DUNEDIN, Fla. — Wednesday marks exactly one year since Florida leaders ordered all bars to close their doors to slow the spread of COVID-19. It happened to fall on St. Patrick’s Day, one of the biggest bar days of the year.
Now, businesses are back open and finding new ways to celebrate safely as they rebound from the toughest year on the books.
Downtown Dunedin has a reputation for one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the state. The main events are canceled again in 2021 for the second year in a row. Yet, businesses are back open and planning smaller, yet still festive, celebrations.
Kelly Villio is a local teacher who lives in Oldsmar. She’s anxious for things to eventually return to normal.
“Every year for the past 15 years we have lived here, we’ve always come down here on St. Patrick’s Day. It has been a super tough year watching the local businesses suffer. Hopefully, we can get back to normal real soon,” she said.
Typically on St. Patrick’s Day, downtown Dunedin streets would be closed to traffic and packed with thousands of people sporting every shade of green you can imagine.
Jason Seibert, the owner of Flanagan’s Irish Pub, says this year is different.
“Normally, we have the largest festival in Florida from as far as the eye can see that way to as far as the eye can see that way,” he said pointing to downtown Main Street. “We would have tons and tons of people, but this year we’ve scaled it down to be responsible for coronavirus.”
Yet, Seibert is overjoyed to see some of his favorite customers again.
“Oh my gosh! It’s in my heart. I love it so much,” he said with a huge smile.
Firefighters with the Dunedin Firefighters Association sell t-shirts outside Flanagan's every year. They raise money for their non-profit.
"Last year, we ordered about $5,000 worth of merchandise and then just sat on it. I think around March 14-15, everything shut down which was right before St. Patty's Day for us. We just kept everything in the union office and now we're out here trying to sling these t-shirts this year," said Chadwick Denison with IAFF, Local 2327.
The owners of Bend the Trend, a women's accessories and clothing boutique, opened in August. They said locals are loyal and despite a pandemic, business has been good.
"We're usually here on Fridays and Saturdays until 10-11 at night. We really run on restaurant time and we really need our restaurants and everyone to be doing good so that we can do good," said Jensen Fuller, Co-owner of Bend the Trend.
Bar owners have come a long way. ABC Action News was in Ybor City for St. Patrick’s Day in 2020 when bars in Tampa, and all across Florida, were forced to lock their doors. That shutdown lasted 6 months.
Dwight Back, the manager at Rosie’s Tavern in Dunedin says his memories of that day will stick with him forever.
“Last year was a very sad day because it is historically our biggest day of the year so to get that message right before we were opening saying we had to close at 5 p.m. we were just looking at each other like what do we do now? We had just stocked our beer supplies," Back said.
Now, beer is once again flowing at Rosie’s and even though sales aren’t anywhere near pre-pandemic levels, business owners tell me they’re optimistic for the first time in months.
“We can see with the vaccinations being rolled out, people that would only sit outside before are now starting to come inside,” Back explained.
The hope is by next St. Patrick’s Day, we’ll have the luck of the Irish on our side and a full return to the shamrockin’ atmosphere we’re accustomed to.
“I’m Irish, so it doesn’t matter if things are closed down or still going on, I wear my Irish gear every year to celebrate,” Villio said energetically.