A summer season with consumer restrictions is most likely ahead for the Ocean City area. There seems to be an acceptance this summer will dramatically underachieve from previous seasons, as business operators balance optimism with realism for 2020.
City Manager Doug Miller’s memo to the Mayor and Council this week set off a firestorm. Miller’s memo painted a worst-case scenario based on current events, intentionally or not. It could be argued it was more on the realistic side of things for the most part, while the Mayor and Council were trending toward the optimism expressed by Gov. Larry Hogan last week.
A major problem we had with Miller’s memo was his thoughts on the third phase of the recovery plan, which would allow for large social gatherings at concerts, bars and restaurants, among other things.
“To get to this stage, there must be a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment,” Miller’s memo said. “That is a long way off, so we don’t see us at stage three this season. Until we get to stage three, large social gatherings will not be allowed, high capacity bars and restaurants will not be allowed to open and entertainment venues will not be allowed to operate. For the summer of 2020, some of the private and public planned events will have to be altered or cancelled.”
This was shocking to many, especially the erroneous part of the need for a vaccine or treatment before the stage can be entered. We believe high-capacity bars and restaurants will open this summer, but it will come with serious restrictions on occupancy. It’s realistic that many large restaurants and bars may be operating at half their allowable occupancy throughout the summer.
The Mayor and Council’s biggest beef with Miller’s memo was the timing outlined. All phases seemed to be about a month later than the governor outlined. It’s important Ocean City get the timing right here, but it’s clear as of now Ocean City could very well begin welcoming visitors around May 15 with decent crowds expect in mid to late June.
The reality here is it’s going to take months for life to return to normal and for the economy to recover. How the recovery appears will vary by region. The attitude for this summer here should be make the best of it, pivot as needed and salvage whatever is possible. The year 2020 will always have an asterisk on spreadsheets for businesses. At this point, we are hopeful for the best for this season, but it’s going to be an off year as people come to grips with their comfort level for re-entering society, being in crowds and get their finances back on track.
It’s going to take time and patience. It’s not going to be easy, but through adaptation, entrepreneurial ingenuity and balancing the realities against hope we will all survive.
Time is needed to determine if the cure will be worse than the disease. It’s currently a matter of personal opinion and that may always be the case. Ocean City Councilman Matt James said it well this week when he maintained, “The economic damage will outlive the virus.”