Trump's in town: What Palm Beach hopes to gain

These Palm Beach businesses shut down when Trump visits
These Palm Beach businesses shut down when Trump visits

Palm Beach County always knows when President Trump is in town.

Rick Rose can hear the planes from Palm Beach International Airport as they soar above his bed and breakfast. Because aircraft can't fly east over Mar-a-Lago when Trump is there, the planes are rerouted, right over his property in West Palm Beach.

Jodi Luntz gets frantic phone calls from clients trying to drive to her photography gallery on the island of Palm Beach. A Trump visit slices the main road in two, so drivers have to take a detour if they're traveling from one part of the island to the other. Others are trapped in their driveways as the presidential motorcade rolls through.

But the business owners at this traditionally sleepy tourist destination on Florida's east coast also see hope in Trump's visits.

Perhaps, they say, having the Winter White House in their backyard could boost their profile.

'Incredible attention'

"It's brought the curiosity," said Sherry Frankel, who owns what she calls a "melangerie" on Worth Avenue, a luxury shopping district about two miles north of Mar-a-Lago.

The store is filled with pillows, magnets, towels and other accessories embroidered with custom sayings. A placard on the wall in the emporium urges readers to "Ban shredded cheese" and "Make America grate again."

"I can't say that everybody who walks in the door buys something, but they're here," Frankel said.

palm beach worth avenue
Sherry Frankel enters her store, Sherry Frankel's Melangerie, on Worth Avenue on March 24, 2017.

Trump's been visiting Palm Beach for years as a socialite and reality television star. But as president, he's bringing a new entourage filled with prime ministers and political luminaries -- along with heightened security, road barricades and congestion.

Jose L. Duran, a restaurateur who owns an Italian patio eatery on Worth Avenue, said the traffic has been hard for staff.

"Everybody has to do a heck of a lot of planning ahead when he is in town," Duran said. "But overall, it's incredible attention. I think over time -- regardless of everything else, how anyone may feel about him -- the eyes of the world are on Palm Beach."

Duran said business has been steady since Trump took office, and he said he's not worried about the extra traffic because he owns other restaurants that aren't as affected by congestion. Business at those locations picks up when Trump is in town, he said.

Duran also said he's seeing a new type of clientele: lobbyists, politicians, members of the press and even foreign dignitaries. When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came in February, for example, some of those traveling with him came to Worth Avenue.

When he spoke to CNNMoney in March, Duran said he expected that trend to continue this month.

Trump hosted China's President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago last week, Trump's sixth visit to his private club since taking office.

And Trump's returning to the club this weekend for a seventh time.

Related: Facing soaring costs, Palm Beach officials ask Trump to pay up

Kate Jenkins, the general manager and CFO of Sequin, a high-end costume jewelry store, said tourists come to shop after catching a glimpse of Trump's private club. Prices at the store range from $25 to $1,000, affordable for tourists on a budget, she said.

"We got that person in that wanted to see where the president lives," she said. "They'll say to us, 'Oh, my god, we never thought we could buy anything this cheap on Worth Avenue, 'cause it's like a Rodeo Drive.'"

Rose, the bed and breakfast owner, said Palm Beach has an opportunity to gain cultural influence unlike anything its seen since Lilly Pulitzer, the socialite and fashion designer noted for her bright, bold patterns, called the island home.

"Every first lady is a fashion icon, whether they like it or not," he said. "Melania has an incredible opportunity. I'd love to see Worth Avenue approach her."

A televised presence

It's hard to predict whether the newfound attention will translate into tourism dollars. But its presence on network television has been exciting for the county, said Glenn Jergensen, executive director of the Palm Beach County Tourism Development Council.

When Trump comes to town, news correspondents on television pop up to discuss foreign heads of state and crisis diplomacy against the swaying palm trees and glistening beaches along Ocean Boulevard.

"That's kind of priceless," Jergensen said -- especially during Palm Beach's balmy tourism season, when much of the country is buried in snow.

Jergensen said the county has also seen a bump in visits this year. More than 80% of the county's 17,000 hotel rooms were occupied in February, about 2% more than at the same time last year.

That bump could be from baseball fans visiting for spring training, or political staff and reporters that visit along with the president. But officials are hoping it grows.

The Palm Beach 'wall'

Still, the congestion has been tough to work around. Jeff Greene, a Florida real estate entrepreneur and billionaire, said the road closures on Palm Beach are a nightmare for his beach-side resort south of Mar-a-Lago.

"We all were told Donald Trump wanted to build a wall between Mexico and America," said Greene, who added that revenue for the resort fell 20% in February and March. "We weren't told there would be a wall down the main road of Palm Beach every single holiday weekend, and almost every weekend of this prime season."

But he said there could be some positives. Greene, who is a Democrat, aid he's talked with Trump in recent weeks about the effects his visits could have on property values in the area.

They agreed that the value of real estate in Palm Beach could increase with the added attention.

Still, Greene worries about some of the island's shop owners. Many of the shops on Worth Avenue cater to wealthy clientele to either take vacations there regularly or own one of the massive Mediterranean Revival mansions that line the Atlantic Ocean.

Related: The little airport that's getting crushed by Trump

"I'd hate to be a merchant on Worth Avenue that depends on wealthy people coming to town and spending money," Greene said. "The kind of people who are coming are just, you know, like people who are really just curious about Donald Trump. They are not the big spenders."

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