By Gary S. Hatrick
The Laker Correspondent
ZEPHYRHILLS — It’s “Snowbird Season” again — you can tell by the signs.
Traffic is a bit more congested than during the summer. Lines at grocery stores are longer. Shuffleboard games are more frequent at park clubhouses.
Zephyrhills has been a retirement community since its inception, and while the median age has reduced some as younger families moved to the area, the snowbird migration continues to be a defining characteristic of the City of Pure Water.
Water department supervisor Tamela Davis reported that there has been an influx of people coming in the office to get their water turned on.
Davis did not say they are all northern residents, but she acknowledged that this is the time of year when there is an increase for water services from city residents. The influx should be even greater when including those who live in the surrounding areas of Zephyrhills.
The Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce is a popular destination for snowbirds who want to get the scoop on what is happening and when. Executive Director Jan Slater has seen a recent increase of about 10-15 people visiting the chamber daily.
Fred Fletcher, a year-round resident who has his finger on the pulse of things at Betmar Acres, a 55 and older community, said that about 30 percent of the people who usually come down for the winter have arrived.
“The Canadians are coming this week and next week,” Fletcher said.
Canadians are only allowed to be out-of-country for 180 days, because of that nation’s health care system, Fletcher explained, adding that they typically arrive in mid-October.
Local churches have also reported increase in the pews for recent Sunday services.
While some residents bemoan the arrival of snowbird season, many business owners welcome the yearly migration, if only for the boost it gives to the local economy.
Frank DiGrigoli, manager of the Save-A-Lot Food Store in Zephyrhills, said he can tell that the snowbirds are returning by a full parking lot. DiGrigoli said the customer count has gone up from 700 people per day to between 800 and 900.
Maine-ly New England owner Mike Mira said that traffic coming in the restaurant is an indicator of the season’s start.
“Sales are up 20 to 25 percent over last month already,” Mira said. “We have a lot of loyal customers, a lot of customers come straight here before they even go home. They tell us ‘We just got back.’”