Fay deals one more blow to battered Keys economy

Aug 19, 2008

The Keys’ economy, starting to recover from the 2005 season of four hurricanes, took another hit when tourists were evacuated for Fay.

Miami Herald–August 19, 2008

More sandwiches are going uneaten at the Quiznos Subs at Mile Marker 100 owned by Frank Navarro.

Ever since hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma in 2005, sales have been off, he said. So far this year, Quiznos sales have been down about 15 percent from last year, said Navarro, who opened just for lunch on Monday.

”The price of fuel and the cost of living, being in the Keys, is already overpriced anyway,” Navarro said.

The times have been doubly tough on him. He operates a boat for Vagabond Sports Fishing. Not only do mandatory evacuations take business away, hurricane threats and storm damage raise insurance rates.

After Hurricane Wilma swamped the Keys three years ago, the economy slumped, the victim of overvalued homes and a volatile insurance market. For the two-year period after Wilma, Keys home sales plummeted nearly 28 percent. Foreclosures have soared and homes have dropped in value — but not far enough for many workers.

But still, the islands have been cleaned of almost all debris and, but for a vacant home here or there, few signs of the brutal storm seasons remain.

”Every day without a hurricane accrues to our benefit,” said Bill Dickinson, a Realtor with Prudential Keyside Realty. “Every day with a hurricane evacuation puts a chink in it all.”

Although this is a slow time for the tourism season anyway, Key West Mayor Morgan McPherson said the Sunday evacuation cut short the large motorcycle fest called the Poker Run weekend. This year, the city planned to attract boaters as well.

Business was slow all over Monday. On most days, the Sandal Factory stays open until 7 p.m. Clients from the next-door Fish House and an influx of European tourists flush with strong euros have helped keep the sandal shop afloat.

But Monday, most tourists had departed. The Fish House was closed. And the Sandal Factory was closing in early afternoon.

”When they send the tourists away, it takes about a week for this town to recover,” said clerk Sue Mooney.