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Pinellas beach businesses fight to stay open as COVID-19 restrictions grow

Posted at 4:43 PM, Mar 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-27 18:26:56-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Governor Ron DeSantis is suspending all new vacation rental reservations for the next two weeks to stop the spread of COVID-19. It comes as Pinellas County marks one week since all beaches and beach parking lots closed to the public.

Beach business owners tell ABC Action News they are struggling to keep their doors open.


Katrena Hale spent the day Friday posting signs around her Sand Glo Villas vacation rental business in Indian Shores reminding guests to stay 6-feet apart at all times. For the first spring season in 20 years, the sign outside her business reads “vacant.”

Usually in March and April, she keeps a long waiting list of guests hoping for a cancellation to enjoy a week at the beach. Her biggest worry is not knowing how long COVID-19 will continue to impact the hospitality industry.

“One bad spring season can cripple you. Depending on how bad it is, it can make it so you don’t recover. Spring break in March and Easter in April is when we should be making top dollar,” she said.

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The US Travel Association says COVID-19 is now negatively impacting 1.2 million Floridians who rely on hospitality and leisure for jobs. They also predict across the nation, this virus’ impact will be six times worse for the tourism industry than the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Liz Barrett has seen almost every family cancel their reservations for the next two months at her Barrett Beach Bungalows business.

The small group still renting her bungalows are using Florida as a place to quarantine.

“Everyone has pretty much canceled for the month of April. I had 100% occupancy and I manage other properties and everyone’s canceled and had to get refunds,” she explained.

Across Pinellas County’s coastline, the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce tells ABC Action News that hospitality businesses have been forced to lay off hundreds of workers, and there’s no telling how long the negative impacts will last.

It took Peter Czajkowski two days to brainstorm a new business model. When his Clearwater Beach nightclub, Jamminz Beach Bar was forced to close because of COVID-19, he put his restaurant license to work. Now, his bar is functioning as a deli and delivery service for alcohol and food.

“It’s probably the worst time it could have been with the coronavirus but it’s the cards we are dealt and we are not going to close up, we’re not going to give up. We’re going to work harder everyday. We’re going to keep this beach going,” he said enthusiastically.

Yet, not every business is able to reinvent themselves. The Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce expects more local businesses to temporarily close as the impacts from this virus continue for weeks or even months.

Even the popular Original Crabby Bill’s in Indian Rocks Beach posted a sign outside their business Friday saying, “We love you all. Stay safe and we’ll see you soon.”