Ken Bercel doesn’t know how much more of the Z-word his business can take.
The Lost and Found Saloon has survived some rough patches. But selling beers within the only active area for the Zika virus in the continental United States may prove too difficult.
“Money is coming out of our savings, our banks, our lenders, just to keep the business open right now,” said Bercel, who was forced to take out a $15,000 loan after customers stopped showing up at his Northwest First Avenue bar. “How do we finish this summer?”
In the 11 days since state officials announced four people infected with Zika had likely contracted the virus from mosquitoes in Wynwood, business in the popular entertainment district has plummeted. An unprecedented travel advisory from the Centers for Disease Control warning pregnant women to avoid the area and a steady trickle of new cases has only exacerbated the situation and kept the problem in the news.
And so on Monday, with dozens of business and property owners seeking a way out of the “Zika zone,” the board of the tax-funded Wynwood Business Improvement District held an emergency meeting and called on local, state and federal governments to quicken efforts to clear their neighborhood of active infections.
The booster agency also urged authorities to make a recovery fund available for the hundreds of retailers, gallerists and restaurateurs who’ve lost business as authorities try to confine the country’s lone confirmed Zika outbreak to a one-square-mile area north of downtown.
A few hours later, the Miami Parking Authority announced it would give visitors two hours of free parking in Wynwood Wednesday through Aug. 31, and a $3 flat rate to parkers who attend the Wynwood Art Walk this weekend.
I’m concerned about just staying open
Ken Bercel, owner, Lost and Found Saloon
Meanwhile, as Gov. Rick Scott’s office announced a 17th locally contracted Zika infection Monday out of Palm Beach County, executives with the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau said they’re pushing an international “open for business” campaign to keep the issue from dampening tourism business as a whole. That concern was highlighted by a new Moody’s report warning that a prolongued outbreak could hurt the stream of hotel and sales taxes that underpin large portions of debt for Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami.
“We’re not seeing any decline in overall tourism business but of course you’re seeing decline in your business,” Rolando Aedo, the bureau’s senior vice president of marketing and tourism, told the group of business owners, promising to promote any special deals and events they might be hosting. Wynwood “is a relatively small geographic part of our community but an immensely important part of our tourism business.”
That was little consolation to Wynwood business owners, who feel like they’ve been unfairly singled out by health authorities and the media. Board member David Lombardi warned that other neighborhoods could easily be in for the same fate given the ease with which Zika is spread, and wondered ominously if fighting Zika fears might be South Florida’s “new normal.”
At R House, a restaurant and lounge on Northwest Second Avenue, Wynwood’s main drag, executives said business Saturday was down by 90 percent compared to the average Saturday, a hugely important business day. Another business owner, who after savaging media coverage of Wynwood’s Zika crisis left without giving his name, said his business was down 60 percent.
You’re saying we’re open for business but nobody is coming
Rocco Carulli, owner, R House
“You’re saying we’re open for business but nobody is coming,” R House owner Rocco Carulli told Aedo.
Carulli, like many other Wynwood business owners in attendance Monday, criticized the CDC, which acknowledges the active area for Zika infections is only about 500 square feet surrounded by a wide buffer zone. He’s also frustrated by the lack of answers about how each of the confirmed local Zika patients was infected, given the fact that the virus can be sexually transmitted and that none of the mosquitoes found in traps in Wynwood has been infected. County workers have sprayed pesticide in the neighborhood for more than a week.
But mostly, business owners feel burned by the media, which they blame for making Zika synonymous with Wynwood when Miami-Dade has more than 100 travel-related cases and Brazil, which is hosting the Olympics, has been battling Zika infections for more than a year.
“Surely there’s something else you can report on,” Zak Stern of Wynwood’s Zak the Baker suggested with a smile Monday to a local television reporter.
But perhaps there’s a silver lining. Though Eli Mitrani, a Wynwood Business Improvement District board member, is among those who say the media has given Wynwood an “unfair shake,” the property owner believes the neighborhood may benefit from the international exposure once the Zika scare has blown over, considering the amount of exposure the neighborhood has received, however negative.
“Any time this story comes there’s always a beginning to the story talking about Wynwood and this incredible neighborhood,” he said. “Now Wynwood is a national story, unfortunately with a negative tale.”