Gecko season is here.
A string of themed events organized by the Gulfport Merchants Chamber of Commerce, culminating in one of the busiest days of the year in downtown Gulfport, begins this week. Some local businesses are thrilled by their economic impact.
“It is almost like a month-long activity,” said Justin Shea, cultural facilities supervisor for Gulfport.
The fun begins this Friday with an art reception at the Catherine Hickman Theater. An annual pub crawl known as Gecko Crawl is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 13.
The Gulfport Casino Ballroom is the site of the Gecko Ball set for Saturday, Aug. 27. The following weekend, two days before Labor Day, all of Beach Boulevard will be used for the 22nd annual GeckoFest that officially or unofficially marks the end of summer.
Beach Boulevard will close to vehicles between 28th Avenue and Shore Boulevard. Both of those streets will remain open to east-west traffic, Shea noted.
GeckoFest is an all-day affair, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The chamber contracts with the City to have four officers from the Gulfport Police Department on site throughout the day, as well as some personnel from Gulfport Fire and Rescue. The City makes an additional investment in the event by having public works employees assist with street closures, keeping watch on sanitation containers, and making sure barricades remain in place.
While the crowds are noticeable, there is no way to accurately judge how many people actually attend GeckoFest because there is not a central point of entry. Spectators can access the Beach Boulevard vendors from various points in all four directions, according to Shea.
The main reason Gecko season was conceived two decades ago, according to GMC president Barbara Banno, was to give people from outside Gulfport a reason to come visit during the summer, which was a traditionally slow time for local businesses.
“Having all of these events through August and up to Labor Day really gives those businesses a push and gets them through the summer,” said Banno.
While a host of people from outside the city descend upon downtown Gulfport for these events, the direct benefit to local businesses varies depending on location and the type of product or service offered. For example, the pub crawl is obviously geared toward a certain type of liquid refreshment.
“We love it. We absolutely love it,” Tiki Bar & Grill owner Mark Amis said of the Gecko-themed events and other activities that happen during Gecko season. “The more the merrier, as far as I’m concerned. The more they want to do to draw people, the better.”
A participant in the Gecko Crawl along with several other establishments, Amis’ business is also the landing spot at the end of this year’s event for an evening of additional activities. As he talked, he pointed directly across the street at the close proximity of the Casino, site of the Gecko Ball, as well as the plentiful free parking next to the beach.
“Everybody walks by this place during the Tuesday market, on the Fourth of July,” he said, noting other regular Gulfport events. “I’m all for it.”
At the other end of Shore Boulevard, the reaction is a bit different. Byron Chalfont, owner of Siri’s Gourmet Burgers & Pizza, acknowledged that GeckoFest “is one of our busiest days of the year” but the pub crawl is concentrated away from his establishment and the Gecko Ball “just takes up parking spaces” which are in shorter supply where he is located.
When asked if the Gecko slate of events is great for business, Red Hot Tiki owner Robynne Swanson replied, “If you’re a bar, I guess it is.” She added that even on the day of GeckoFest she doesn’t have any more business than at other times.
One final note for those planning to attend GeckoFest: It is, after all, still summer and it is hot. Shea said one of the major talking points for City personnel is reminding everyone to stay hydrated.
“Bring water,” he said. “We have a cooling station if needed, but our emergency response team will have water on site to keep people hydrated and avoid heat exhaustion.”