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Editor's Notebook

Photography by Rebecca Baxter By Susan Burns June 30, 2010

Some people check their stocks multiple times a day—a habit I always figured was guaranteed to raise your stress level more than the value of your portfolio. But lately I’ve been obsessively looking at maps, horribly sad photos and commentary from all sorts of Web sites to see where the oil from Deepwater Horizon is spreading.

The good news is we’re in what scientists call “the forbidden zone,” because the Loop Current and the shape of our coastline and seafloor tend to keep water flowing away from us. So far, our beaches remain beautiful, and experts predict we probably won’t see oil lapping at the shore. But being in this lucky zone hasn’t prevented petrophobia—fear of impending oil—and that’s already damaging our economy.

Fishing guides have been hard hit, and some wholesale and retail fish sellers as well as restaurants are reporting fears about eating locally caught fish. Two Anna Maria Island fishing tournaments were canceled because of the spill.

Realtors tell me they’ve lost some deals, and others are on hold. Lee DeLieto Jr. of Michael Saunders & Company says fear of oil cost him two deals recently: the first a sale of a multifamily residential property that was going to be used as investment property, and the other a big sale of a St. Armands retail property to a New York-based client. “Whether you’re shucking oysters or not closing deals, we’re losing income,” he says.

Residential realtors are affected, too. An acquaintance of mine, after waiting for years to buy that perfect downtown condo, walked away from a contract on a Palm Avenue unit because she was afraid the oil spill will send property values plummeting.

So far, tourism seems stable. Virginia Haley of the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau says as of day 52 of the spill, 500 room nights—worth about $100,000—had been canceled. But most were replaced by new bookings, mainly people who had vacation plans in the oil-stricken Panhandle. The same is true in Manatee County, says Jessica Grace of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, where they’ve had 42 cancellations. Larry Starr, the president of Resort Quest Southwest Florida, has experienced half a dozen cancellations at his 1,000 properties from St. Petersburg to Lee County. “But we’ve seen four or five times that many bookings from people who wanted to go to the Panhandle,” he says. “We’re in a net position, but we really don’t know how many people aren’t calling because of the oil.”

So as we all watch, wait and hope, we need to keep telling the world that our beaches are beautiful, and we’re still in business. And if you want to read about something good that’s landed on our shores, turn to People to Watch on page 16, and take pride in the impressive talent we keep attracting to Manatee and Sarasota.

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