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Businesses worry about tourist season after Franklin County beaches close

Posted at 5:24 PM, Mar 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-23 17:24:34-04

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) — Nearly 24-hours have passed since the beaches in Franklin County closed, and businesses in St. George Island are worried about the lack of tourists.

Tourism is crucial in St. George Island. Business owners say this will hurt them in the long run.

Meanwhile, the sheriff's department is busy trying to educate the arriving tourists.

On a warm spring day St. George Island is usually bustling. But that's not currently the case.

Mike Rasmussen, the manager at Doc Meyers, likens the island to a ghost town.

"At one point, the entire country was on Spring Break," said Rasmussen, "and a lot of them were headed to Florida, particularly here."

As the state and local government began making changes due to the coronavirus, the number of people flocking to the island changed too.

St. George Island beach is the main attraction in the city.

"We thrive off of the tourists," Rasmussen said. "Locals support us, but tourist business is the majority of our main season."

Now, the sheriff's department is rounding up people who are sunbathing or taking a dip in the water.

"If we catch people there, they're going to be arrested," said Sheriff AJ Smith. "Don't go there. Help us keep our community safe."

Parking lots are closed and deputies are patrolling to make sure people stay away.

Anyone caught on the public beach could be fined $500 or get up to 60 days in jail. But the violators aren't the only people who will feel a pinch in their pockets.

"A lot of the staff is hourly," said Rasmussen. "They're depending on tips and 80 percent of them are out of work right now."

The city of Apalachicola is meeting to talk about shutting down short-term rentals for one week.

The Franklin County Board of Commissioners will come back together on Friday to determine if they want to extend the beach closure past this week.