Steinhatchee residents react to large crowds over weekend amidst COVID-19 outbreak

By: Sophia Hernandez I WCTV Eyewitness News
March 23, 2020

STEINHATCHEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Steinhatchee residents are left upset after what many believe to be an increase in tourists this past weekend.

The visitors stocked up from the shelves of the one grocery store in town, and boating on local waters.

On the other hand, local marinas and businesses are trying to stay afloat as coronavirus concerns worsen, while also respecting their neighbors. But on Monday morning, many of the locals just want the tourists gone.

On Monday, the local marina, Sea Hag, has a couple of boats docked up. The crowds from the weekend have dissipated, but their presence has left some locals thinking that more needs to be done by businesses like Sea Hag.

"We, too, are taking it one day at a time," shares owner Charlie Norwood. He states that their marina has already closed off their outside sitting area and patio, as well as providing sanitation areas.

The crowds from this past weekend, Norwood shares, are normal for this time of year, with spring break and the weather being favorable. But he understands with many worried about their health and safety, they have had to make adjustments. Which is why he has been asking those who use his docks, to get on their boat, get off, and go home, "I never thought I would have to say that. But they do not gather here at the marina."

But some locals would have to disagree.

Mike Hill has been a resident of seven years in Steinhatchee. He says the crowds were out of hand, and much similar to what they would see during scallop season. Hill says while people are supposed to be quarantined, they are instead showing up in mass numbers, "Right now is not the time to be here."

Hill says his concern is for the community, which he states is a largely elderly population. WCTV took a look at the numbers from the 2018 US Census. It states that the total population is 764 residents, with the median age being 70 years old. "It is true, everyone says they are social distancing on that water," expresses Hill, "But they go to our stores, and they go everywhere here."

Hill says he wants boaters off the water.

But other residents are not asking for the same thing.

Mike Baker is a Charter Captain who does not mind the extra foot traffic, but asks that visitors respect those who live here.

"It is probably the safest place to be is out on the water," references Baker to those who are visiting, "But taking our supplies is the worst part to me."

Baker talks about the one and only grocery store in town, Maddie's. The owner, Don Everett admits that this past weekend there was a deficit in certain items. But he states the shortage was not due to the tourists, but rather, an intentional decision.

"We try to take care of our locals," states Everett, "(We are) limiting for the weekends and try to prevent the panic buying and people buying it and taking it to other places."

Everett furthers that they have been placing less on the shelves and more in the back, so that tourists do not hoard supplies. He says residents ask for more, and they go in the back to remove those items.

Some residents say the shelves are stocked Monday, after many complained this past weekend. Although it is not known if that is the case for why the store is near full, Everett says they will continue to do right by their community, by providing deals for residents and 10 cents off the gas at the pump.

Regardless of the measures made to appease those who are not happy with the large crowds, some residents that met on Monday, hope that in the near future, the docks will be closed.

Hill is calling upon his local businesses, "Open your hearts to the locals in your small town, do what you got to do." But the local marinas and stores, share that they rely on the visitors and just hope that they can stay afloat in the coming weeks.

Norwood adds, "Each day is different, and something may come tomorrow and we are prepared for that," stating that he is doing everything he can to keep his 33 employees.

Everton shares that they will continue to hold things in the back for residents, but they hope that soon, demand will plateau and things will go back to normal.

As for the locals that met Monday at the Community Center, they hope that the boat ramps will be closed to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.