GULFPORT, MS (BRAIN)—Robert Driskell is well versed in natural disasters, but with the Gulf oil spill Driskell is now becoming better acquainted with man-made catastrophes.
Driskell is the bike department manager at Competition Sports in Gulfport, Mississippi—a coastal city of roughly 70,000 that’s feeling the economic impact from oil that hasn’t even hit its beaches yet, and may never will.
“The major thing that’s being affected is the tourism industry, mainly because of the media,” Driskell said. “We don’t have oil on our beaches. I just wish the national media would lay off and tell everybody the coast is open for business.”
That was President Barack Obama’s message when he visited Gulfport on Monday as well. "There's still a lot of opportunity for visitors to come down here," the president said. "A lot of beaches are not yet affected or will not be affected. We want to make sure that people who have travel plans down here to the gulf area remain mindful of that because if people want to know what they can do to help folks down here, one of the best ways to help is to come down here and enjoy the outstanding hospitality."
Driskell hopes the president’s visit and message attract attention, because right now sales are down 10 percent.
“We don’t have the number of people down here that we’re used to,” he said. “The vast majority of our business this time of year comes from tourism. The economy was just starting to rebound when this happened.”
Driskell has been trying to outrun calamities for more than three decades, starting his career dodging hurricanes in Pensacola, Florida. Then he followed the southern shoreline westward, which led him to Competition Sports in 2006—the year it opened. Competition carries Specialized, Cervélo and Electra, not to mention an assortment of watercraft, ATVS and sport boat options.
“This has affected us more than [the lingering effects of] Hurricane Katrina,” Driskell said of the 2005 natural disaster.
The tourists aren’t the only ones coming in. Triathletes also seem worried about the conditions of the water, Driskell added.
Another Gulfport shop, Cyclist Choice & Fitness, has also seen the negative effects from the oil spill. “We have had some shrimpers come in here looking at bikes—in case they had to ditch their cars,” said Mike Spurlock, who works in sales for the shop.
Asked whether these shrimpers have bought any bikes, Spurlock said, “No. They’re looking to get more bargain stuff.”
Gulfport, like many American cities, is tied to the tourism industry and its trickle down effect. “Lots of our customers work in tourism down here,” Driskell said. “And they’re not coming in here right now.”
(NOTE: Oil spill map current as of June 10)