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Stormy Weather Fills the Till : Stranded Tourists Smile, Spend

March 19, 1987|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

Sunday nights are usually quiet in Avalon, a quaint island resort 21 miles from San Pedro, particularly now during the off season. Tourists, even those who stay overnight, are usually gone by dusk Sunday, when the last passenger boat leaves for San Pedro or Long Beach.

But last Sunday night looked more like a Saturday, with full hotels, crowded restaurants and frantic hotel and restaurant managers trying to get employees to return to work.

High winds of up to 45 knots and rough seas producing eight-foot swells forced the cancellation of all passenger service--including helicopters and airplanes--between Santa Catalina Island and the mainland after 11 a.m. Sunday.

Normal shuttle services resumed Monday and everyone who needed to return to the mainland was back by Monday afternoon, representatives of the various carriers said.

1,200 Unexpected Guests

But Sunday night, Avalon faced a challenge: sheltering and feeding 1,200 unexpected visitors.

"The hotels and restaurants were ready," said Marian Post, executive director of the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce. She said many of the hotels offered discounts to visitors caught short of cash, and at least one restaurant, the Harbor Grill, gave free food to a few tourists who had run out of money and didn't have credit cards.

The Avalon Community Church offered to put up anyone who could not afford a hotel room, but a church spokeswoman said no one needed the help.

Meanwhile, hotels and restaurants were buzzing with the unexpected business.

At the Pavilion Lodge, manager W. F. (Oley) Olsen said his hotel was 90% full compared to 40% for a normal off-season Sunday night. He said he had to call in additional people to help prepare the rooms.

Kathleen Wainwright, a waitress at the Mexicali Inn on Metropole Avenue, said the restaurant stayed open until 8:30 p.m., an hour later than usual for a Sunday night.

"We had people waiting in line to order," she said. "People were really super nice and understanding."

Across the street at Antonio's Pizzeria, manager Rene Pantoja said business was 2 1/2 times normal. "It was phenomenal," Pantoja said.

Business was also good at the higher-priced restaurants, perhaps because many of the visitors had run out of cash and had only credit cards.

Business Doubled

"Our credit sales were up," said Larry Buster, manager of the Ristorante Villa Portofino, who said business was double that of a normal Sunday night.

Despite being stranded, restaurant and hotel spokesmen said spirits were high among both visitors and employees pressed back into service.

"A lot of people were actually happy that they could have another day off," said chamber director Post.

Buster agreed. "People were in a good mood," he said. "They were joking about being marooned on an island."

Paul Reynolds, manager of the Harbor Grill restaurant, offered some perspective: "Hey, there are a lot worse places to get stuck."

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