Coronavirus delays busy boating season on Catalina Island; businesses try to stay positive
Update: In the time since this story went to press, two people on Catalina Island have tested positive for coronavirus, according to Catalina Island Medical Center.
AVALON—With both national and local government orders to “stay at home,” the coronavirus (COVID-19) has affected every person. On Catalina Island, where tourism makes up almost 100 percent of the economy, local business owners are trying to stay positive amid tough times and the 4,000 local residents are doing the best they can to prevent the spread while also lending support to local businesses.
This time of year, the waters around Avalon and Two Harbors would normally be filling up with boaters and Avalon’s streets bustling with visitors. This year, both the harbor and streets remain mostly a ghost town, according to local business owners and residents.
As of the time this paper went to print, Avalon city officials reported there had been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the island. However, the island is following directives from Los Angeles County, the state and federal government in regards to efforts to prevent the spread of the novel virus as health remains the number one focus.
Island leaders have requested all non-essential businesses on the island join in a closure until April 30 to protect the well-being of island residents and workforce. Businesses with everyday essentials remain open, including some restaurants. As everyone works to do their part to stop the spread the virus, local businesses also grapple with a very different start to the spring season.
In 2019, tourism accounted for 13.24 million in revenue for the island. During just the months of March and April last year, more than 155,000 visitors came to the island.
“It is a difficult time for our 100 percent tourism based economy, with the situation changing hour by hour,” Jim Luttjohann, President and CEO of Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, said in an email. “We are all doing our best to be responsive, communicative and good stewards of our very special place.”
Boat traffic has been severely limited. The Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau has asked anyone who is not a primary resident of Catalina Island or providing essential services to residents not to visit Catalina for the time being. The Catalina Island Company also issued a request to all boaters who don’t live on the island to not visit Two Harbors; noting the island’s healthcare facilities lack the capabilities to handle a widespread outbreak.
Catalina Express, a ferry service running between the mainland and Catalina Island, temporarily suspended service from San Pedro and Dana Point terminals but remains operating on a very limited schedule, discouraging all non-essential travel.
The city issued a temporary moratorium for all cruise ship tenders from entering Avalon Harbor waters, which remains in effect through April 30.
“It’s a family of 2,000 here but in the summertime and the springtime when the harbor’s full it’s a family of 10,000,” said Megan Wright, owner of Café Metropole.
For now, Wright’s restaurant remains open for takeout and would usually provide deliveries to boaters mooring in the harbor. She said this is about the time of year she would start to see familiar faces in the harbor.
“We miss the local boating community that we’d be seeing here right now,” Wright said.
Avalon Mayor Pro Tem Cinde MacGugan-Cassidy, who owns six local businesses on the island employing about 40 people, admitted the situation has created an atmosphere of somberness but said the community has come together.
“I think that in general, this particular community, when there is a crisis, comes together and everybody tends to look out for each other,” MacGugan-Cassidy said.
One member of the community started a Facebook page called Avalon Mutual Aid, to provide an outlet for people to seek help, such as grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions and dog walking. A hotline has also been set up. Another member has been organizing a list of restaurants offering takeout and encouraging people to order out one day a week to support those businesses.
Wright and MacGugan-Cassidy said they have always appreciated the massive local support but are still working to keep employees employed.
“I know from my own perspective I’m trying to keep as many people busy as I can and wait out the storm,” MacGugan-Cassidy said.
MacGugan-Cassidy admitted she has had to do a few temporary layoffs. Wright also said she is doing everything she can to keep her six employees working.
“I’m just going to stay open as long as possible,” Wright said. “Even if I have to get a side job, I’ll get a side job. I just want to keep my employees employed and provide good healthy food to the locals here.”
Both noted that this will having a lasting impact on the economy.
“Every single person and business is going to be affected some way, shape or form,” MacGugan-Cassidy said. “I don’t think that we will fully recover economically for quite some time and it’s not just Catalina.”