COVID-19 a double whammy for coastal businesses still recovering from two hurricanes

This story is part of our 2020 hurricane special Storm Ready 2020: Preparing in a Pandemic

Diane Wilson Image
Thursday, June 11, 2020
COVID-19 a double whammy for businesses recovering from hurricanes
COVID-19 a double whammy for businesses recovering from hurricanes

We know the coronavirus crisis has dealt a devastating blow to small businesses here in the Triangle, but it really added salt to the wound for so many restaurants and resorts in our favorite coastal communities as many of them still trying to get back on track after two major hurricanes in two years.

The doors are back open here for businesses along the North Carolina coast, but it's far from business as usual.

Jeff Price owner of the Beach Shop and Grill at Topsail Island says it's been a difficult few years after the island took a beating during hurricanes Florence and Dorian, but businesses and residents rebuilt and are ready to welcome back visitors.

"95 percent of our business here on the island is tourism," he said. "We were ready for a great season. We were going to have a wonderful season; everything was looking great."

That is until the coronavirus hit, causing even bigger financial losses with the forced shutdown.

"It took so long to open back up here," Price said.

While they're back open, Price says the restrictions like mask-wearing and only operating at 50 percent capacity inside his restaurant, along with visitors being leery to come to the island, are hurting his bottom dollar.

"Business over Memorial Day weekend was down 50 percent compared to last year," he said. "We're in unchartered waters, so we really don't know if this, I hope this trend doesn't continue through the summer."

Price said additional outside seating along with an outdoor bar and grill for pig pickings and oyster bakes gives guests more options.

Beach rentals and hotels along the North Carolina coast need a strong summer season.

The Blockade Runner Beach Resort is open for business and ready for a strong summer.

The resort has been a staple on the island for more than 55 years.

General Manager, Nicolas Montoya says they're thrilled to be open after the coronavirus restrictions cut off guests from the island.

"Now we're trying to play catch up, which is, again, full of uncertainty," he said.

The oceanfront resort no stranger to overcoming uncertainty, especially after Hurricane Florence ripped off its roof and flooded the hotel, forcing it to close for six months to repair 10 million dollars' worth of damages.

"There's been adversity. It's been a family-owned business since 1971, and there's a lot of lessons learned, on how to adjust, take a step back and pivot, and we have to exercise them all," Montoya said.

The staff at the Blockade Runner is now doing what they can to make sure guests are comfortable, even in the middle of a crisis.

"We've had to change and adapt, like a lot of different businesses, safety, and precaution, for all of our staff and customers is paramount," Montoya said.

At Atlantic Beach, after the restrictions were lifted, visitors have been a welcome relief.

Trace Cooper, Atlantic Beach Mayor and owner of Oceanana Pier and Motel says they've had a lot to overcome.

"Florence was probably the most devastating storm we've ever had. It takes two years to bounce back from that got a little bit of a hit from Dorian. Everyone was looking forward to a great spring and summer season, and then we get COVID-19, which has been a real blow for local businesses," Cooper said.

This summer will be critical for businesses.

"Hopefully, we can get you to know some businesses open, and the coronavirus impact was minimized as you go through the summer so that people have a chance to catch up."

Another business owner hopeful to catch up is Eli Patino of The Sweet Spot in Emerald Isle. He says it's been a rough spring.

"Basically, a black hole as far as cash flow and profits and revenues are concerned, even people," Patino said.

He's made many changes inside his shop to help those seeking a sweet treat feel safe.

"We have been taken precautions at our registers, we have a divider up, we do have our customers spacing out six feet apart," he said.

Financially, coastal businesses say they need a strong summer, and they're hoping hurricane season doesn't deal them another blow.

"Statistically, obviously, we don't think it'll actually happen three years in a row, but you never know what's gonna happen, so we got to be prepared for prepare for the worst and hope for the best," Patino said,