St. Augustine: A Model on How to Thrive During a Pandemic

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Tourism dollars from the historical St. Augustine country assistance Florida’s St. Johns Count money its schools, roads, and bridges.

So erstwhile the CCP microorganism unopen down the tourism manufacture successful the United States and the world, the region faced the imaginable of a devastating deed to its budget.

Instead, the other happened each acknowledgment to the city’s proactive measures. So what tin businesses bash to survive, adjacent thrive, during a pandemic?

Irving Kass, the proprietor of St. George Inn and Suites, said they had to renovate and reinvent.

“I cognize it goes against each concern exemplary to renovate and walk wealth during a shutdown,” helium said. “Everyone thought I was crazy. But it worked.”

Epoch Times Photo Irving Kass reviews vino inventory with Nicole Pimental, impermanent services for the St. George Inn, connected Oct. 14, 2021. (Jann Falkenstern/Epoch Times)

Kass said that St. Augustine was erstwhile known arsenic a spot that you “came successful 4th people to larn astir the history.”

Founded successful 1565 by Spaniard Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, St. Augustine is the nation’s oldest European-founded city.

St. Augustine was not a abrogation destination 25 years ago, Kass said, but that each changed done a operation of reinvention and changes successful concern models.  The 2008 recession had a batch to bash with the advancement the metropolis has seen, according to Kass.

“This country is afloat of people—for immoderate reason—maybe a downsizing from the 2008 recession, but determination are a batch of professionals present that were erstwhile with Fortune 500 companies who had an thought and ran with it,” helium said.  “There are a batch of competent radical here.”

Kass said they came to St. Augustine and recovered a mode to “build a amended mousetrap,” helium said laughing.

“The days of buying touristy trinkets are gone. People are present buying upscale things and are being much selective astir who they bargain for—like idiosyncratic who kept their dog, oregon picked up their message portion they were gone; they are buying much things similar specialty wine, oregon a vessel of olive lipid that is locally made. People privation prime and they are consenting to wage for it.”

Kass said helium noticed user behaviour has changed since the pandemic frankincense creating a request for what St. Augustine has to offer.

Epoch Times Photo George Street has plentifulness of mid-week tourists connected Oct. 14, 2021. During weekends, visitant numbers triple. (Jann Falkenstern/Epoch Times)

“People are reevaluating their lives,” helium said. “They’re spending much flexible dollars due to the fact that they person been conditioned to judge determination whitethorn not beryllium a tomorrow.”

An August survey of consumer sentiment, by the University of Florida, showed a marked driblet successful Floridians’ assurance astir the economy. It fell 4.7 points to 78.7 from 83.4 successful July 2021. Nationwide the scale fell much than doubly arsenic much, dropping 10.9 points.

While the state’s assurance driblet paints a bleak picture, the crowds that capable the streets connected a weekday day successful historical downtown St. Augustine beg to differ, and it demands the question:  what is the metropolis doing right?

The lone happening that Kass tin property this to is that radical were “tired of being locked down” and wanted to sojourn an country that was harmless wherever they had the state to determination astir arsenic they pleased.  He attributed the occurrence of not lone St. Augustine, but Florida arsenic a whole, to the enactment of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Epoch Times Photo Originally built arsenic a gristmill successful the 1880s, the Milltop was converted into a barroom successful the 1950s. It is simply a fashionable spot for tourists to instrumentality photos of themselves. Photo taken Oct.12, 2021. (Jann Falkenstern/Epoch Times)

“I deliberation the enactment of our politician had a batch to bash with the information that Florida is doing well,” helium said. “He gets it.”

Barbara Golden, communications manager for St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau, said she was amazed astatine however the restaurants reacted to the pandemic.

“Most of our restaurants person outdoor seating and those that didn’t – good they created it,” Golden said.  She pointed to outdoor seating astatine The Floridian Restaurant that had converted an bare parking batch into outdoor dining. “These businesses not lone opened during a precise trying clip successful our lives with the pandemic, but they are thriving. It’s conscionable amazing.”

A City Investing successful Itself

A colony colonisation of 14,500 cannot enactment schoolhouse and roadworthy projects, Richard Goldman president and CEO of the bureau, told The Epoch Times.

“It is the tourer dollars that assistance money the county,” Goldman said. “A municipality of this size with small manufacture cannot beforehand our bully schools.”

Goldman said that the metropolis has exceeded pre-pandemic gross from 2019.

“This is not adjacent our biggest month,” helium said of the August figures. “Normally, we beryllium connected snowbird play to marque our profits, but we are seeing that we are exceeding thing we did successful 2019.”

Communication was the cardinal to redeeming their gross during and aft the shutdown, Goldman explained. “That and a small assistance from St. John’s County.” Goldman besides convinced the metropolis to marque “an investment” successful tourism. The metropolis gave Goldman and his unit $2 cardinal successful grants to execute his goal.

“We realized that radical needed to consciousness harmless implicit this pandemic, but that needed to beryllium communicated,” helium said.

Goldman and his unit worked to “get the connection out” that St. Augustine was unfastened for business, but supra each that it was a “safe spot to be.”

“We reached retired to radical who had visited america successful the past,” helium said. “We communicated efficaciously that mode and explained that we had nary large COVID outbreaks and that astir of our eating venues were outdoors.”

Goldman said the metropolis has “put COVID down them” and is moving ahead, but admits they ticker the corruption rates and are erring connected the broadside of caution and safety.

Good Wages Keeping Staff Loyal

Recently, acknowledgment to a 2016 law amendment the voters of Florida approved, the minimum wage accrued to $10 per hr a period ago, but Goldman said that didn’t look to beryllium an contented with the hospitality manufacture successful St Augustine.

“Mom and popular staffers are loyal,” Goldman said. “They are paid good compared to larger entities wherever they are not, but they are catching connected and paying radical more, but it inactive has a mode to go.”

Goldman said that erstwhile things began to “open up again,” ma and popular store employees came backmost and did not permission the country arsenic astir did who worked for firm entities.

“They are loyal due to the fact that they are paid well,” helium said. “The minimum wage summation has not affected them (businesses) due to the fact that they already transcend what the minimum wage is.”

Epoch Times Photo Marlane and Jack King bask meal extracurricular with their “fur-baby” Cocoa astatine the St. George Inn, Oct. 15, 2021. (Jann Falkenstern/Epoch Times)

Pet Friendly

Marlane and Jack King are Navy contractors who unrecorded successful Cocoa Beach and travel to St. Augustine often to “unplug” from their engaged lives.  They spell nowhere, however, without their 3-year-old canine named Cocoa.

Along with their luggage, they bring everything Cocoa needs including her stroller.

After pandemic-related shutdowns, favored owners are returning to the workforce leaving their pets unsocial erstwhile the favored has been accustomed to having the proprietor location each day. The pers spell done separation anxiety, or an aggravated dislike of being alone.

Lucky for the Kings past that St. Augustine embraces pets and their owners, arsenic determination are much than 79 venues that are favored friendly, including hotels, restaurants, carriage rides, and vessel tours.

Pet h2o bowls enactment the sidewalks of businesses.  Most of the restaurants person extracurricular seating wherever pets tin beryllium with their owners portion dining.

Each year, Marianne and Chet Pielow question from Los Angeles to sojourn Marianne’s sister successful Melbourne, Florida, but they ne'er miss an accidental to sojourn St. Augustine.

“We sojourn each twelvemonth and perfectly emotion it here,” Marianne Pielow said.

Jannis Falkenstern

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Jannis Falkenstern is an Epoch Times newsman who covers the authorities of Florida.