Many Northwest Floridians’ incomes have been affected by the spread of the coronavirus and resulting business closures.
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FORT WALTON BEACH — The glass looks half empty for Daniel Labrador.
Since Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered Tuesday that all bars close for the next 30 days, Labrador, the general manager of Salty Duck in Fort Walton Beach, and many of his staff members lost their main source of income.
"My staff is devastated," Labrador said. "We’re all devastated. It’s going to be a huge blow for us. It’s going to be really tough for 30 days. Bartenders make tips, and that’s their income. They get paid whatever the state minimum wage is for bartenders, but their income is tips."
All local bars face the same fate. Danielle Stephens was one of many bartenders laid off from Coasters in Fort Walton Beach.
"We all got laid off, because it’s easier to collect unemployment that way," Stephens said. "Our jobs are still in place, but we’re all laid off, so we can hopefully make money. I don’t know what to think. We’re just kind of dealing with it and I’m hoping for the best. I know we’ll get through it, but I don’t know."
Stephens hopes to return to her position upon reopening.
Bars aren’t the only workplaces impacted by the spread of the coronavirus. Nearly 1 in 5 households are experiencing a layoff or a reduction in work hours, according to a new poll taken from 835 U.S. adults March 13-14 by NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist.
The restaurant industry was hit hard. DeSantis also said Tuesday that all restaurants are restricted to half capacity to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Bunnie McMullen doesn’t see it being a problem at her café; no one is coming, anyway.
The owner of Bunnie’s Lily Pad, a small, family-owned business in DeFuniak Springs, said people have been afraid to leave their homes for the past two weeks.
"Last week was the worst week I’ve had since opening my doors, which is going on four years now," McMullen said. "It’s been hard to get supplies, because 90% of our menu is fresh. We don’t order off a truck a lot. We do our shopping daily, and that’s been really hard."
McMullen will seat every other table to comply with the six-foot rule for social distancing and offer more takeout options for people who won’t dine inside. Her fear is that if the restaurant closes now, it won’t reopen. She worries about her own financial well-being, too.
"I actually went to interview at Whataburger today, for part-time," McMullen said.
Businesses often considered nonessential are equally affected. Elizabeth McNamara is concerned about her brick and mortar, No Surrender Ink tattoo shop in Fort Walton Beach.
"We’ve had numerous calls over the last couple of days with people canceling," McNamara said. "Nobody wants to spend money on frivolous things, such as tattoos. We haven’t stopped or shut down, but it’s a little concerning dealing with people coming in and coming out without knowing if they’re sick."
The tattoo shop accepts walk-in customers, but McNamara expects business to continue to decline. Her plan is to remain open and keep generating revenue while she can, she said.
Kathryn Henderson’s work is also considered nonessential. The hair stylist can’t step foot on the premises of her workplace, an assisted living facility in DeFuniak Springs.
"If it ain’t necessary for somebody to be in there, nobody’s allowed in," Henderson said.
The Paxton resident hasn’t worked since Wednesday. Henderson’s employers said they’re following the rules to keep their residents safe and will call when she can return, she said.
"It’s sad – not to me, but the clients there who just want somebody to talk to," Henderson said. "They’re good people and they’re shut in their room."
When coronavirus started to affect local businesses, photographer Nikki Hedrick thought Edward A. McGrath Photography might go unscathed.
"We’re fortunate to do a whole bunch of beach weddings, so we went from being OK and untouched, meaning we’re outside, so those rules didn’t apply – until yesterday," Hedrick said Tuesday. "Walton County pulled all of the event permits, sending everyone into a tailspin."
Walton County commissioners unanimously approved the declaration of a local state of emergency Monday afternoon. That canceled and suspended all events conducted under terms of county permits as well as special events conducted under the county’s beach activities ordinance, such as beach weddings.
"My heart goes out to those folks, because a lot of times these people are from way out of state and it’s something they’ve planned for a year or more and spent a lot of money on," Hedrick said. "I understand the reasons for it, and I’m not against the changes that need to happen by any means, but my heart totally breaks for them."
Hedrick understands her clients’ frustrations. She might postpone her own wedding with fiancé and colleague McGrath this fall.
They are still assessing their event cancellations, but Hedrick estimates 30 weddings alone.
"I know definitely March and April look like they’re going to be total losses," Hedrick said. "For us, that’s literally thousands of dollars. We’re going to try and hunker down and hope the curve is able to be flattened by all of these moves relatively quickly. I don’t want to be naive, but I also don’t want to be super doom and gloom.
"The dust hasn’t even begun to get close to settling."