Busy holidays about to be followed by busier season
Season is upon us – a fact anyone out and about can plainly see.
Drivers turning left from Beachland onto A1A often sit through two lights before being able to make the turn. Boaters cruising into Vero Marina for a few nights’ stay discover the available mooring buoys and wet slips are already taken. Shoppers at the Miracle Mile Publix search for parking spaces, then wait for carts.
Restaurant goers can’t get a table at popular restaurants without a reservation two weeks in advance. Customers belly up at popular bars two and three deep, making a bee-line for a stool whenever someone leaves.
Corporate and private jets arrive and take off at Vero Beach Airport in record numbers, and overall air traffic at the airport is greater than it has been in the past 25 years, say airport administrators.
Further, Vero Beach Police Department statistics on crashes, DUIs and tickets for the barrier island and the mainland show an increase of about 20 percent in December, as compared to July.
Police on the barrier island are responding to more EMS calls and parking lot accidents than ever before because of the greater number of people and cars, and official traffic counts show a sizable increase in vehicles on barrier island roads.
“How you feel about the crowds depends on your perspective. For a lot of people here all year, it’s annoying, but business owners love the crowds because the congestion translates into receipts,” said Chris Mora, county director of public works.
Mora’s office, which conducts vehicle counts at traffic lights, has seen a 30 percent increase in vehicles at the intersection of Beachland and A1A since before Thanksgiving. By mid-March, predicts Mora, that increase will go up to 40 percent.
What many Vero Beach residents consider congestion makes Citrus Grillhouse chef Scott Varricchio laugh.
“I came here from New York City,” said Varricchio. “Now, that’s congestion.”
Between Dec. 22 and Jan. 1, Varricchio saw record sales at his restaurant. On New Year’s Eve, the 160-seat restaurant had 200 reservations, 100 names on a waiting list and 100 walk-ins.
“Large numbers are a good problem to have,” said Varricchio.
Costa d’Este beach resort manager Ed Riley agreed: “Our restaurant (The Wave) is the busiest it has ever been. We’re delighted to be 100 percent full every night,” he said.
A block away, Ocean Grill is also packing them in, with dozens and dozens of reservations – which are only accepted for parties of five or more – every night. Since Dec. 20, customers have had to call two weeks in advance to get a reservation for a weekend night or holiday, said restaurant manager Beth Eriksen.
Bobby McCarthy, owner of Bobby’s restaurant, which celebrates 34 years on the barrier island on Jan. 12, saw hour-long waits for tables through December.
“We are doing phenomenally well. The last three years have been great and now we’re seeing more business than last year,” he said Sunday afternoon after lunchtime, when the restaurant and bar were still full.
Last Wednesday, Lemon Tree restaurant owner Paul Castraberti rushed out to a wholesaler to replenish supplies.
“We have never run low on food before,” he said. “It’s so crazy busy in this town right now, it’s overwhelming.”
In Indian River Shores, public safety operations director Mark Shaw said that Shores EMS calls have increased 100 percent since late summer. Most are for minor auto accidents, he said, because people in a hurry back out of parking spots without looking first.
But, while accidents are up, speeding tickets are down, said Shores acting police chief Tony Dudley: “With all of the traffic on A1A, people can’t speed,” he explained.
At Vero Beach Marina Saturday afternoon, harbor master Tim Grabenbauer hardly had time to catch his breath between filling boat tanks with gas and taking calls on his phone and radio.
“Sorry, we have no mooring buoys or wet slips available,” he repeated all afternoon to cruisers heading this way from ports between Canada and North Carolina.
But by late afternoon, a yacht unexpectedly left, freeing up overnight dock space for a 121-foot Benetti, headed to the Cayman Islands.
“We’re seeing more large yachts than ever before,” said Grabenbauer, who calls this busy time of year “diesel time” instead of “season,” because of the large yachts arriving at the marina, requiring diesel fuel.
The marina sold 32 percent more diesel fuel in 2014 than in 2013, and, if early January, 2015, is any indication, Grabenbauer expects the 2015 sales numbers to be much higher.
Sunday afternoon, dozens of jets and planes lined up on the runway at the Vero Beach Airport to take off to Canada, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York, after their passengers spent most of New Year’s week on the barrier island.
“We are seeing more jet traffic than ever before – both privately owned jets and fractional ownerships,” said airport assistant director Todd Scherr.
Tanned passengers in shorts waited in the Sun Jet Center with heavy coats over their arms, grudgingly talking about heading back to the Northeast, where heavy snow is predicted.
Meanwhile, dozens of people walked the beach, toasted the ocean view from restaurants and bars and meandered through Central Beach in shorts on yet another warm and sunny winter day in Vero Beach.