Harmful bacteria levels have closed the beaches four times this summer. Add the seaweed, the heat and Hurricane Dorian and you have a slow summer for businesses.
— Hurricane Dorian ruined Labor Day weekend for many Palm Beach County communities, but for Lake Worth Beach, it was only the latest blow to businesses this summer.
The waters off the pier have closed four times this summer because of harmful bacteria levels, more than any summer since at least 2013, according to Health Department data. In addition, an abundance of Sargassum seaweed and heavy storms have led to one of the lowest turnouts of beachgoers in recent summers, said Jeremy Hanlon, one of the owners of Benny’s on the Beach.
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“There’s less people out there enjoying themselves that wander into the restaurant,” he said.
Benny’s would usually see a big beach draw in the afternoons, Hanlon said. Now, “that’s pretty much obsolete.”
That means a drop in bar snacks and “bites from the beach.” And a drop in happy hour.
“There’s just not that pull that we used to have.”
Instead, the restaurant is offering more summer incentives to close the gap in sales, Hanlon said. Sometimes customers “will come through the rain” for a free bottle of wine with a seafood dinner.
“We can’t control (the weather and closings), so we focus on what we can,” he said. “The experience. The view doesn’t change.”
While summers are always slower than the prime snowbird months, it’s never been this slow, said Anthony Vultaggio, owner of Mamma Mia's On the Beach.
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“It would be better if the beach didn’t close every other day,” he said.
“It’s been very very negatively impacting us.”
Sales typically dip 30 to 40 percent in the summer, he said. Now the pizza place is taking in only 25 percent of its usual earnings.
“We only get a night crowd,” Vultaggio said. “We don’t get a day crowd anymore, because the beach is closed.”
He’s frustrated. Especially when nearby beaches in Boca Raton and Jupiter are open.
“Sometimes we don’t even know why it’s closing,” he said.
Lake Worth Beach’s new parking meters don’t make it easier to get customers in, Vultaggio said. The meters run $3 for an hour, while meters at Boca Raton Inlet Beach are $2 per hour on weekdays and $3 per hour on weekends.
But the restaurants need all the help they can get, Vultaggio said.
“With the parking situation down here, it’s not that easy to get people to come in unless they’re going to the beach or they really love our pizza.”
As an alternative to the ocean, residents seem eager for a community pool. Residents have flocked to penny sales tax workshops with dioramas and crafted speeches describing their hopes for a waterfront pool.
It will be up to commissioners to decide if they wish to spend an estimated $10 million in sales tax earnings on a pool. Other ideas discussed include improving roads, a public works garage and a new tie-line to the state’s electrical grid.
But there’s no denying that the options for swimming this summer were slim, said Donna Dries, of Lake Worth Beach.
“The beach has been horrible this year,” she said. “If it wasn't the seaweed, it was the bacteria, or scorching sand temperatures.”
Dries said, “in addition to all of the natural elements,” parking added one more con to spending the day at the beach this summer.
“We went much less this year, than years past.”