The ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on travel, caused entire countries to be put on lockdown, and altered daily life across the globe.
In West Volusia, businesses in Downtown DeLand and elsewhere, from hotels to bars and restaurants, are beginning to feel the negative effects of people traveling less and staying at home more.
As of noon Wednesday, the Florida Department of Health had confirmed 289 cases of COVID-19 among Florida residents. There were nine cases in Volusia County — seven women and two men.
On Tuesday morning, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered all bars and nightclubs to close for 30 days effective 5 p.m. Tuesday. Restaurants have also been told to operate at no more than half of their maximum capacity, with tables spaced at least 6 feet apart.
Nearly all special events have been canceled for the next two months, as well.
“Everybody is really just trying to assess the situation right now,” Georgia Turner, executive director of the West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority, said.
Turner said West Volusia tourism had a strong January, February and early March, but that the area is definitely beginning to see impacts.
Local hotels have experienced cancellations in all-important group bookings, such as travel related to college sports.
“Stetson [University] has 18 different sports, and they had to postpone or cancel those sporting events,” Turner said. “Those teams were staying with us … If you lose a big group right now, there’s really not a replacement.”
Keeping track of what businesses and visitor destinations in West Volusia are open or closed is proving to be an “hour-to-hour quest,” Turner said, making it a challenge when visitors stop into the tourism bureau’s visitors center, asking what they can do.
“Friday and [Monday] for example, there were a lot of people in Downtown,” she said. “People came in and said their plans changed because they were going to [the now-closed] Disney [World resort], for example.”
The authority hopes to have an up-to-date list of what’s open and what’s not available on its website, www.visitwestvolusia.com
Turner said some business owners have stayed open but tweaked their operations to comply with CDC guidelines on social distancing. For example, she said St. Johns River Eco Tours, run by tourism authority board member Doug Little, is limiting boat trips to 10 people.
It’s an ever-changing list of businesses, each with its own nuanced situation, Turner said.
For example, the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp remains open, but they’ve suspended hands-on healing. And the area’s two state parks are open, but the popular Old Spanish Sugar Mill restaurant at DeLeon Springs State Park is shuttered.
“The big thing when anybody that walks in the door here [at] our visitors center is we want them to enjoy the Downtown, because they’re right here anyway,” Turner said.
CHANGING HOW BUSINESS IS DONE
Some Downtown DeLand businesses have also altered their operations.
A sign on the door of Trilogy Coffee Roasting Co. on West Georgia Avenue alerted customers Tuesday morning that the business was moving to a “to-go” model, temporarily eschewing its usual status as a popular meeting spot.
Clay Cass, who owns Trilogy with his wife, Michelle, said the move was a compromise of sorts, given the circumstances, to allow the business to continue operating and providing jobs to its staff.
“It’s not even one day at a time, it’s like one hour at a time right now. Basically, we’re just looking at all of the suggestions that are being handed down by our governing bodies,” he said. “We’re … thinking about how we keep our staff not only safe, but to keep their livelihood going.”
The White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines Monday on how to prevent the spread of the disease.
People should avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, according to the guidelines, and avoid discretionary travel, shopping trips and social visits.
Such strict rules may be necessary, but they make it hard for a gathering spot like Trilogy to comply. In response, Cass said the business has removed most of its seating, to encourage people to hang around less.
“We think that it’s going to be a good solution for now, but we’re really taking it one day at a time,” he said.
He’s hopeful that the business can keep its employees on staff, but Cass said so far, he’s already had a couple of wholesale accounts cancel orders. Foot traffic is also down.
Cass has a couple of other ideas up his sleeve, however, including allowing people to order in advance online via an app and pick up their coffee orders curbside, without leaving their cars.
Trilogy is also running promotions on its online store, at www.trilogycoffee.com, where people can order and subscribe to shipments of bags of coffee to enjoy in their own homes.
“We’re definitely being impacted,” Cass said. “We’re thankful it’s not more than what it is.”
TOUGH ROAD AHEAD
Wayne Carter, executive director of the MainStreet DeLand Association, said it will be a tough few months for many Downtown DeLand businesses.
Even as the city’s always-popular Bike Rally filled the streets March 7, the effect of the coronavirus loomed large in officials’ heads.
“I would say the Bike Rally, certainly there were plenty of people in town for that. But just kind of even as that was going on, everybody was starting to say, maybe we need to start thinking about shutting down,” Carter said. “Then, as the next few days developed, all of a sudden we’re cancelling the [Florida] Wildflower [& Garden Festival] and doing those things just to be good stewards.”
While large, public events are out of the question for at least eight weeks, it’s unknown if events might have to be canceled beyond that point.
“I don’t know how long it’s going to take to work its way through,” Carter said.
Still, if people need to step out for a shopping trip, Downtown DeLand could be a better option than attempting to brave large big-box stores.
“Fortunately, downtowns all across the country, like DeLand, aren’t just packed wall-to-wall with people all the time,” he said. “So, you’re avoiding the crowd by coming Downtown as opposed to going to a Walmart or another big-box store.”
Still, Carter doesn’t doubt that many Downtown DeLand businesses will suffer. For how long business will suffer, however, remains to be seen.
“They’re going to be hurting,” Carter said. “Most of them are going to be hurting.”
KEEPING THE FAITH
Melisa Reed, who owns The Table restaurant and the Cafe DaVinci bar with her husband, Dan Reed, said she’s been trying to comply with the orders from the state.
“In the restaurant business … we already practice cleanliness standards and things of that nature,” Reed said. “We’ve adopted the governor’s policy, so you will never see two tables dining side-by-side right now. We’ve separated those folks who are willing to brave the storm and come out.”
Reed said she has 42 employees, and making sure that they remain able to feed themselves and their families is top-of-mind.
“We’re doing everything we can to try and find a way,” she said.
Still, the crisis has caused foot traffic to fall drastically in Downtown DeLand.
“It’s drastic. People look around town right now, there’s a couple of people out, but not nearly as many people as you’d see out on a normal Wednesday,” Reed said.
The restaurant has also suspended its popular Sunday brunch buffet.
Reed and other business owners are working with the city on a plan to institute carside pickup for food and other items. The city will reserve a couple of parking spots on each block for motorists to swing by and pick up food or retail goods that they’ve ordered, she said.
Still, the numbers so far are grim, and it’s unknown when things may return to normal.
“From Saturday, when everything kind of started … to here we are on Wednesday, our revenue, our sales have dropped probably about 75 percent in a matter of four days,” Reed said.
Meanwhile, Steve Evans, who owns Abbey bar, is trying to figure out a way to keep his door open.
Since many bars serve food or are licensed as restaurants, there has been some confusion as to which establishments need to close entirely and which can still operate.
“We thought that we would have a little bit of leeway having restaurant licenses as well, but certain things sales-wise restrict us from serving alcohol,” he said. “At this point, we’re coming up with a plan to do curbside pickup. We’ll probably be open a few hours a day at least and be here for people who want to grab some stuff to take home.”
In a way, the crisis has brought business owners and workers together, as they all try to brainstorm ideas on how to survive in the current conditions.
“Everyone that works with us is like family. They get it, and they’re very, very understanding, and they’re doing everything they can to make this easy for all of us,” Evans said. “Like Melisa said, we’re all kind of working together.”
Complicating matters, several bars outside the DeLand city limits were still open Wednesday, while the DeLand Police Department forced bars within the city to close Tuesday evening. Volusia County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Andrew Gant said the Sheriff’s Office is reporting complaints it receives about bars still operating to the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, rather than enforcing the mandate themselves.
Evans, Reed, and Bill Budzinski, who owns The Elusive Grape, have launched a GoFundMe campaign to support bartenders at Downtown DeLand watering holes during the closure.
Reed said it’s a way for people to “tip their favorite bartenders” even if they can’t actually come to their favorite bar. Within minutes of going live and being posted on Facebook, more than $1,200 was donated to the campaign by 12 donors.
To donate to the cause, visit www.bit.ly/2xbLxev.