Spring sending mixed signals for business on Myrtle Beach’s Boulevard

dbryant@thesunnews.comApril 6, 2013 

— Chad Mitchell didn’t hesitate when asked if his family’s new oceanfront miniature golf business along Ocean Boulevard had been busy last week.

“Oh, yes,” he said, standing beside bins of colorful golf balls at the new Shark Attack Adventure Golf on the oceanfront at Seventh Avenue North. “It’s been real good. And the traffic on the Boulevard at night, there are a lot of people in town.”

The Easter holiday is typically a gauge of how the summer tourism season might shape up, but this year it has given mixed messages. Mitchell and others say the signs point to a good summer. Others say this spring -- with too many cooler and rainy days than last year’s picture-perfect weather -- is coming up short, but they are still hopeful for a solid summer.

“Everything has not gone our way this year,” said Chris Walker, who owns several businesses along Ocean Boulevard and is president of the Oceanfront Merchants Association. “It’s been tough.”

The Easter period, from March 24 through March 30, was a bit off from last year. Lodging occupancy during the week averaged 52 percent, down about 2 percent compared to the same week last year, while occupancy last weekend hit 75 percent, down 3.9 percent compared to the same week a year ago, according to Coastal Carolina University’s Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism.

That’s the same occupancy level as the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day, which had been the busiest weekend so far in 2013 thanks to nice weather, sports events and a car show.

Easter is typically a spring highlight for businesses, some of which extend hours during the Easter period, then scale back until summer kicks off Memorial Day weekend.

“You don’t get a second chance with [Easter],” Walker said. “Easter you only get one crack at it.”

Weather is a big culprit, Walker said. Last winter and spring, the temperatures were much warmer, luring vacationers to the city’s tourist core and leaving businesses boasting about the crowds. This year, not so much, with only a few 70-degree days to brag about.

“We paid it all back this year,” Walker said Thursday morning, as showers drenched the Myrtle Beach area. “It’s been a crazy spring. Everybody is a little disappointed with the weather.”

Tourism trackers predict a small increase in lodging occupancy for the spring, maybe 1 percent. For the six weeks from Feb. 17 through March 30, lodging occupancy averaged 48 percent, up a modest 1.8 percent from the same period last year, according to CCU.

Some Boulevard businesses say traffic, especially last week, was bustling. Under sunny skies Wednesday, pedestrians jammed the sidewalks, patrons filled patio tables along the boardwalk, thrill-seekers were flung into the air in a slingshot ride.

“If it’s any sign as how March has gone, [the summer is] going to be awesome,” said Alton Swann, who owns a wireless accessory store along the Boulevard and is opening Hurricane’s bar and restaurant along the boardwalk in May. “Easter is a sign of what the summer will bring.”

Hurricane’s is one of several new restaurants and attractions that are under construction or recently opened along the Boulevard. I Love Sugar, a store-attraction devoted to everything sweet, plans to open the first week of May.

8th Avenue Tiki Bar and Grill, which opened in October, is among a wave of redevelopment between Eighth and Seventh avenues North. Shark Attack opened recently, with its Hammerhead Grill planning to open in early June. Across the street, the old Beverly Motel has recently been demolished, with new development in the works.

“The Boulevard needed an update, a facelift, you might say,” said Gil Reibenbach, a part owner and general manager of the Tiki Bar and Grill. “We are definitely helping renovate the Boulevard and the boardwalk.”

Walker is hoping for some better weather days -- nice temperatures always lure crowds, he said.

“When the weather is decent, it is really good,” Walker said. “I’m still optimistic how the summer is going to be.”

Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or at dbryant@thesunnews.com or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_dawnbryant.

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