Shops and eateries in downtown Apalachicola say Santa delivered robust sales on his shrimp boat this year.
Apalachicola never looked better with musicians and strolling carolers enlivening the busy street and luminaries everywhere. During the afternoon, glorious blue skies were tickled by wispy white clouds. It was perfect November weather, even if it was a little too warm to feel like Christmas, since Black Friday came a week early this year.
In keeping with tradition, Mr. Claus arrived aboard the shrimp boat Buddy’s Boys and mounted his glittering throne. At dusk, Apalachicola Mayor Pro Tem Frank Cook flipped the big red switch to light the city Christmas tree.
The Orman House and Raney House historic sites, both beautifully decorated, stayed open late and served refreshments to visitors. Members of Philaco Woman’s Club pitched in to help park staff adorn the Orman House, and to work with Lynn Wilson in decorating the Raney House on behalf of the Apalachicola Area Historical Society.
The Apalachicola Municipal Library and Franklin Needs Inc. each decorated one of the four trees that Wilson provided for the Raney House. Wilson adorned the other two trees, one with a coastal theme and a second arrayed with Russian dolls.
George and Pam Mahr contributed a magnificent nine-foot cedar to the Orman House, where it is on display in the parlor adorned with antique ornaments.
Dale Julian, owner of Downtown Books and Purl and a veteran of many holiday seasons, said this Black Friday seemed a little different to her.
“It had a different feel to it,” she said. “We started with strong sales first thing in the morning and it went on all day. Most years we spend the whole day gift wrapping. This year, people seemed to be buying for themselves.”
Christine Knight, a sales person at Artemis Gallery, which specializes in art and clothing, said even with three people on the floor, it was nonstop on Friday.
Susan Wolfe, proprietor of Forgotten Coast Used and Out-of-Print Books, said business was good on both Friday and Saturday. She said many of her customers were in the market for history books about Apalachicola and the Panhandle.
Karen Martinoff, owner of Charming Comforts, an upscale gift and furnishing shop said, “This is our first year at our main street location, so we have nothing to compare it to. We were busy from the minute we opened, even with extra help. We planned to close at 8 but we were here until 8:30 p.m.
“I can say it’s the first time we’ve had a line to check out with two registers open, “she said. “We did a lot of gift wrapping. I had one person just to do that. It was a record day for us. Saturday was good too.”
The Stuffed Owl, a specialty kitchen shop, reported sales in line with last year and remained strong from opening on Friday until about 4 p.m. Saturday.
Many restaurants reported waits for seating and, with downtown diners full, the wealth spread out to encompass Papa Joes, Captain Snooks restaurant in Eastpoint and other outlying eateries.
At 8 a.m. Saturday morning, Curt and Beth Blair, owners of Stage Left Pizza were already in Panama City stocking up on restaurant supplies. “We pretty much sold out of everything last night,” said Curt Blair.
Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce Director Anita Grove said all the downtown businesses she polled reported strong sales that started early and continued until the stores closed on Friday evening, often after 9 p.m.
Santa made landfall a few minutes early. Dance studio owner Pam Nobles and company staged a dazzling review in their hot pink attire.
Philaco and Franklin Needs both raised funds for their organizations at booths, and called the crowd extremely generous. The Bay Area Choral Society made the rounds passing the bucket to support the Franklin County food pantry.
The line to see Santa seemed endless and organizers regretfully closed up shop at 8:30 p.m. with a promise that the man in red would be back Saturday afternoon for a photo op with kids and dogs.
Darlene Pearce, of Cairo, Ga., said her family came to stay at their Lanark Village getaway for the holiday. On Friday, she brought daughter Ashton to see Santa but also came to Apalachicola specifically to shop.
“I decided this year, with the economy the way it is, I was going to patronize small businesses and shop locally,” said Pearce. “I’ve already been to Two Gulls and Beach Traders this afternoon.”
Late Saturday afternoon, Julian said her business had finally started to drop off. “As a small business owner I can say, it was great, but I’m happy that’s over for this year,” she said.