Arleen Mazzella stands just inside the door of Antonio’s Made in Italy. With sparkling blue eyes and a ready smile, she welcomes customers and invites them to sit and enjoy the Micanopy restaurant’s Italian cuisine.
She’s one of the restaurant’s owners, stepping in as wait staff to save money on payroll taxes during the slower summer season.
Mazzella and her husband, Antonio, opened the restaurant in September 2013. It’s too soon to get a good idea of seasonal trends, Mazzella said, but they expect business to decrease enough this summer that they will need to temporarily reduce the 13-member staff.
“Nobody wants a job they can only work one night a week,” she said. “We can’t afford to pay people for not doing anything. Not only that, if servers can’t make tips, they’re not going to want to be here.”
They will have fewer staff on the clock each day and put in more hours on the floor themselves.
Antonio’s is just one of the North Central Florida businesses whose owners are preparing for what’s typically the slowest season of the year, but it is expected to be the best summer in years.
The University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research reported that Florida consumers’ perception of their financial state, compared to a year ago, was lower in May than when it peaked in March. Before that, it hasn’t been this high since 2006.
Even though business slows in the summer, Mazzella said things aren’t too hard for Antonio’s.
New customers come to the restaurant all the time, about 40 percent of each night’s patronage are there for the first time, she said.
And most come back.
Mazzella attributes this to the authentic food her Italian-born husband makes.
“He hasn’t diverted from the traditional way of cooking,” she said. “He makes his own mozzarella. You can’t get that anywhere.”
Throughout the United States, revenue for small businesses like Antonio’s has grown since 2010 but dropped slightly after the beginning of this year.
This summer will be the first for First Magnitude Brewing Co., and president Meg The Losen expects “a slight slowdown, but really not anything significant,” she said.
The Losen plans to draw customers to the Gainesville brewery by increasing the hours it is open each week and hosting community events. Starting the first week of June, the brewery will be open on Tuesdays and an hour later each Friday and Saturday night.
“We typically close completely to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays, but we’ve found that quite a few folks still show up,” she said.
The Losen is optimistic about First Magnitude’s future, regardless of the season.
“Continuing to learn how to be a part of the local community and have people come here and enjoy us, even when it’s summer, will be nice,” she said.
And that optimism isn’t unfounded. Data from the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Gainesville’s economy is on a positive track.
As of April, its unemployment rate was at 4.3 percent. This is 0.4 percent lower than in April 2014 and 3.1 percent lower than in April 2010.
While Antonio’s and First Magnitude change their tactics for the summer, other local businesses are sticking with what works.
Donni Young has managed Pearl Country Store & Barbecue in Micanopy for three years. During the first two, business dropped significantly each summer – by about a third, she said.
This year has been better. While weekday business has slowed significantly since summer started, the weekends are still profitable, and Young said she’s happy to take some credit for that.
“I think that the economy is recovering overall,” she said. “But as far as the weekends, I think that’s because we’ve kept our local customer base.”
She said the store’s base of regular customers even includes the drivers who deliver their supplies.
“I really think that a lot of our success has been just taking pride in the place,” Young said.
Like Pearl Country Store & Barbecue, Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours is seeing more business this summer than in previous summers since it opened in November 2011.
The Ocala business has run zip line tours through a limestone quarry almost daily for close to four years, but the tours are sometimes put on hold in the event of lightning.
This weather is one of summer’s main challenges, receptionist Kayla Ostrom said.
“Normally, the summers are kind of slower, but once the cooler weather comes in we normally pick up a lot,” said Jessie Walker, a manager. “But this summer has definitely been our busiest one.”