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Business 2005

Q&A: How the the 2004 hurricanes affect your business?

By Times Staff
Published February 13, 2005

Nobleton Canoe Rental, Nobleton

Bob Meers and his son, Charlie, have been running their canoe and kayak rental business since 1990. The business relies heavily on the weather, particularly rainfall levels.

They are used to droughts and flooding along the river dictating the health of their business. But last summer's hurricanes hit the business harder than Bob Meers could ever imagine.

"We were closed for nearly three months," Meers said. "It was by far our hardest year yet."

The closing was mandatory because the canoe launch is at a state park. It was necessary, he said, because not only was there flooding, but roadblocks and fallen trees.

Meers said it will probably take years to catch up, but he remains optimistic.

"We're thankful for what we do have and that we're still making a living," he said.

The business has about 200 canoes and kayaks available and is open from 8 a.m. to dark every day.

Hernando Beach Motel/Condos, Hernando Beach

"The outlook for 2005 is great," said Fran Baird, owner of Hernando Beach Motel/Condos for the past 25 years. "The snowbirds are coming and construction is going on, and business is just picking up."

Last year's hurricanes caused heavy damage, Baird said. One of her condominium buildings lost a roof and remained closed for three months until repairs could be made. But the motel and four other condo units were undamaged.

And, on the bright side, Baird said, she now has a new roof and a new parking lot.

My Dante's Bistro, Spring Hill

The small, family-owned Italian restaurant has consistently drawn customers during the past decade. But in recent years, with larger anchors such as Kmart, Service Merchandise and Kash n' Karry leaving the Village at Timber Pines, business has slipped.

When last summer's hurricanes came through, general manager Beatrice DeLuca said, the situation worsened. Besides losing power during two of the hurricanes and closing the business for several days, traffic on U.S. 19 was light for several days. And damage to the shopping plaza hurt business.

"Tree limbs were down. It was such a mess," DeLuca said. "I did what I could, but it took two to three weeks before the cleaning crew came out."

Despite the setback, DeLuca has a bright outlook for 2005. She has made a few changes at the restaurant, including the return of musical entertainment Friday evenings.

With last summer's arrival of Big Lots, traffic in the plaza has improved slightly. And, DeLuca said, the plaza's owners plan to fix up the shopping center's appearance, which she hopes will help turn business around.

Industrial Electric, Brooksville

Last summer's hurricanes had little effect on Industrial Electric, which closed for one day because it had no power. In fact, business improved, said Carole Brantley, who owns the business with her husband, Ronnie.

"It gave us plenty of extra work at the mines," Brantley said. "Many of the rock mines and sand plants experienced damage, and power lines were knocked down."

Industrial Electric specializes in design and installation of industrial electrical systems throughout the state. The company does no residential work, Brantley said. Although some local mines needed assistance, Brantley said, the company did a lot of work in Polk County after the hurricanes.

Some residual work remains from the hurricanes. "We are still doing repairs," she said. "It takes a long time to get them back the way they're supposed to be."

Although last year's hurricanes were bad, Brantley said, they were not as damaging as Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Vince Vanni and Associates, Spring Hill

Vince Vanni, the owner of a home-based business, said his neighborhood was not a primary focus of the power company's attention after being hit by last summer's hurricanes. As a result, the public relations and marketing consultant had no power for a week.

"It set me back a ways," Vanni said. "It's extremely difficult to work without electricity when you work predominantly with all kinds of electronic equipment. There's no way to generate revenue."

But Vanni considers himself fortunate. During the power outage, he said, he never lost phone service and was able to keep in touch with clients.

"Everyone was extremely understanding, and concessions were made," he said.

Vanni firmly believes in the saying "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and said his business is in its best shape since he started it in 1998, with clients that include Oak Hill Hospital, Weeki Wachee Springs and several medical facilities. He has added two associates on a subcontract basis.

"If you can weather the storm, you come out stronger," Vanni said.

Boyett Grove, Spring Lake

Like any other severe weather conditions, last summer's hurricanes affected Boyett Grove, which grows and sells oranges, grapefruit and a variety of other citrus fruit in the Spring Lake area.

But preparation for several hurricanes wore heavily on Kathy and James Oleson, who run a gift shop and a small children's zoo at their citrus attraction.

"Each time a hurricane would come, we would have to batten down the hatches, bring the animals indoors and close everything up," Kathy Oleson said. "We were closed off and on for six weeks."

The hurricanes brought down a lot of large trees along the property, in the alligator pit and along the fences.

"It was a domino effect," she said. "It seemed when another hurricane came through, it knocked down what was left from the one before."

Oleson said there wasn't too much damage in the citrus groves, which were started by her father, Lee Boyett, in the early 1960s and are still owned by her family. But the business is closely tied to citrus crops throughout the state, she said, and what happens anywhere in Florida affects everyone. And overall, the citrus industry is still hurting, she said.

"We're still recouping," Oleson said.

A few repairs must be made to the roof, signs and some ceramic items, as well as to some of the animal cages, she said.

"But things are pretty much back to normal," she said.

Natural Healing Center, Spring Hill

Michele Evans said last summer's hurricanes definitely had an impact on her business, which offers massages, enzyme replacement therapy and other natural healing services.

The negative effects included losing some regular clients who were financially hurt by the hurricanes. But on a positive note, she gained clients who needed to reduce the high stress caused by the storms.

"Business definitely dropped off for a while," Evans said. "But I wasn't about to let that stop me."

Evans said she came out of the storms without a scratch - not one tree down at her home. But she couldn't help but think about others who weren't as fortunate, she said.

Evans opened the Natural Healing Center in Spring Hill in 1991, but it wasn't until after the storms that she decided to do something different. She began donating $5 from every customer's payment to a hurricane fund.

"I wanted to help everybody who got hurt by this hurricane because I didn't," she said.

During 2005, Evans continues to donate $5 of every payment to a charitable cause. But this year she is collecting donations to benefit victims of the tsunami and the California mudslides.

"It just makes me feel good to do this," Evans said. "I've never felt so good in my entire life, never felt so blessed and protected."

Whispering Oaks Country Club, Ridge Manor

When they bought Whispering Oaks in 2002, Jason and Jill Hofius knew about the possibility of hurricanes in Florida. But being from Indiana, the couple never really imagined the damage a hurricane could cause.

"It basically brought us to a grinding halt," Jason Hofius said of last year's storms.

The business was closed for nearly eight weeks. There was significant tree damage and water damage. "The back nine (on the golf course) never floods," Hofius said, "but last year it did."

Hofius said there have been continuous renovations since he and his wife bought the golf course and country club. The hurricanes ruined a lot of those renovations, he said, but the couple have been working hard to make repairs.

Hofius said they are still feeling some hurricane effect s , and the number of golfers is not back to normal. And they are still recovering from the storms, he said.

"The average person wouldn't be able to tell now," he said, "but there are a few spots that still need to be cleared up," particularly one large tree that's proven difficult to move.

But overall, Hofius said, the golf course's condition is now about as good as it's ever been.

Hernando Beach Bait and Tackle, Hernando Beach

"Anyone working in a business dependent upon weather conditions had it bad" when last summer's hurricanes hit, said Nancy Forshier, owner of Hernando Beach Bait and Tackle.

However, Forshier said, the hurricanes didn't affect her business long term. A few trees fell, but damage was limited to a tent structure on her property.

The business caters to all fishing needs, from bait and tackle to fishing licenses and charter fishing, and has been in the beach community since the late 1960s. Forshier has owned it for 25 years.

The damage from the 2004 hurricanes, she thinks, was minor compared to past storms that have hit Hernando Beach.

"The no-name storm (of March 1993) was much worse, much more devastating," Forshier said. "I lost my home and business in that storm."

Last summer's hurricanes caused no flooding along the coast and did minimal damage in the area, she said.

"The only bad part was the hurricanes all came on the weekend, when fishing is busiest," she said. "But once the rough seas calmed down, it was back to business."

[Last modified February 8, 2005, 16:44:07]

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