During the SPI Board of Aldermen meeting there was an update from Dan Quant of the Convention Center. Results from a vacationer satisfaction survey were available, and its chief points were outlined. For example, over 90% of the responders said they thought SPI was a wonderful, clean place, a big increase since the last report done several years ago (about 66%).
One of the negatives was perceived as being lack of places to shop and eat. On a 1-to-10 scale this one came in at about 7, not bad, but the BOA jumped on the issue ferociously. “Who is responsible to helping small retail business on the Island?”
It turns out that pretty much nobody is. The EDC does some large-scale projects. The Chamber of Commerce does … hey what do they do, anyway? I am sure the Chamber is composed of nice people but we were confused. The Convention Center was also tarred with the goal of really trying to do something for promoting Island retail, as that would help raise sales tax revenues and increase tourism satisfaction. Oh, the business incubator over at the university (UTB) was also mentioned.
I think all this is a grant thing and a wonderful concept which should be supported. Then again, a little voice was saying things in my ear – maybe things most folks don’t want to hear.
Unfortunately, most small retail and restaurant businesses don’t have a business model that only allows them about three months of great profits, followed by nine months of the pure-D pits. One can understand how family arrangements (Lantern Inn, Gulf Oyster Bar), poor business plan (a few old pizza shops), and some gas stations went out of business. But golly, if you knew all the fine upscale places being sold because of lack of people, money and paying too much taxes, it would indeed be pretty frightening. How about the Brown Pelican, an internationally known B&B? How about Antonio’s rental and car repair facility on Oleander and Padre? They’re leaving in crowds.
Why are many hotel rates less than 40 bucks? The same exact hotel chains in San Antonio or Austin charge double that or more. I can tell you why, because there are only about 5,000 people on the Island, and most of them already have a place to sleep. The only reason most stay open is to pick up a few conventions, holidays, and Winter Texans.
Now hotels aren’t the small retail businesses we had in mind, but it shows what is happening on the Island. The numbers of businesses on the Island is also, at least according to the State Comptroller, has been flat-lined since 2001. One moves in and another pulls out. The Island Pharmacy moves out and some half-dead hippie shop moves in. Great – we sure could use a pharmacy over here instead of that horrible Wal-Mart over the Casueway.
I have a theory about why tourists find the Island a little boring on the shopping side. Except for a few funky places like the Cat House, most all of the T-shirt shops stock exactly the same crap. It might be another God-awful, butt- ugly building but it has the same exact stuff. One can only ponder about why some have gelato stands or tattoo parlors associated with them, as neither is makes a bit a sense. I give up!