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Beach shutdown has swift impact on businesses

March 25, 2020
Nathan Mayberg , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Before Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had even ordered restaurants to cut off dining in, the damage had already been done on Fort Myers Beach.

After votes by the Town of Fort Myers Beach Council and Lee County Board of Commissioners to shut down all of the beachfront outside of Lovers Key State Park Thursday, Fort Myers Beach was a virtual ghost town within 24 hours.

Tacking on the restaurant orders by DeSantis on Friday largely cleared the streets. Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce President Jacki Liszak estimates that thousands of workers have already been laid off in the week of the response to the coronavirus pandemic known as COVID-19.

Article Photos

"It's like turning off the faucet," Liszak said.

Liszak said local eateries and other businesses have been shutting down each day since the announcements last week, as they wait out the pandemic. Liszak supports the decisions by the town and governor.

"We've got to do what it takes to get this thing knocked back," she said.

The impacts on merchants will be profound. "This is worse than red tide," she said. "Businesses aren't going to have that nest egg," Liszak said. For a town that had recovered from Hurricane Irma and red tide, back-to-back economic disasters, this blow is particularly hard because nobody really knows how long it is going to last. It was especially tough, as businesses "across the board" had been reporting a strong winter, Liszak said.

Liszak had to temporarily close The Sea Gypsy Inn, her lodging business on Estero Boulevard. "It hurts my heart," she said. "Not just for us but all of my employees. We're going to try to keep them busy."

Among those who are still open for business are the Lani Kai Island Resort, which has had to temporarily put a "significant amount" of its staff out of work, said marketing director Melissa Schneider. "This has been an extremely tough situation for our management to handle, knowing they are affecting the livelihood of so many wonderful people and staff members. We're trying to minimize layoffs by still getting employees hours to help provide for their basic needs while this all takes place."

The Lani Kai is still offering to-go options at its Sun Deck and Island View restaurants.

At the Fish-Tale Marina, Al Durrett said the new ownership has kept everybody on as the "marina business has held up" but at his restaurant Fish-Tale Waterfront Dining, he has had to let everybody go for the time being while restaurant dining is banned in the state.

"Our most horrible concern is something bad will happen to our employees," Durrett said. He is currently planning a way to help take care of those out of work at the restaurant "so they don't lose everything."

Durrett is hopeful that help will arrive from the federal government, but he said the amount of aid for workers won't be enough.

"The business owners have to figure out how to supplement their income," he said. "We'll find a way."

Durrett estimates that the bans instituted locally and at the state level have combined to shave five to six weeks off the town's spring season, the busiest time of the year. "It was one of the best seasons we ever had" until the pandemic shocks hit.

"It's hard to believe that something medical could cause that much commotion in this country or in the world," he said. "This island is missing six weeks of income that we'll never get back."

The beach closures actually helped the marina business as it resulted in a surge of boating activity with boats the lone way to get to the water. Durrett said he sold more than 10,000 gallons of fuel, triple the average over the weekend.

Durrett said with the spring break vacationers gone and snowbirds taking off early, that may not last as business came back down to normal after the weekend. Durrett said many of the snowbirds are going back home early to be near their doctors in case they fall ill.

At Santini Plaza, which he manages, he has also seen the effects on the businesses there that count on this time of the season to make up for the slowers parts of the year. He thinks that some businesses on Fort Myers Beach will close for good as a result of the recent trauma. Those who have only recently opened their businesses are most vulnerable, he believes.

Lifeline

"Everybody's looking at their botom line and they are making tough choices right now," Liszak said.

For those businesses struggling or facing decisions on whether they can continue, Liszak says don't give up. The chamber can connect businesses with organizations that can help including CareerSource Southwest Florida and Lee County Economic Development. Together, they can provide information on how to apply for an Emergency Bridge Loan through the Florida Small Business Development Council, or an Economic Injury Disaster Loan through the Small Business Administration.

"Folks who are in trouble, they need to reach out," Liszak said. "We can get you in touch with people who can guide you."

Those businessses seeking assistance can call the Chamber of Commerce at 454-7500 or by emailing info@fmbchamber.com.

" I don't want anybody to just give up," Liszak said.

Durrett said he is keeping his "fingers crossed that this is over with in a reasonable amount of time and we start rebuilding."

 
 

 

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