Seeing oil stain Gulf Shores’ beaches in early June didn’t stop Tina Marxen from dipping her toes back into the same sand this weekend.
“There’s a huge difference from June,” said the 40-year-old Hoover resident. “The oil is gone, and if we could just let people know it’s OK, they would come back.”
On the last day of what many consider the unofficial end of summer — the last big hurrah for businesses along Alabama’s Gulf Coast — the beaches were full but uncrowded and the waters, free of any oily sheen, cooled off only a few swimmers.
Businesses like the Pink Pony, normally brimming with people no matter the hour, was nearly empty at 11:30 a.m.
The parking lot between the pub and its neighbor, the Hangout, had more empty spaces than parked cars, and from the line of jammed packed traffic along Ala. 182, it was clear that people were getting an earlier than normal start on their trips home.
Yet Pink Pony manager Jennifer Baity said the holiday weekend was a busy one for the pub.
“It reminded me of how it should have been all summer,” she said as she served the four patrons inside the restaurant. “It was a good weekend, but I don’t know if it was as good as previous years.”
“A lot of people told me they were surprised to not see any oil,” Baity continued. “A lot of people said if they had known it looked like this, they would have come sooner.”
Daphne resident Terri Wilson said she comes each Labor Day weekend to the beach, and was surprised when Sunday afternoon she went into the Pink Pony to find it “about a third full. It’s always so busy.”
Wilson, 52, said the holiday weekend appeared “a little mild. There are definitely fewer people on the beach. I think people just don’t think it’s safe yet.”
Keith Gann said he drove on Wednesday from Repton to the coast on his brother’s insistence that “it’s safe to be down here.”
But when he arrived, Gann said, he spotted oily debris washing ashore.
“It’s slower this year,” the 46-year-old man said. “There aren’t as many people swimming, even though I haven’t seen oil since Wednesday.”
Farther from the beach, at The Track off Ala. 59, general manager Paul Cruise said business was better this holiday weekend than in previous years.
“We’re doing better than last year,” he said. “We might be up in business from previous years by a couple percent, but I’m not sure exactly how much.”
Cruise said that after talking to area condo owners and managers, “I knew they were booked. I knew we wouldn’t have to worry to much.”
A trip from the beach to Mobile took nearly two hours Monday afternoon because of heavy traffic northbound on Ala. 59 and nearly-stopped traffic along westbound Interstate 10.
The traffic, many said, showed that even if things had slowed on Monday, the weekend had been as busy as described.
“The water is clear,” Wilson said. “It’s absolutely beautiful down here. It was time to come back.”