It’s not been a great year for most small retailers.
Forced closures due to COVID-19 were costly to bottom lines, creating weeks of zero income unless business owners to could move online. Many did not have the capital to do it, and they temporarily shuttered.
Tourism professionals have something to be thankful for this holiday as Thanksgiving vacationers continue to pour into Navarre Beach. After a year plagued by Hurricane Sally and an actual plague, the numbers are comforting.
Dickey’s Barbecue is still coming to Navarre. The opening is just taking longer than expected. There have been a few holdups due to Hurricane Sally and sorting out logistics with the landlord. Managing partner Karen Edwards said they have made some progress on the structural repairs in the kitchen, but still have to work on other parts of the restaurant before it will be ready for the grand opening in the spring of 2021.
BargeOween, a trick or treat style event family friendly event at the Gulf Breeze High School stadium, drew a large crowd on Halloween night. The event was organized by the City of Gulf Breeze to promote and support small businesses located in Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach that were impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and closure of the 3-mile bridge.
Between 1,500 and 2,000 people gathered around the track and throughout the football field dressed as Disney princesses, Star Wars characters, superheroes and even Elton John.
The parents of Liv, the 2-year-old girl who dressed as Elton John, rolled their daughter around the track on a platform behind a baby grand piano as “Benny and the Jets” played on a Bluetooth speaker behind her.
“We’re local so we wanted to come out and support all our local businesses,” Liv’s mother Cara said. The family did not give their last name.
The free event ran from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 31, with raffle prizes disbursed throughout the evening sponsored by Gulf Winds Credit Union, Covenant Care and Skanska USA, the contractor whose loose barges damaged the bridge during Hurricane Sally.
The Florida Department of Transportation has announced that repairs to the Pensacola Bay Bridge will be complete by March 2021. The bridge will remain closed while repairs are underway.
Since the bridge closure, businesses in Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach have struggled to bring in revenue due to a lack of traffic. BargeOween was a chance for the community to come together in support of these businesses.
Owners of Chick-fil-A in Gulf Breeze, John and Anne Marie Stopper, said this challenging time has been an adjustment.
“It’s been tough, but we’re going to make it; 2020 has been an adjustment since March, so we’re just rolling with it and doing the best we can. We’ll make it through,” she said.
Anne said some schools in Navarre have been ordering Chick-fil-A weekly to support the restaurant through this tough time.
The Stoppers were astonished by the number of people pouring in the gate for BargeOween.
“It’s great to support the community and for the community to be able to support us and to come down to this end of town,” Anne said. “We really need the support and the community has definitely come up to support tonight. It’s just been amazing.”
Ali Broxson, whose 10-year-old son Clayton dressed as a child trapped in a cage being held by an abominable snowman, said they were at BargeOween to try and give back to the community with everything going on.
“It’s really important to support one another through these crazy times,” she said. “I hope they continue to do things like this. Our town is almost like Route 66 in Cars. We need them to come through.”
There were numerous contests throughout the night including a costume contest, booth decoration contest and pumpkins decoration contest. Vendors sold various goods and gave treats to children.
An 80s cover band called “The Astronauts” entertained the crowd throughout the evening.
Suzie Cooper, a Gulf Breeze resident, was at the event to cheer on her daughter and son who sing and play drums in the band.
“This event is incredible and overdue. Everyone’s so excited to be out here,” Cooper said. “People have been in their houses for so long and we haven’t been together. All I see is smiles,” she said.
Cooper lives by the Garcon Point Bridge and has seen quite the increase in traffic by her home.
“I think it’s hurt a lot of people in Pensacola because we’re not going over there for date nights and stuff,” she said. “But in a way, it’s helped restaurants here in Gulf Breeze.”