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Panama City Beach preps for Labor Day weekend amid COVID-19 without Gulf Coast Jam

Published: Sep. 3, 2020 at 6:03 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG) - Business at Ripley’s Believe It or Not in Panama City Beach has had its share of challenges this year.

“We’re about 50% down from a normal summer you’d say. So that’s what we’ve been running about- about half of what we normally do,” Manager Drew Morales said. However, he thinks this coming weekend could be a turning point, saying, “Labor Day weekend is kind of our last hoorah before kind of wind down into the off season.”

For businesses like Ripley’s, holiday weekends are critical and this one could mean a last chance to make big money.

“This past weekend we did real well so we’re hoping to continue to where we can come close to about 10% or 20% of what we did last year,” Morales said.

“I think Labor Day weekend is going to look less than Memorial Day weekend, maybe half or a third of Memorial Day weekend. There’s still availability here,” Panama City Beach Mayor Mark Sheldon said. But in years past, the area’s lodging reached 100% occupancy Labor Day weekend thanks to a Panama City Beach tradition Gulf Coast Jam.

Now, like several other annual events, it’s fallen victim to COVID-19, and with it the 20,000 visitors it attracts.

“The tourist industry obviously drives who we are. As the largest city in the state of Florida without an ad valorum tax, we rely heavily on business tax receipts. One cent of every dollar is what fuels our city and keeps our city alive,” Sheldon said.

For Morales, he’s hopeful a future vaccine could mean more tourists and more dollars will return to the area.

“That’ll probably be a big game-changer and then hopefully in six months we can get somewhat back to normal, to our normal years,” he said.

Sheldon also says the city’s police department and code enforcement are still preparing for any crowds that may descend upon our area this weekend, even if they’re not as big as last year’s.

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