FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. — Flagler County beaches are starting to come alive once again after county leaders opened them up for exercise and fishing on Sunday.
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“We are not really looking to encourage visitors to come to the beach. It’s really more for locals to access the beach for recreation,” said Jonathan Lord, Flagler County's Emergency Management Director.
According to Lord, this change came after a few trial runs where they opened up parks and trails and then opened up the beaches for limited hours. He said they were pleased with how people followed the rules and maintained social distancing.
Now that the beaches are open full-time, this is good news for Flagler beach restaurants that have been struggling during this pandemic.
“This is 100 times worse than a hurricane,” said John Davis, owner of Johnny D's Beach Bar and Grill, while reflecting on the toll COVID-19 has taken on his business.
Davis said he had to furlough most of his staff. He kept only four employees so that he could continue offering takeout. Davis has seen his takeout orders go up ever since the beach opened back up.
“We saw an effect immediately, people were out and they came by, they had lunch, they got to go orders still," said Davis.
Down the street at the Funky Pelican, they felt the same boost.
“Now that the beach is opening we are starting to see some more traffic so we are really happy,” said Lisa Paone, Manager at The Funky Pelican.
While she said they’ve also had to lay off employees, they hope that seeing people on the beach again is a sign of better times to come.
“We are really excited hopefully they are going to be coming here and keeping social distance and supporting us and supporting their community,” said Paone.
Despite the support, without opening up their dining rooms, restaurant owners like Davis aren’t sure if they’ll make it through.
“If we don’t open in the beginning of May, I don’t know if we can recover,” Davis said.
When Flagler County's Emergency Manager Jonathan Lord was asked when he expects restaurants in Flagler Beach will be able to serve people inside again, he explained that that decision is totally up to the governor.
Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to give more details about his plan to reopen the state on Wednesday.