STAUNTON, Va. (WVIR) - The pandemic has cast a shadow over Staunton’s major tourist attractions and the city is campaigning creatively to help businesses stay afloat.
Baja Bean was the only business open till 2 A.M. seven nights a week. Then COVID-19 hit and it came with a curfew.
“That was a $1,000 segment of our business every single day of the year. That’s what we averaged for that 10 P.M. to 2 A.M. part of our business, so you know that was a $300,000 loss like that,” owner Sarah Lynch said..
Lynch adds that sales were down 50% in 2019. And she’s not alone.
“Our hotels are down $11.5 million from 2019. Our restaurants are down 40-50% and these are independent restaurants,” Director of Tourism Sheryl Wagner said.
Many Staunton attractions have gone virtual, and events aren’t being held. “We’re still looking at Happy Birthday America and Queen City Mischief and Magic for this year, whether we’re going to be able to do it and that brings a lot of revenue,” Wagner stated.
But Staunton Tourism continues to respond to COVID with creative campaigns. The push to shop local and shifting the focus from empty nesters to the nest itself, encouraging the many families at home learning virtually to come play in Staunton. “We were blown away by the success of that campaign,” Wagner stated.
‘Wander Love’ invites people to Staunton as a day trip.
But the campaign that’s been a game-changer for the heart of the Queen City, came after a request from small business owners downtown.
“They said ‘We need you to be bold, and we need you to be creative, and we want you to shut down Beverley Street on the weekends.’ And, we said ‘OK,’” said Wagner.
The result was ‘Dine Out in Downtown’. From June through January the city closed off four blocks of Beverley Street for the weekend for people to eat outside.
That is when Baja did most of its business. “Even if the weather was hot or threatening rain, people would still be waiting to sit outside because they just felt safer outside,” Lynch said.
“I’ve heard from several restaurants, and not even just restaurants on Beverley, that it helped them from having to close their doors for good,” Wagner stated.
Staunton is once again encouraging people to come downtown and beyond, this time with ‘Shop and Dine Out in Downtown’ starting in April.