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For some Gulf surf shops, from bad to worse

By Shelby Stanger
July 13, 2010 5:45 AM

With the BP oil spill now on day 84, we decided to check back with retailers to see how they were faring.

Unfortunately, what was bad has now become a lot worse in some cases. Retailers are suffering, BP isn’t paying claims fast enough and some manufacturers have not paid a lot of attention to the area, shop owners say.

Topping that off, the start of the hurricane season has brought waves. But many surfers and retailers along the Gulf now can’t surf in their own backyard.

Johnny Mcelroy“It looks like a cow came over and (pooped) on the beach if you want to know the truth,” said Johnny Mcelroy, who owns Blonde John’s, a surf, skate and skimboard shop in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Mcelroy said business is down 40% to 70% depending on the day in what is usually his busiest time of year.

Gulf Shores is a summer vacation destination and with beaches closed or advisories posted, people aren’t visiting.

“I have been open for 10 years and have had a 25% increase every year since I started. I have already put my balls on the chopping block to move.”

(Right: Johnny Mcelroy of Blonde John's in Gulf Shores, Alabama.)

At Innerlight Surf and Skate Shop, which has stores in Gulf Shores, Alabama and in Pensacola, Destin, and Gulf Breeze, Florida, business was mostly flat last month, before the oil reached Florida.

Now that it has hit the shore, business is hurting.

According to Pensacola store manager Shannon Hampton, some stores are down 50% and others are down 30% to 40%. When surf camp cancellations and no shows are included, business is down about 80% overall.

“We are anticipating it getting worse as we get into summer and winter,” said Hampton, who added in Pensacola the beaches currently have advisories posted, but are still open.

News reports show Gulf beaches are open and swimming is not prohibited but swimmers are advised to avoid coming into contact with oil, whether in the water or on land.

Sometimes the oil is visible, sometimes there are tar balls and other days it is just the same beautiful beach they are used to, Hampton said.

The recent Hurricane Alex brought waves that pushed oil onto the beaches in Pensacola. She said she has sold a few surfboards, but SUP sales, which initially rose after the spill, have since declined.

Innerlight Gulf ShoresShannon’s husband, Matt Hampton, who manages Innerlight’s Gulf Shores location, said people are wary of stand up paddling now, since the ocean feeds into the bays and waterways.

At Innerlight Gulf Shores, Matt said the store went from being down 30% to down 50%. During the usually busy July 4th weekend, hotels and condos in town had only a 50% occupancy rate.

(Right: The skate section at Innerlight's Gulf Shores, Alabama store.)

See page two for Texas report, claims problems


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