Tragic attacks affect local economy
By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN
© St. Petersburg Times,
Usually, a ringing phone at Seven Hills Travel Service signals sun-seeking customers ready to spend some cash.
But in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, travelers have been frantically calling to change their plans.
"We've been inundated with callers who want to come home," Anne Milner, owner of the Spring Hill business, said Wednesday. "You can't even get rental cars."
Like other travel planners in Hernando County, Milner is facing clients in situations that sometimes she is helpless to fix.
"I have a group stuck in Memphis," she said. "They were going from Tampa to an Alaskan cruise tour."
The 20 Spring Hill passengers could not board their connecting flight after the federal government grounded all planes Tuesday.
Some stranded travelers fear continuing on with their flights and want to come home, Milner said. Others wish to carry on with their trips, but want to be booked through international flights and not domestic ones for fear of another terrorist attack.
"We're trying to get back to people the best we can," she said.
At Cruises Inc. in Spring Hill, franchise owner George Shannon has been fielding calls from customers afraid they won't be able to make their cruises today because of limited air travel.
Four customers decided to leave New Jersey on Wednesday by car to head for Tampa, where they hoped to board a cruise today. If the cruise is canceled, they plan to vacation in Florida, he said.
"Other people are cruising this weekend, and I have no answers for them," Shannon said. "Cruise lines are telling me everything is scheduled, but with the air on hold, I don't know. Mostly people are curious about their future."
If customers made air arrangements separate from their cruise package, they might not be able to obtain a refund if the grounded flight forces them to miss their cruise, he said.
Though he has not received any cancellations, Shannon expects the terrorist attack to dampen his business for quite awhile.
"I think this will put a little stifle on new bookings for a short time anyway," he said. "A lot of people are saying, "I'm afraid to fly.' "
While the travel business sagged, other areas of the Hernando economy picked up after Tuesday's attacks.
Restaurant business picked up again Wednesday around the area following deserted buffets and dining halls on Tuesday, when many diners stayed home to watch news reports.
Also, ammunition and firearm sales skyrocketed.
Eagle's Trading Co. north of Weeki Wachee saw a fourfold increase Tuesday in sales of ammunition, rifles and handguns, said owner Ken Stewart.
"People had a lot of fear," Stewart said. "They expressed themselves that we are being attacked. You take a lot of old-timers brought up around Pearl Harbor, people are in a lot of panic and a lot of fear. . . . It wasn't like, let's go get guns and go kill people. They want to protect themselves."
To head off a run on gun sales, Kmart stores across the country were ordered by corporate officials to pull all guns and ammunition off the shelves, area managers said.
Custom Jewelry and Pawn Inc. on Mariner Boulevard in Spring Hill did the same Wednesday after receiving several disturbing phone calls, said owner Ken Gariepy.
"They were asking what type of military weapons I had and magazine capacity and caliber," he said. "They were definitely looking for military-type guns. I basically told them I wasn't selling guns right now.
"They didn't say what they wanted to do, but they were acting a little paranoid like the world was coming to an end."
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