Pinellas County red tide impacting beach picnic industry made popular at height of pandemic

Red Tide

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – The persistent issue of red tide in Pinellas County is affecting many businesses, including the picnic industry made popular at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

WFLA.com first spoke with St. Pete Picnic Co. owner Rachel Fry at the beginning of the year. Fry started her business during the pandemic as a way to work for herself and to offer her luxury picnics to couples and parties in an outdoor setting.

Now that red tide and its smelly fish kills are affecting everyone who lives, works and plays in downtown St. Pete and many of Pinellas County’s beaches, Fry is working with her customers who need to move their picnics to one of her other locations where red tide might not be as present, including Vinoy Park and North Straub Park.

“The park locations are kinds of places I can do away from the water, a little more inland, so they’re not affected by red tide as much,” Fry said. “So [I’m] moving a lot of my beach locations, with giving my guests the option if they want to move to downtown park locations to get away from that red tide.”

Fry is still offering picnics on Madeira Beach, but advising guests about the algae bloom.

Fry is seeing rescheduling and cancellations the most for picnics with Tampa Bay area locals who know red tide is an issue. She said those visiting the area “don’t seem to care,” as they only have a limited time on Tampa Bay’s usually pristine beaches.

“With the tourists, you know they’re only here for a week or a few days, so I just give them the options to move down to the park or, you know, they brave the red tide and they seem okay with it, so that’s kind of just how it’s been going,” Fry said.

This is the first summer Fry has been in business, and she said rain and heat are also affecting St. Pete Picnic Co., in addition to red tide. But despite things slowing down for the summer, she’s still providing the best service she can.

“People aren’t getting the location they want due to red tide, such as the beach, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do the picnic. We can still bring it over to the park and you know, you’re going to just you’re going to have the same great experience,” she said.

A new concept for St. Pete Picnic Co. will be available in the coming weeks, called “teepee picnics.” Fry describes the experience, which will be booked at the arbitrarium at Vinoy Park, as a teepee with a swing for couples only, featuring a bistro table instead of a charcuterie board.

Fry said to check the business’ Instagram feed for more updates.

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