Florida Keys Business
Sunday, October 21, 2012
In deep
Longtime dive shop weathers the latest storm -- road construction

Throughout their 40 years as dive shop owners in Key West, CeCe Roycraft and Bob Holston have weathered hurricanes, flood waters, the Mariel boatlift, roadblocks that threatened tourism, Key West's secession from the union, cruise ship illness outbreaks, economic recessions and too many tourist evacuations to count.

Through it all, they've managed to keep their heads above water -- and their customers happily underwater, but the ongoing North Roosevelt Boulevard overhaul has made for some of the roughest seas yet.

We felt it in the beginning of the construction, but the losses really started to show when they two-laned the boulevard and made it one-way traffic for the road's entire length, said Roycraft.

Their business is down by $55,000 when comparing figures for June through October of 2011, as opposed to the same time frame this year.

"Our dive trips at least are pre-booked and pre-paid, but retail business is way off in the shop. Until June, we were ahead of last year for every month," Holston said, adding that businesses all along the boulevard have been forced to lay off employees.

"I've done some creative scheduling and gotten more aggressive in trying to close packages and instruction," said Roycraft, who hasn't had to lay off anyone yet. "We've really been trying to keep a positive outlook, but it's been poor planning and with each month the losses have increased."

She questioned the city's closure of 14th Street during the boulevard construction and wondered aloud whether there would have been some way to expedite the project or do it in portions.

"But these concerns don't mean anything to folks at the city, because they're all still getting paychecks," she said.

One of their first responses to the hardship was to inject a little levity into the situation. The familiar Dive Key West sign that normally advertises dive classes, trips to the Vandenberg artificial reef or equipment sales now tells motorists, "You can still reach us by helicopter - daily reef and wrecks."

The sign will be featured in a national dive magazine that's publishing a story about how dive shops respond to economic hardship.

The couple opened their dive shop in 1972 as Key West Pro Dive. It was first located at the junction of Old Town and New, where the boulevard becomes Truman Avenue and Eisenhower Drive becomes Jose Marti.

They moved into their current building at 3128 North Roosevelt Blvd. in 1991.

As more people started using the Internet, Holston noticed that the domain name of www.divekeywest.com was available, and he suggested they change the name of their shop. The change took effect in 1996 and Key West Pro Dive became Dive Key West.

The shop offers two to three dive trips per day to local reefs and wrecks, along with dive classes from resort courses through Divemaster and instructor training. The shop also sells all dive and snorkel equipment, along with the Go Pro underwater cameras and fills dive tanks with both air and mixed gases.

"Thank god for the sinking of the Vandenberg a few years ago," said Roycraft, who long championed the artificial reef project conceived by local diver Capt. Joe Weatherby. "That paid for itself within the first year."

Holston shuddered to think of the logistical nightmare that will accompany the roadwork when it moves to the other side of the street, and one-way traffic is no longer passing right in front of most businesses.

"Many of these businesses won't be here by then, so they won't have to worry about it," Holston said, still encouraged by their own marketing efforts and pre-paid dive trips. "I just worry about the folks who just recently opened a shop here on the boulevard. If I was a new business in this part of town, I'd be very afraid."

But for now, Dive Key West is hanging on - with no plans to go under - unless it's in the ocean with air tanks strapped to their backs.


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