|By Tony Vindell, Valley Morning Star,
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 18, 2006- SOUTH PADRE ISLAND -- Thousands of college students convened at Coca Cola Beach this past week, but other parts of the Island looked like any other day.
The beach is not the Island's latest waterfront spot, but rather a temporary seashore area set up in front of the Radisson Resort.
For the last several years, Coca Cola Beach, which is sponsored by the bottling company, has become a sort of party headquarters for college students who come to this Island resort for Spring Break.
On the other end of the Island, another large group of students partied at Bahia Mar Resort.
This past week, crews from MTV's "Real World" and "Viva La Bam" were at the resort to provide some entertainment.
But apart from those two hotels, there was little activity at the other 26 hotels listed in The Guide to South Padre Island.
Wednesday's crowds gave a good indication that the rest of Texas Week, which ends today, was looking good. But on Thursday, it looked unusually quiet at Bahia Mar.
By contrast, Coca Cola Beach was exceptionally busy and loud just about every afternoon during the week.
For night entertainment, Louis's Backyard and Chao's were drawing the biggest crowds.
Some Island merchants said that with the exception of Texas Week, Spring Break 2006 has been very soft compared to the last three years.
Others said they would reserve their comments until after the sales tax report for the month of March comes out later in the spring.
Carolyn Hauschildt, who owns a couple of restaurants here, said she got ready for the expected throngs of students who come here every year.
She said the crowds have been on the lighter side, and added that water has been one of her bigger sellers.
At D'Pizza Joint and Jesse's Cantina & Restaurant, two eateries that have been here for the last 23 years, Spring Break also has been so-so.
Al Sularz and his son Michael, the pizza place owners, said the long lines usually seen in other years have all but disappeared, not only at their business but practically everywhere else.
"Spring Break isn't what it used to be," the younger Sularz said. "What gives us a good amount of business are the Winter Texans."
Jesse Mermea, owner of Jesse's, said there were hardly any reservations made at his restaurant during Spring Break.
"So far, this is not the Spring Break we were waiting for," he said in the middle of the week.
Some T-shirt shop operators voiced the same concern, saying sales have been slow.
Although Spring Break still constitutes a big part of the Island commercial activity, some business managers said the Island keeps pricing itself out of the market and that the overwhelming presence of law enforcement officers is impacting Spring Break.
But Mayor Bob Pinkerton doesn't think so.
"I think this is the most we have had in a long time," he said, referring to the police officers from different entities. "We now have good crowd control and better coverage."
Pinkerton said he has been told that traffic and business have been slow.
But he said, "I think Spring Break is as good as ever. I think we got good crowds. I am here at the Radisson and it's packed, so it is at Bahia Mar."
Island officials said as many as 85,000 students were expected to be here this month.
Polo Cantu, a resident of Laguna Vista who works in Port Isabel, said the number of vehicles seen so far this Spring Break isn't anything like in previous years.
"It used to take me no less than 11/2 hours to drive from home to work," he said, referring to the five-mile or so drive. "This time it's taking me about 15 minutes."
In Harlingen, home of the Rio Grande Valley's largest airport, businesses such as taxi companies, airport shops and restaurants are also reporting a slow month.
"I made one trip early this week to the Island," Joe Morales, a cab driver, said while sitting outside the airport terminal. "Before, I used to make at least six trips in one day during Spring Break."
Copyright (c) 2006, Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Texas
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