Welcome back, birds!: Early snowbirds ready to Roost in Destin on Monday

Wendy Victora | Daily News
Ardelle and Robert Steuernol of Ontario, Canada, make their way through the food line on Thursday afternoon at SunDestin beach resort, where an early Thanksgiving potluck was held for all the employees and snowbirds at the condo. This is the 13th year the condo has held the event in appreciation of its employees and winter visitors.

On a warmish mid-November afternoon, Larry and Henrietta Magee walked briskly down Santa Rosa Boulevard.

The Wisconsin natives have rented a condo on the Emerald Coast for the next two months. And they plan to enjoy every possible minute outside.

“We swim, go in the hot tub, walk the beach – anything physical,” said Larry.

“And go out to eat,” his wife added.

Snowbirds are a vital economic key to helping Northwest Florida survive the lean winter months.

Monday marks the official opening of the Snowbird Roost at the Destin Community Center. The Destin Snowbirds will have a ribbon cutting ceremony to begin the 2012-2013 year at 2 p.m. Attendees get coupons, freebies and information about a variety of services.

Last year’s event attracted more than 100 snowbirds, just a fraction of the anticipated population after the first of the year.

The visitors – most of whom are retired – come to the area from northern states and Canada and spend anywhere from 10 weeks to several months living the beach life.

Their economic impact includes dollars spent on lodging, restaurants, groceries, gas and other retail purchases, according to David Goetsch, past chairman of the economic development council.

And although some have a reputation for pinching pennies, their spending is still directly responsible for keeping beach businesses open during the otherwise quiet cold months.

“Snowbirds are smart,” he said. “One of the reasons they come at this time is not just the cold weather back home, but the fact that this is the season they can get good deals.

“Giving a snowbird a good deal is a whole lot better than closing your doors until spring,” he added.

Though it used to be common for snowbirds to spend six months here each year, that time frame has shrunk in recent years.

“It seems like it’s getting shorter and shorter every year,” said Lori Berry, rental manager at El Matador on Okaloosa Island. “Now three months is a good reservation.”

Shoreline Towers in Destin fills up about 85 percent of its available units with snowbirds by the height of the season, said rental manager Sharon Dillon.

She said they are phenomenal guests, who are appreciative and fun.

“It’s like having 80 units filled with aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents,” she said. “If I could, I’d have snowbirds here year around.”

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