort Wear owner Beena Ansukhani said business has not been good. She said as long as the water conditions are clear, she does not have any problems with business otherwise.

"It's worse than any year I have been here," she said.

She is not optimistic.

"I don't see how anybody can bring people in here. They are not coming to my store. They are not coming to Sanibel. Nobody wants to come on the island because of the beaches and people are getting sick. You can't bring people to the store if they aren't coming to the beach," she said.

Lily & Co. co-owner Dan Schuyler said the whole island has been blasted since the red tide bloom.

"There isn't a business on the island that has not been affected by it . . . affected in a terrible way," he said. "From the people that I have talked to, there are a lot of people that are really hurting."

Schuyler's business, which began 13 years ago, has been through some major economic impacts, such as the oil spill and real estate crunch in 2008.

"I'm a smart businessman. I know how to put revenue away in order to safeguard ourselves from things that happen," he said.

One of those ways is having business interruption insurance, within his Jewelers Mutual Insurance, for such catastrophes as the water quality issues this summer.

"I have been very blessed to carry that with my policy," Schuyler said.

When the water started going bad in June, he began seeing the financial impacts to his business in July and August.

"I am a minimum of 50 percent off in July and August. The fact remains that there is just nobody on island. The businesses rely so heavily on tourism. You are talking about people coming in for rentals Saturday to Saturday. That is the lifeblood of Sanibel," he said. "If they are not coming onto the island there is no income. If there is no foot traffic, there is no cash flow."

He said their northern customers are calling every day, asking about the water conditions because the media outlets in their towns are sharing information about Southwest Florida's red tide blooms and blue green algae.

"We rely heavily on the Germans, Brits and Canadians coming over," Schuyler said of this time of the year. "They are all cancelling because they are hearing from the media that you cannot go in the water."

With all of that said, he has seen a lot of positive things happening.

"The good news is Sanibel is such a great community it always seems to come out on top and rebound," he said. "We always seem to survive. The beautiful part of Sanibel, we are very resilient."

Over the years Schuyler said he has learned that in bad times, good partners work together to get through the tough times.

"You do together what you can't do by yourself. A lot of times the problem shared is a problem cut in half. Communication is very important in these tight times. I've safeguarded myself, my employees and my vendors know what to do. They all know what to expect. If I need to push payments 30 days out then I do it. We do what we have to do to get through. That is the great thing about having good business partners," he said.

Schuyler said another positive note is Sanibel has made national headline news and they are finally getting through to the U.S. government.

"We have woken up Washington a little bit because it has gotten so bad. (Mayor) Kevin Ruane and his team have spent a lot of time and energy knocking on the door. They have done a hell of a job," he said.



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