On the heels of a member survey showing more than $200 million in lost revenue over the first six months of 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019, the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce is urging Gov. John Carney to do a better job working with the state’s businesses and to improve messaging when making announcements.
In a July 28 letter, Chamber President and CEO Carol Everhart said many of the recent messages related to COVID-19 are unwelcoming and confusing to residents and visitors. People believe restaurants and bars are closed and that masks are required at all times, even while on the beach or while seated at tables, she said.
“We feel that it is necessary for a more clearly stated series of messages touting the success of our plan to keep residents, visitors and staff safe while providing a healthy, vibrant resort area be released,” said Everhart. “It is critical that this messaging come from our government leaders immediately.”
In a follow-up interview July 29, Everhart said a member of her staff has been participating in weekly meetings with the governor’s staff, and concerns over messaging have been raised a number of times. However, she said, there has not been a response the chamber had hoped for.
Businesses and the organizations helping them need time to disseminate information correctly and offer a consistent message, said Everhart. The chambers don’t need to be a part of the decision-making process, but it would be good to get a heads-up, she said.
Accompanying the letter to the governor was a survey conducted of 76 members – roughly 6 percent of the chamber’s membership – showing approximately $206 million of lost revenue over the first six months of 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019. The chamber broke the number down by area, too – $92 million in downtown Rehoboth; $83 million on Route 1; $17.5 million in Dewey; $13 million in other areas.
Everhart said the chamber broke the revenue loss down so local town officials have a better idea of how businesses are doing. They can’t make decisions without all the information, she said.
The chamber divided businesses into six categories – accommodations, attractions, real estate, restaurants, retail and service. The category with the highest amount of lost revenue was the retail industry, with $57 million.
Everhart said this surprised her, because retail stores have been partially open through online sales throughout the pandemic. It was eye-opening, she said.
This is the second time this month the chamber is questioning the decision making of elected officials.
In early July, the chamber took Rehoboth Beach commissioners to task shortly after they voted to impose face masks in all public areas – including the beach – in the days before the July 4 holiday weekend. The chamber’s letter began by recognizing the commissioners’ primary goal is to keep residents and visitors safe, but quickly went into describing the move as, “a veiled tactic to purposely reduce the number of visitors to our town.”
The letter drew nearly unanimous contempt from commissioners, including Mayor Paul Kuhns, who said accusations like the ones thrown around in the chamber’s letter are not productive.
Everhart said she doesn’t think anything is being done on purpose, but it’s important that governing bodies – local and state – know what businesses are saying, and how actions they take affect those businesses.
In an email July 29, Jonathan Starkey, spokesperson for Gov. John Carney, said the governor understands the important role that restaurants and bars play in the economy, and that’s why he has worked hard to try to help them open safely. However, Starkey said, while Carney was on a call with the White House and the nation’s governors earlier this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci reiterated what is being seen around the country.
“A lack of social distancing and mask-wearing in bars and restaurants, particularly in vacation destinations, has caused the virus to spread,” said Starkey. “As the governor has said throughout this crisis, we can’t have a healthy economy without healthy communities.”
Starkey said the best thing to do is commit to wearing masks in public places, social distancing, washing hands regularly, and staying home if sick.
“While our numbers have improved, we have not won this fight yet,” said Starkey. “The fastest way to get off the quarantine lists of other states is for Delawareans and Delaware businesses to lean in and drive down our numbers even further.”