Shrimp Festival could be last hoorah for coast’s tourism season

GULF SHORES, AL (CNN) - Oil was the farthest thing from people's minds when the annual Gulf Coast Shrimp Festival opened in Gulf Shores, AL on Friday. The event drew the largest opening day crowds in years.

The 39th annual festival could be the last stand for struggling businesses along the coast, which has suffered a busted tourism season since the BP oil spill in April.

"Everybody has been down. I think this is a great opportunity for everybody to get their spirits up, come out, have some camaraderie and enjoy the beautiful beaches," said Ronda Cross, who was manning the stand for Southbeach Seafood on Friday.

Within a few minutes of the 10 a.m. opening the venue was packed. And local condo agencies have been busy. Many are offering half-off specials for the weekend.

"We are a little more than 80 percent occupied," said Realtor Missy Zak. "The summer was definitely a challenge for us. It's great to see the traffic, to see the smiling faces, to see the people in the shops and down at the beach, and people coming in here we have not seen since last year."

Vendors at the festival are hopeful this weekend will end the tourism season on a positive note. It won't be long before cooler weather hits and the tourists are gone.

"We really need to make some money, have a real good recover effort," said Stephanie Lacomb, with Rockin' Rogers Cajun Pistols. "Everything's safe, tested. We're ready to make some money … we need to boost our economy a little bit, sell a little seafood. There's plenty to eat out there," she said, laughing.

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