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PANAMA CITY BEACH — A large restaurant at the Beach recently cut 150 workers — a glimpse into the rise of area layoffs since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Management at Margaritaville at Pier Park in Panama City Beach, recently slashed 150 workers from its payroll. The cuts are part of a rise in layoffs in the restaurant and tourism industries as residents stay home and businesses shut their doors to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus that stalled the U.S. economy.
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"We had roughly 150 employees that we called personally and told them ’hey there is not a spot for you right now," said Jeremy Martin, general manager of Margaritaville. "It’s sad because you know there is a lot of people that live not only paycheck to paycheck, but are also living day to day."
According to Kimberly Bodine, executive director of CareerSource Gulf Coast, they have been seeing a lot of people coming in from restaurants and the tourism industry. It’s been an adjustment for CareerSource because they’ve had to see people through appointments due to COVID-19.
"From March 13 through March 19, the numbers were pretty consistent, but we’ve seen an increase from March 19 to today (March 24) for unemployment claims," Bodine said.
CareerSource has been trying to help people with the unemployment process, but stressed that it is run by the Department of Economic Opportunity. CareerSource has helped people with the application process during this crisis because some don’t have access to the internet.
Bodine said they couldn’t close their offices to the public due to concerns people may have with the loss of jobs. The staff at CareerSource is making it their mission to help those that need it.
"Our staff are concerned about the people they are serving," Bodine said. "Our staff is doing well and are more concerned about the people they’re serving."
Since Pier Park announced they were closing down last week due to COVID-19, Margaritaville and other businesses there have had to adjust to stay afloat.
Most of the retail stores are closed, but stores like Target and Walmart are still open since they provide essential products. Restaurants have resorted to doing takeout orders only and it has been a tough transition for them.
Margaritaville, which sits at the front entrance of Pier Park where a lot of foot traffic would be, has seen a hit since the transition.
"It has been a learning experience and there has been a curve to it because since the beaches have shut down, foot traffic has been minimal," Martin said. "We’ll usually get (people) around 4 o’clock for that dinner rush crowd."
According to Martin, most of the people who have come into Margaritaville have been tourists and the tourists are trying to make the best out of the situation. Martin also said a lot of places like hotels, condos, and other restaurants on the beach have been laying people off because of the closures.
For Dustin Kelly, manager at Gulf Coast Burger in PCB, business has been "really, really slow."
"Not being like some of the other bigger chains, we are mostly set up 90% dine-in compared to 10% take out, so that's a big slap in the face for us to have to change our processes," Kelly said.
He added that the locally-owned business has two locations, one it PCB and another in Destin, which is completely shut down. Between the two, more than 60 employees have been laid off since state-wide regulations went into effect to fight the spread of the virus.
"They are temporary," Kelly said on the cuts. "We did speak to everyone and tell them as soon as we're back up and running normal ... they are more than welcome to have their job back."
According to him, the business is financially secure enough to survive about four more weeks without outside assistance.
Kelly, who described the current situation as working in a ghost town, added that the restaurant has only been serving about 20 take-out meals a day. When things are running normally, the joint can serve more than 180 people at a time.
Right now, Pier Park is expected to be closed until March 29, but with the COVID-19 health crisis still increasing in numbers, that could change. For Martin, it has been tough trying to figure out how to plan because the closure will be determined week to week.
In the meantime, Gulf Coast Burger is screening its limited staff, along with sanitizing daily.
"We are locals too," Kelly said on why people should support local businesses during this time. "It's just like supporting your neighbor.
"... We just are really needing some support now, or a lot of locals, as business owners, are not going to have their business due to the craziness."