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‘ABOUT A THIRD OF THE USUAL CROWD’: Tourism economies feeling strain from COVID-19 pandemic

Visitors to Iowa's Clear Lake

CLEAR LAKE, Iowa (FOX 47) - Much of Clear Lake's economy is centered around the water and the summer fun that people have on its shores.

Business owners who rely on this seasonal summer tourism are asking the same question. When are things getting back to normal?

"That's the million dollar question right there. Of course I would hope that business would pick back up," said Brian Hagenow, owner of The Other Place restaurant. "It's not going to pick back up when Cerro Gordo County is spiking. Iowa is spiking. There's spikes all over the country right now."

Hagenow is taking precautions to keep his restaurant safe for customers.

"I mean that's about what it is," said The Other Place's owner. "People have to feel comfortable again about going into the restaurants or any businesses."

The restaurant is operating at 40 percent capacity and not seeing the usual 4th of July crowd.

"There were a lot of people that still came to town," Hagenow said. "I think they were maintaining on the beaches, boats and that stuff."

Lake activities do continue to bring many Minnesotans across the border, but not the same crowds as years past.

"We started seeing people that just wanted to get out of the house. They were done quarantining and wanted to be outside hiking and being on their boat," said Libbey Hohn, Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce tourism director. "They are staying with their family and not being out in a large crowd. We're able to offer that here in Clear Lake."

On a normal summer day, it's almost impossible to find a parking spot on Clear Lake's Main Street but this summer that is not the case.

"The visitors, there's quite a few less than normal. In the summer, we'd see up to 100 a day," said Nikki Foss, education coordinator at the Surf Ballroom.

The Surf Ballroom Museum is open but still no live shows until at least the fall.

"Things are slowly getting back to normal," said Foss. "We want to hear the music again. That's the last step."

For now, the lake community is attracting people from other parts of the country who had to cancel vacation plans.

"We're from Savannah, Georgia," said visitor Rhonda Hoffman. "We're staying with our friends. They took us out on their boat. It's a beautiful lake."

Despite cancelling a trip to Peru, the Southerners enjoyed their time in Clear Lake.

"We did some shopping," Hoffman said. "There's a lot of neat non-chain stores."

Clear Lake is happy to have visitors as long as they keep other's safety in mind.

"We're very pleased with how people are respecting our community,' said Hohn.

The tourism director adds that hotels, Air B&Bs and other lake rentals have seen a recent increase in traffic they hope continues through the rest of the summer.

Alex Tejada

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