Small business owners reflect on 2018 water quality crisis, see some hope for the future

Reporter: Sara Girard
Published: Updated:

On a breezy day in Sanibel, snowbirds flock to the beaches to relax, catch some fish and find shells. But during the summer, when Southwest Florida relies on locals and tourists to fill the beaches, water quality issues snowball into big problems for small businesses.

This time last year, the area was beginning to heal from a summer filled with red tide and blue-green algae that plagued the beaches and waterways.

“There was nothing, but the smell,” Jeff Beigh said in an interview with WINK News in November 2018, describing the summer. At the time, he was the owner of Nanny’s Children’s Shoppe in Sanibel.

Back then, WINK News set out to find how the water quality crisis of summer 2018 impacted Southwest Florida’s economy, getting survey numbers from the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity.

It showed small businesses across the area lost big. More than 400 business owners responded to the survey, reporting at least 122 million dollars in losses from red tide or blue-green algae.

MORE: Water Crisis Impact: Businesses hope to bounce back as tourists return

For business owners like Beigh, it cost him his shop. As of this August, Megan Shores is the new owner of Nanny’s.

“Since he was hit so hard, he was actually in the process of liquidating,” Shores said.

She says he was tired of the roller coaster.

“I just hear a lot of different stories. ‘Yes red tide has always been here, but it’s getting worse.’” Shores said. “Or, ‘No it’s always been like this.’”

But with patience, she says she is up for the challenge.

“He told me, though, that he believes it’s going to bounce back. It’s just going to take time,” Shores said.

Time is something John Paeno, owner of CGT Kayaks in Bonita Springs, says could be on our side.

Last year the water quality crisis cost him his peace of mind.

“We lost our whole summer industry paddling on the water,” Paeno said in November 2018.

From his experience applying for state disaster loans, he says the state still needs to do more to help small businesses recover.

“The tourism industry we have down here supports the state in taxes huge,” Paeno said. “And if we aren’t bringing that money in the whole state hurts.”

But since last year Paeno says he has seen some changes that give him hope, including the city’s new bioreactor which he says uses wood chips to filter water runoff and reduce the amount of nutrients entering our waterways.

“This is huge. If other communities did this – and they are looking at doing this – we can reduce our nutrients in these waters dramatically,” Paeno said.

Add in the fact that Gov. Ron Desantis has promised $22 million of the state budget solely to combat the impacts of red tide and toxic algae blooms, and Paeno believes the future is bright.

“Over the next couple years it’s going to impact our businesses, I don’t see how we can avoid it,” Paeno said. “But I see hope that we can fix this.”

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