Liszak Still Fielding Questions
It’s business as usual for the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce – or as usual as business can be in our New Normal!
“The FMB Chamber Office closed on Friday, March 20,” reported FMB Chamber Executive Director Jacki Liszak on Monday, March 23, “and it will remain closed indefinitely, due to the coronavirus pandemic crisis. In the meantime, we continue to handle and answer all telephone calls and emails from offsite locations, so if you have any questions we can help you with, email us at Info@FMBChamber.com or call 239-454-7500.”
It has been less than a week since Lee County and the Town closed our 7-mile stretch of Fort Myers Beach, Jacki reminded, “as well as the order from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to shutter all bars and restrict restaurants to just takeout and delivery service. For those first few days, the FMB Chamber was fielding literally hundreds and hundreds of telephone calls and emails, but now that we are into the second week, that is down to tens and tens of calls and emails, but it is still a consistent amount. It is easier now to provide answers, especially to prospective tourists, because a week ago, the beach was half-open and half-closed and restaurants were half-open and half-closed; today there is much more clarity. While I never thought I would be in a position to be discouraging people from visiting Fort Myers Beach, it is easy now, as there is almost nothing for them to come down to!”
The most common questions from people who are not Fort Myers Beach businessowners, Jacki related, are “is the beach really closed – Yes! Does that include the beach that is on private property – Yes! Will we eventually close the Matanzas Pass and Big Carlos Pass Bridges – We don’t know! Will the hotels remain open – We don’t know! Are restaurants open for takeout and carryout service – as of Monday, March 23, Yes, but in the long run, we don’t know! While those are the main ones right now, other questions range into anything you can imagine! What everyone really wants is accurate information, as there is a lot of disinformation out there, and when you tell people the truth, they may not like the answer but they appreciate that you are being honest with them. They like as well that real people are answering their telephone calls!”
In addition to queries from prospective tourists, Jacki stated that many island businesses “are getting in touch with us to tell us about their latest developments, or simply to check in or catch up on the overall climate. They are calling to tell us who is open and who is closing, as well as just trying to stay on the same page together.”
Like the vast majority of Fort Myers Beach businesses, the FMB Chamber has its own list of cancellations: The March “Business After Hours” at Allan Development & Construction on Thursday, March 26; the Business Referral Group Meeting on Wednesday, April 1, along with the Business Referral Group Social on April 2; the April “Coffee Connection” at Indian Creek RV Park on Thursday, April 2; the April Membership Luncheon at Shuckers at the Gulfshore for Thursday, April 9; the April “Business After Hours” at Marina Village on Thursday, April 16; and the Mini-Masters Golf Tournament on Thursday, April 23, that the FMB Chamber may reschedule.
Hear The Disappointment
Jacki contemplated her biggest concerns right now: “We are getting the sense that strictly takeout and delivery service for many beach restaurants is simply not providing them with enough business, and that several may choose to temporarily close in the near future. I bought carryout food at Plaka’s Restaurant in Times Square and there were just two other people there, one at Dairy Queen, and one at Kilwin’s and that was it. I am starting to get the feeling that we would all be better off if the order came down to just close everything, because I feel if we do that now, the sooner rather than later everything will reopen; doing these measures in drips-and-drabs does not seem to work. Another element of all this is that up until March 12, this season was cooking with gas! We went right from big crowds for Christmas and New Year’s straight into big crowds on January 3! From the very first full week of January, it took about one hour-and-forty-five-minutes from mid-island to get to San Carlos Boulevard.”
She completely understands that people from up north still want to come down, “because in many areas, it is still cold and grey and rainy, and now in many places, they cannot even leave their houses, while down here we can at least enjoy the sunshine and walk our neighborhoods and take bike rides or go boating, but with the beach and bars closed, restaurants limited, and no idea about hotels for the immediate future, we stress to them that it is just not a good idea! When we tell them that, they say that they understand, but you can literally hear the disappointment in their voice.”
Jacki concluded, “It kills me to say this, but I think it is completely realistic that in another few weeks, it is entirely conceivable that Fort Myers Beach may hit 80 to 90 percent unemployment. While that seems surreal, that is what happens when your community is almost exclusively centered on the tourism industry and service-oriented, when you cannot have any tourists. We have been through tough times on this island before, with hurricanes and Red Tide and Blue-Green Algae and water quality issues, but as bad as those were, we still had bars and restaurants open or at least reopen in relative quick fashion. With the coronavirus pandemic, there has simply never been anything like this before, not in our lifetimes, and the scary thing is we have most likely not seen the worst part yet.”