From bars and restaurants, to resorts, retailers, golf courses and marinas, the past weekend highlighted just how important the summer will be, especially after a slow start due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was a busy Memorial Day weekend in the Lake area.
For some businesses, it was even busier than usual and while plenty of attention was drawn to the disregard for social distancing seen at some places that circulated national headlines, the holiday weekend provided relief for plenty of others in an area that depends on tourism. From bars and restaurants, to resorts, retailers, golf courses and marinas, the past weekend highlighted just how important the summer will be, especially after a slow start due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a tough spring for us. We were open for a week and then shut down,” Dog Days and Wobbly Boots manager Luke Hagedorn said, recalling previous orders that were in effect to slow the spread of COVID-19. “We reopened with curbside pickup and dockside carryout and slowly ramped up. We usually use the spring to train people. We hire new folks every year and were very fortunate to have experienced returning staff for new folks to get through this past weekend.
“College kids usually come down on weekends in the spring to get ready for the holiday weekend and it is a stress test on the entire business whether it is staff, infrastructure, equipment or inventory,” the manager of the Osage Beach establishments continued. “Trends change every year and the business model changed three times this year leading up to it with different rules and regulations and we had to adjust and go with the flow. Super proud of the staff and what we were able to do this weekend.”
In Camden County, social distancing requirements were issued on March 31 and on April 6, Missouri Governor Mike Parson issued a statewide stay-at-home order that was initially scheduled to last until April 24 and was extended to May 3. During that time, Camden County had imposed further restrictions in addition to the statewide stay-at-home order, which the county rescinded on April 23 with the support of the health department.
On Tuesday, Camden County confirmed its 37th case of COVID-19, but it was the first confirmed case since mid-April and all but one of the previous 36 cases have recovered. Neighboring Morgan County had eight confirmed cases of the virus as of Tuesday afternoon and Miller County had four such cases. Lake Regional Hospital reported it had not had a patient in house to treat the virus for the past three weeks.
The worry, though, is that many visitors who congregated close together at different establishments could potentially spread the virus when they return home. The St. Louis County Health Department issued a travel advisory for people who visited the Lake area and the Kansas Department of Health issued a statement asking Kansans who did not practice social distancing at the Lake to voluntarily self-quarantine for two weeks. Kansas City’s health director also echoed the call for a self-quarantine lasting two weeks.
Missouri’s current guidelines, which remain in effect through May 31, state every person and business shall abide by social distancing requirements which include maintaining six feet of space between individuals. However, the provision does not apply to family members or individuals performing job duties that require contact with other people closer than six feet, though they should take precautionary measures.
In response to the national attention the Lake of the Ozarks received over the weekend, Camden County Sheriff Tony Helms released a letter stating that social distancing is not a crime and the sheriff’s office has no authority to enforce actions in that regard, advocating for personal responsibility. He stated that every patron made a conscious decision to attend each event and location. Gary Prewitt, the owner of Backwater Jack’s that was the focus of much of the attention over Memorial Day weekend, issued a statement Tuesday night referring to Helm’s letter noting that no laws were broken and precautionary measures were taken such as non-contact thermal checks and issuing free hand sanitizer.
Other businesses took precautionary measures as well, and were certainly glad to see visitors back in the area.
Dog Days, for example, removed some tables and kept patrons spread out at tables outside while also moving its entertainment outside for patrons to enjoy from afar as opposed to having everyone packed together around a dance floor inside the establishment. Hagedorn noted that nearly all of the staff had completed a 4-hour online program that trains servers how to perform their jobs safely.
“We certainly saw more people than in previous years and a vast majority were from outside the area, of course. Our numbers were pretty big and one of our best holiday weekends, for sure,” he stated.
“We changed the way we do things and tried to take the best precautions we could. We’re just doing the best we can to educate everyone and our window is pretty short at the Lake. Trying to make up for lost time at this point.”
Bear Bottoms Resort in Sunrise Beach was also fairly busy and Mackenzie Sutcliffe, one of the managers of the resort, could tell that people were glad to be out of their houses.
“We were excited to see people come out and get comfortable. Everyone is tired of being locked up in the house so we were happy to see people come out and support everyone,” she said, noting everyone came by choice. “They knew it was going to be busy and we did not have any problems, everyone had a good time.”
Sutcliffe said the resort was behind from previous restrictions and she was pleased with how well the staff did, considering they did not have the opportunity to get the training that normally comes with easing into opening by being open four or five days a week. Instead, the resort has been open for seven. Among the precautionary measures were keeping people restricted to every other table and wiping everything down.
“Every weekend from now on is very important. A lot of businesses were struggling and we were worried about shutting down again,” the manager pointed out, noting Memorial Day weekend was the kickoff to see how the rest of summer could go.
“The Lake was the place to be. We did our part and are still taking precautions.”
Country Crossroads, a gift and home decor store in Osage Beach, also saw a few people come in with smiles who were excited to get out. Manager Selynn Barbour said the holiday weekend was on par with those in the past said it was a general atmosphere of happiness, joy and gratefulness on a nice weekend.
“Tourism is what we relish and tourists become our second family. We’ve been here almost 35 years so we see a lot of repeat customers and their kids come in with them who have their own kids,” Barbour noted of her store that is known for its holiday and special life event decor. “It is important for us to maintain a sense of connection and a lot come down in the summers with the whole family. It was so exciting to see all family members together, doing something together, and not in front of their screens.”
Barbour said hand sanitizer was available outside the door and people were mindful, wearing masks if they chose to do so, and maintaining distance. She wishes she could still give customers hugs as they have done in the past, but smiles and waves will have to suffice for now.
“It has been inspiring and rejuvenating to see people again, our customers and employees. To see the rest of your family you have not bee able to see except virtually,” the manager stated. “We are a people industry and to be back with people is such a blessing. Stay patient, be kind and we’ll get through it all like we have before. We’ll do it again, that’s for sure.”
She also credited the Camden County Health Department and local businesses for providing essential equipment like masks and sanitizer when it was not so easily available.
“I appreciate them supplying a need and being proactive to a need, being so kind in the implementation of it, too,” she said.
Meanwhile at Old Kinderhook Golf Club in Camdenton, phones have been “ringing off the hook” the past 10 days and Jasen Jones, the Hotel and Marketing Director, said revenue has been up compared to last year.
“It has been really nice for us. I think we are built for social distancing, given our 750-acre property,” Jones said, jokingly. “It is a top-five course in the state and there were a lot of golfers out there. There were no overcrowding issues and guests and employees respected each other’s privacy.”
Jones said that guests were notified at the time of check-in that rooms were not being serviced and any extra items guests may have needed were available at the front desk. He said there were was no influx of people at the pool or restaurant while people were kept at every other table. Like any other business at the Lake, the summer months are of huge importance.
“Every weekend is very important to showcase the beautiful property and quality of work you see in our staff here from the grounds driving through the resort as you are hit with creeks and the beautiful plateau of the course,” Jones stated. “As you arrive on property, the cleanliness is top bill and we are smaller scale and can personalize it more. It is critical for our operation and most business at the Lake.”
In the midst of previous restrictions, business was slower and some layoffs were suffered, but the staff is back to work now. Jones said the biggest challenge moving forward is providing a safe environment for group conferences and meetings for guests.
“We are implementing new procedures for staff for the meetings and we see that coming back in July,” the director said.
Over the holiday weekend, the director said there were about 80 checkouts and no complaints came to his attention. In fact, he wanted to compliment the guests for their generosity.
“People were putting towels in the tubs, collecting trash and committing random acts of kindness to help other people. People were considerate of our housekeeping team,” he said. “Some of the tips, I’ve never seen in hotel rooms as people were paying it forward to our staff.”
Jones pointed out that business is typically slow after the holiday so the staff is catching their breath and getting ready for next week with a lot of bookings happening short-term as people make their decisions to come to the Lake.
With plenty of boats out on the Lake over Memorial Day weekend, Big Thunder Marine in Lake Ozark was not oblivious to the economic activity, either. Jeremy Anderson, the general manager, said it was extremely busy as revenue from boat sales, gas dock sales and rental sales were up.
“We find that in times like this, people tend to go back to family and want to do things the entire family can do,” Anderson pointed out, noting that great weather and not having to travel far brings people to the Lake when many other places are closed. “Boating is one of the things your family can do to have fun and be safe.”
Big Thunder Marine is open year-round, which helps employees, but the business certainly relies upon those same employees in the summer. It certainly helps that the company had strong boat sales during previous restrictions and a good April when other places may have been struggling. Anderson said being attentive to the needs of customers may have played a role in that.
“We are doing everything safely and are willing to go with the comfort level of the customer. Some people come with masks and that is ok and if they want to distance, we are ok with that,” he remarked. “We are a family-owned company and care about families that buy and rent boats and buy gas and want to do everything safely with where they’re at.”