Mixed sales bag for local merchants during flotilla and holiday weekend

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The culmination of the Thanksgiving holiday, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and the North Carolina Holiday Flotilla brings thousands of additional visitors to Wrightsville Beach every year, but the experience is different for each commercial sector.

Wrightsville Beach hotels typically see a spike in reservations for Thanksgiving and into the weekend. Blockade Runner Beach Resort, the flotilla host hotel, was full for the duration but representatives from both the Holiday Inn and Shell Island resorts said a majority of their guests do not travel specifically for the flotilla.

“The flotilla typically does not have a huge impact; a lot of families were here for the Thanksgiving holiday and into the weekend,” said Maureen Donovan, Holiday Inn sales and marketing director. “We had a few people that went but it was more of a fun thing to do while they are here. We did have quite a few families participate in the Turkey Trot Thanksgiving morning, however.”

Nick Butler at Shell Island Resort said the hotel was about 80 percent full Thanksgiving night and Saturday night, and 90 percent full Friday night.

Retail businesses around the island experienced similar disparities throughout the holiday weekend.

Sweetwater Surf Shop employee Spencer Lem said the shop’s sidewalk sale drew crowds but the overall number of shoppers appeared lower.

“We did a sidewalk show sale Friday and Saturday but it was not quite as busy as [2013],” Lem said. “Saturday midday is usually busier with more people walking around but once it gets close to 5 p.m. it definitely slows down with people hunkered down to watch the flotilla.”

South End Surf Shop owner Jeff DeGroote said his business was well up for this year’s Thanksgiving weekend. DeGroote said Black Friday was the best day of the weekend, far surpassing sales on Small Business Saturday, which were up 50 percent.

While the N.C. Holiday Flotilla Day in the Park may have drawn some of his business on Saturday, DeGroote said he was happy to share the foot traffic with those vendors in the park.

“I think it is good for those small businesses that they are getting some traffic because there is enough to go around,” DeGroote said. “Small Business Saturday is a good thing to keep that resonating in people’s minds concerning getting out to support all the local businesses around here.”

Estelle Baker, owner of The Fisherman’s Wife, said business in her store over the weekend appeared to be on par with last year’s numbers and she always welcomes the additional flotilla traffic.

“It brings a lot of people to the beach and a lot of those people may not come to the beach this weekend but they come because of the flotilla,” Baker said.

One constant is that people have to eat and one business that takes full advantage of the flotilla influx is Mellow Mushroom, said general manager Jennifer Underwood.

“The day of flotilla is generally one of our busiest days of the year and it is pretty comparable to the Fourth of July for us,” Underwood said. “It is because we are right here and people can get a warm pizza and take it with them or they can eat here and walk up to the bridge.”

While the impacts of the flotilla and Thanksgiving weekend may vary for different businesses, Baker believes the visitors are a benefit to all.

“I think it is a positive for our whole area . . . and it brings business in degrees; for some it brings more and for others not as much but it is a trickle down,” she said.

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