Wynwood business owners are trying to lure back customers amid a Zika zone, and by the size of the crowds on Saturday, the appeal seems to be working.
The hip art district is the only active transmission area for the Zika virus in the continental United States, and after 25 confirmed local cases in recent weeks the area saw a steep drop in business. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado showed up for one of the neighborhood’s biggest monthly events, Art Walk.
He addressed reporters, offering a message of hope and security for the district that heavily depends on tourism. The mayor stressed the local businesses foundation and entrepreneurial spirit of the area.
“We have no chains here,” he said.
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“What we lack here is information,” said Regalado, who added that after the surgeon general’s visit to the arts district during the week, officials never followed up with him or area business owners.
Regalado called for the government to be more transparent and give out more information on the confirmed local cases.
The mayor was in Wynwood Saturday to help reverse the “chilling effect” he said came along with the Centers for Disease Control’s travel advisory warning pregnant women to avoid the area.
Last weekend, the neighborhood was a ghost town. A little rain and the opening weekend of the Olympics, along with Zika virus fears, meant few customers for most bars and restaurants.
But the scene was different this weekend. The streets bustled with tourists and locals taking selfies, shopping and browsing the galleries set up for Art Walk, a regular event the second Saturday of each month.
The crowds were boosted by all the deals in the “Love for Locals” campaign. More than 25 Wynwood businesses offered discounts and freebies to draw customers. Wynwood Diner offered patrons 20 percent off their bill with a receipt from a Wynwood business; Coyo Taco had half-price margaritas for people with local IDs; and Zak the Baker gave every customer a free coffee. Free parking during the day didn’t hurt, either.
Some signs of last week’s panic were still visible. Nestled in the rocks behind the outdoor tables at Wynwood Kitchen and Bar were anti-mosquito candles, and a bouncer outside Gramps slathered bug spray on his ankles and wrists.
Crowds of blue-shirted “Goodwill Ambassadors,” who were asked not to speak to the media, passed out bug repellent wipes and pamphlets with information about the virus and prevention.
Also passing out literature was a swarm of people protesting against naled, the pesticide with a questionable history that has been repeatedly sprayed by plane in the 10-square-mile area surrounding Wynwood.
Judd Allison, who owns Wynwood event space Toejam Backlot, wore a disposable face mask and led chants like, “If you’re gonna spray, we want a say.”
He and other protesters confronted Regalado as he exited Wynwood Walls, quickly encircling him and shouting over him as he tried to answer their questions.
“The cities do not have the responsibility or the authority,” Regalado said. “I wish we had, because we have funding to do our own spraying.”
Some in the crowd asked if the mayor would ban the pesticide and expressed concerns over naled’s effects on children and wildlife.
Regalado promised to look into the pesticide and nodded in agreement when Allison told the crowd the spraying was above the mayor’s head. Other protesters began yelling about aerial sprays in South Miami and Little Haiti.
“The only place that’s getting sprayed is Wynwood,” Regalado said. “Don’t you get it? And this is by mandate of the health department.”
Outside the protest, tourists including the Alleman family, on vacation from Colorado, said they weren’t worried about the Zika virus. Adam and Tracy Alleman said they made sure their young children, Noah and Grace, were wearing bug spray, but that was it.
“Since none of us are planning on becoming pregnant, I think we’re OK,” Tracy Alleman said with a smile.