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Florida's consistent chill taking a toll on many businesses

Beyond plants, animals and people, the unseasonable cold weather across Florida is casting a significant and broad chill on the economy.

Fairs, festivals and parades have seen declining attendance. Beach bars and hotels are serving far fewer sunbathers and snowbirds. Golfers are staying away. Fishing and boating trips are down.

"We've got our sweatshirts on," said Bob Cyr, general manager of Caddy's on the Beach in Treasure Island, known for its bikini- and shorts-wearing crowd.

It's just not the Florida everyone wants to see this time of year. While the cold has not always been extreme or historic this year, it has been consistently several degrees below normal.

So far in 2010, the Tampa Bay area has had 18 days during which the temperature has not reached 60 degrees. Last year we had one during the same period, said Bay News 9 chief meteorologist Mike Clay. January was the sixth-coldest since 1890.

Clay said the combination of an El Niño, which usually brings an active winter storm season in west-central Florida, combined with a surge of arctic air has created "a perfect storm" of cold air and moisture.

Departures several degrees away from the average like this "are just amazing," Clay said. "It's just hard to do that."

Less staggering but still above normal is this winter's rainfall. Clay said January was 1.15 inches above normal, and February is above average, too.

The rainy, nippy weather may have been what cut Gasparilla attendance numbers by more than half. It also is being blamed for the 24 percent year-over-year drop in attendance at the Florida State Fair, which ended Monday.

The harsh conditions have been tough on area farmers markets, too.

Tiffany Ferrecchia, owner of the weekly Downtown Tampa Market, said she has had to close four times because of foul weather, most recently Friday. On good days, the market has about 500 to 1,000 visitors, she said. On dreary days, it's between 200 and 500.

Gail Eggeman, manager of the Saturday Morning Market in downtown St. Petersburg, said this year's winter has been the hardest on farmers in a long time. Their crops were pummeled by the January freeze.

Still, they stay open, even on a recent rainy, 36-degree day.

"We only close for hurricanes," she said. "If you're not consistent about being there when it's rainy or windy, people forget you're there."

Dave Scott of Hubbard's Marina, which runs a large charter boating business in Madeira Beach, said captains and business owners are frustrated. Just as it seemed the economy was turning a corner and bringing more business to the boats, the crummy weather hit them hard.

"It feels like a step forward, three steps back," Scott said.

Jeff Hollis, who oversees three golf courses for the city of St. Petersburg, said business in January was about 20 percent lower than last year's.

"I've lived here most of my life, and I can't remember seeing this type of cold," he said.

Cyr, Caddy's general manager, said business has been down along the entire beachfront. He feels bad for out-of-state visitors who booked vacations with expectations of sunny weather.

Bookings at TradeWinds Island Resorts are "several hundred thousand dollars off where we projected ourselves to be," said Lynda Waters, the resort's vice president of marketing.

Saturday Morning Market's Eggeman is looking forward to relief, which may come when temperatures reach into the 60s or 70s this weekend. It made her think of her favorite market memory from last week.

It started as another overcast Saturday, but when the music took a break, a much-needed beam of sunlight suddenly shined on the market's customers, silencing them for a few seconds.

Then "the whole place went, 'Ahhhhh,' " she said.

Eggeman can't wait to feel that again.

"I think next week is going to be one of those moments, all day long," she said.

Florida's consistent chill taking a toll on many businesses 02/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 9:59pm]
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