The gradual revival of Hollywood Beach began to unfold in May, first with the reopening of its pedestrian beachside Broadwalk and this week with the opening of the beach itself, which has been closed since mid-March.
On my recent trek to the city on Memorial Day weekend, I saw signs that the reopening of the Broadwalk is boosting business. But I also saw that tourism was very light. Without tourists back in beach chairs, at least one business owner told me he probably won't make it through the summer.
At first, Hollywood authorities opened the Broadwalk only from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Even that was a godsend for local residents, who came out to jog, push a stroller, Rollerblade, ride bikes or simply walk in the ocean air.
The asphalt Broadwalk, which runs for 2.5 miles about 50 yards from the shoreline, is lined on its west side by small hotels, restaurants, bars, rental concessions, sundries shops and other sand and surf businesses.
In the week that the Broadwalk was fully reopened, the Broadwalk Restaurant, at Grant Street, saw daily diners go from about a dozen to 40. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
At the Broadwalk Restaurant, which serves Italian food where the Broadwalk meets Grant Street, day manager Denis Almeida estimated traffic grew 300% over the course of the first week that the Broadwalk was fully open.
On opening day, a Monday, Almeida said he served no more than 12 diners on his shift. By that Friday, that had grown to at least 40.
"For us now, it is the off-season," said Almeida, explaining that the winter months are seasonally busier. "After the pandemic, it has been slower, but business has been increasing day by day."
Few tourists were in town, a circumstance that may not change much even as the beach reopens. The out-of-towners who were in town were folks like Louie Dimovski, a commercial painter from Livonia, Mich., whose father died last year.
Louie Dimovski, of Livonia, Mich., and his mother, Bozana, enjoy their breakfast on a recent Saturday morning on the Hollywood Broadwalk. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
The family has been coming to Hollywood for 20 years, Dimovski said, so in February he packed his 87- year-old mother into the family Buick and headed for the warm weather. Then the pandemic hit, and they've been here ever since, staying at a retirement condo owned by Dimovski's sister.
Recently the two of them were settled into their folding chairs, enjoying a boxed breakfast just off the Broadwalk. "I'm not going to take her back until things get better," Dimovski said. "I'm mostly concerned about the hospitals [in Michigan]."
Sara Demolina, a Delta Air Lines flight attendant from Cooper City, Fla., just a few miles west of Hollywood, was strolling the Broadwalk with her daughter. She said one of the chief problems is that flying to Hollywood has gotten harder.
"You can't get here from somewhere else," said Demolina, noting that the airline flight schedules at nearby Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and Miami airports have been decimated.
A majority of the mom-and-pop hotels along the Broadwalk have been closed since March, as have the larger properties, although the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort is slated to reopen on June 1.
If tourists don't return pretty soon, Daniel Setton doesn't know what he's going to do. The proprietor of the Shirtery II, which sells T-shirts, swimwear and souvenirs, Setton said he's had "zero" revenue since the pandemic closed the beach.
The Shirtery II shop on the Hollywood Broadwalk. Its owner, Daniel Setton, doesn't know how he'll make the July rent if tourists don't return soon. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
Setton said he's been paying his employees out of his own pocket, and the rent out of savings. He's somewhat hopeful that reopening the beach will bring tourists back.
"If not, we will collapse," said Setton, who said he has owned his shop for about 10 years. "I've paid the rent for April, May and June," he said. "If I don't get some revenue, I won't have the July rent."